The Scarcity Model, Compulsive Eating, and a new fondness for post-its

July 23, 2009

I have had a complicated relationship with food for as long as I can remember.  I often find that my days are filled with complex rituals of wanting, needing, accumulating, and feeling guilty about food. Upon becoming an “adult” it was a major relief to me to be in complete and total responsibility of what I ate and how I provided myself with my own wants and needs. However, often these desires to provide and take care of myself take on lives of their own and cause me to end up at the grocery store filling my cart with food that is good for me (ie. produce mostly), which then, due to time and work constrictions, I am unable to consume, causing me to either binge to keep up or feel ultimately so guilty for letting food that I paid good money for go to waste.

This is the scarcity model at work. When you grow up in an environment where anything feels unsafe or uncertain (financially, emotionally, or otherwise, often having to do with parental addiction, but sometimes just occurring organically based upon parents own dealings with scarcity in THEIR pasts), individuals grow up with the tendency to stockpile. When I realized that I was old enough to go to the store and had my very first refrigerator to fill to the brim with anything and everything my heart desired, my heart desired to do exactly that, fill it to the brim.

I’m not sure that I have to tell you that, consequently – of course, filling your refrigerator to the brim translates into little more than delaying the moment when you will fill yourself to the brim, overwhelmed and overcome by your sudden abundance. And I dally between filling myself with healthy food and unhealthy, often with the scale tipping heavily in one direction until sheer inertia and necessity knocks it violently in the other direction. Because,  I am a compulsive eater.  I have been using food as a tool to comfort, punish, reward, love, treat, hate myself for as long as I can remember, and while this has become less unhealthy over the years, it is still something that I notice everyday. And, as much as I am aware, and as much as I try to redirect this process, it continues. 

The latest stage involves my relationship with my wallet, my stomach, and the contents of my refrigerator in my very first beautiful and amazing apartment. I find that more often than I’d like to admit, I find myself in a complete and utter panic, feeling guilty down to the tips of my toes about the kale that is rotting in the crisper, or the berries that I was too busy working double upon double upon double in a row to consume. I buy myself these healthy food options because I am trying desperately to take care of myself, but I simply do not have enough time in the day or enough room in my stomach to consume them. I find myself scheduling in meals according NOT to my natural hunger cycles, but instead to the number of hours in the day, the times when I think I should be hungry, and the amount of fresh delicious food going to waste in my home.

But I can’t keep myself from buy it.

In a conversation with a good friend of mine over dinner, I was finally verbalizing this problem that has been tormenting me for weeks now, finally putting into words the total fear and anxiety that – while seemingly minute – was consuming much of my waking hours.

She told me to buy a pack of post-its. She told me that she had felt the same way, and the way she cured herself was to put post-its all over, on the refrigerator, in the kitchen, on the mirror, on specific food items, to remind herself that she was safe and OK and did not need to eat that if she wasn’t hungry.  

That it was OK to have to throw things away sometimes.

It was OK not to finish her plate.

It was OK to say no.