Camera wars and abstainers vs. moderators

by Kim on July 23, 2013

Ok, I have two small rants to unload on you today. Be forewarned.

If you’re still high on the royal baby news and would prefer not to be dragged into the Rant Zone with me, you can head over to Running4Cupcakes instead and read my guest post about how running isn’t just a hobby, it’s a relationship. (Thanks for hosting me, Katie!)

But for anyone ready to take the plunge, here we go. (Don’t worry—it’s not that bad.)

angry mob

Rant #1: Camera wars

You know what kind of people I love? The people who will let you take pictures of them. No complaining, no ducking to hide behind things, no negative comments about their bodies/outfits/hair—and, most notably, no making you feel like an idiot for busting a camera out.

giraffeDo you honestly think you’re successfully hiding behind that branch?

Yes, I have to take more pictures because I have a blog. But even if I didn’t, documenting life is a good habit to have, and the people who value it shouldn’t be shamed.

I can list off certain people in my life who value life documentation and never put up a fuss about it, and it is so nice to have those people around. I sincerely treasure them. I don’t mind if they fluff their hair or adjust their clothes or something first. I’ll wait. It’s the scrambling around and hiding and self-criticizing that I’m not into.

I get it—I look like crap sometimes, too. I’m not saying that we should all stop being self-conscious. (Wouldn’t it be great if we could just turn that off??) What I’m saying is that we should practice self-acceptance for the sake of memory preservation.

If someone wants to capture a memory that involves me, I try to have the courage to be honored and respectful, rather than irritated and self-conscious. I try to get out of my own head and to acknowledge the bigger purpose behind what that person’s doing. (Bigger than the blackheads on my nose, even.)

Side note: if you notice one person taking a bunch of pictures at an event, rather than giving that person grief, offer to turn the camera on them for a few. Not only does it take you off the hook, but I guarantee they’d appreciate it.

Rant #2: Abstainers vs. moderators

Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project and one of my favorite nonfiction writers) often talks about her theory of abstainers vs. moderators. The question is: when trying to cut down on something in life, do you prefer to give it up altogether, or do you moderate yourself, allowing for occasional indulgences?

The most common example, and the one Gretchen typically uses, is food. If you’re eating too many Oreos and you want to cut back, do you ditch Oreos cold turkey, or do you limit yourself to 5 Oreos a week?

(Note: I’m not addressing eating disorders here at all. I understand that those are diseases, not personality traits or self-control issues. Nor does any of this apply to true addictions, or food allergies, or dangerous things like drugs.)


Gretchen identifies herself as an abstainer. She’d much rather stop eating Oreos altogether than to have one now and then, since sorting out the proper level of moderation is difficult and requires way more self-control.

Well, of course. It is for everyone.

Does that mean she can never eat an Oreo again in her life? And if, one day, she slips up and eats a few Oreos, she might just throw in the towel on the whole thing?

Too often, the answer to that last question is yes. And that’s the whole argument behind the anti-diet debate. Diets might technically work, but if they’re not sustainable, what’s the point? Go at it with a temporary solution, and you’re going to get a temporary fix.

I would argue that “abstainer” and “moderator” aren’t personality identifiers—they’re indicators of a person’s capacity for self-control. Here’s my theory: When it comes to food, abstinence is easier, but moderation is better. In the long term. For everyone.

Calling yourself an abstainer is really just a crutch that lets you avoid the challenge of moderation while justifying your reasons for doing it.

Ultimately, you want to get to a place where you’re comfortably in control of your portion sizes, regardless of the food. I’m not saying you have to be able to eat only one Oreo in a sitting (who can do that?), but can you eat only 3? If you see your options as 0 or infinity, that seems like a self-control issue, not a personality quirk.

That said, I do believe in food abstinence in temporary contexts. If you need to get a food “out of your system” or want to participate in a short-term cleanse/challenge, then abstinence can be helpful.

But it’s safe to assume that, as some point, you’re going to reintroduce that food into your life, or you’re going to need to know how to handle it if it surfaces. The question is whether you’re going to do it in a free-for-all, throw-in-the-towel way, or a controlled, moderated way.

To be clear: my point here is not that food abstinence is bad, it’s that, in my opinion, the desire to abstain vs. moderate is not a personality predisposition.

P.S. I’ll let you guess how I feel about Gretchen’s suggestion that indulging in something in a moderated way is “cheating.” :)

What do you think?

Where do you stand on these rants?



{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica @ Prayers and Apples July 24, 2013 at 11:09 am

I feel ya on the camera thing! That’s one of the reasons I don’t have a lot of (personal) pics on my site – I don’t want to post a lot of just me by myself lol but my friends never want to be on camera!
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Katie @ running4cupcakes July 24, 2013 at 9:15 am

Thanks again for guest posting!! And I agree that I wish it wasn’t such a big deal to take pictures. But I do feel bad for Kate having to have a ton of pictures of them leaving the hospital only 1 day after having a baby. I remember how I felt and I would not have liked a bazillion photos taken at that time.
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Presley @ Run Pretty July 23, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Unless you are in a committed, sexual relationship with another food, it can’t be cheating. haha Seriously, though.

I am the person who dives in the front of the camera, whether I look like I’m going to prom or crawling into my death bed. Gimme that limelight! Most pictures are for memories, not a modeling portfolio. People need to chill. That being said, I will take 500 selfies in a row and toss 499 of them…

I agree with you that moderation is harder than completely cutting something out. I can easily say “nah” to a piece of cake, but give me one bite and I’ll basically dive in head first. Kind of like eating straight out of the ice cream carton. Yeah. I did that tonight. I think I ate half? Ehh. It happens. So, yes, perhaps I need to practice my skills in the area of moderation.

Sorry for the longest comment in history.
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Larissa July 23, 2013 at 6:13 pm

I could copy and paste this entire post onto my blog and it would feel like my own thoughts.

#1: I haaaate the photo thing. On a visit to Jon’s family recently, my sister–in–law threw a nervous fit every time I tried to take a photo, complete with the “because I’m a fat blob and don’t want any photos of me” comments. What am I supposed to do with that? I love her to death, but have little patience for that kind of attitude and behavior. Probably something I need to work on.

#2: I’ve never been a fan of abstinence with food (with a cleanse exception, like you pointed out). I just don’t operate that way, for one. But more importantly, I think it creates the idea that foods are “bad” and thus ads guilt when we have them. I don’t want to think that negatively. I can think, “this treat is delicious and good! It will also show up on my stomach tomorrow, so keep it reasonable.” That way I make a conscious decision, enjoy my food and avoid the guilt because I knew exactly what I was doing. And sometimes, the bloat or weight gain is worth it!
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Kim July 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I’m going to go backwards – the second one hit home because I just wrote a post about indulging, overindulging and moderation yesterday. I don’t “deny” myself anything I just try to keep everything in moderation and then have more planned times of indulgence and even occasionally overindulgence. For me that works much better than trying to tell myself that I absolutely cannot have something!
And the camera thing – many years ago I used to be the one hiding behind my hand but then I realized how nice it is to have documentation of all the memories along the way. Now I don’t feel the need to be “perfect” in pictures because that isn’t my natural state!!
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