A few random thoughts on scarcity…
Scarcity makes virtually all humans want things more. A rare sports car, designer jeans, time off work, sex, food…
A few examples of scarcity and food:
- My FIL was in town and we were all eating dinner. Everyone had had firsts of mushrooms, and M wanted the rest. She said, “Am I depriving anyone if I eat the rest of the mushrooms?” (We learned this from the cousins. It sounds funny coming from a 5 year- old, but it gets the point across.) Grampa replies he wants more and takes them. She has a few left. He says, “Huh, if she hadn’t said that I probably wouldn’t have taken any more.”
- I have also used it at times, (I admit) when M hasn’t expressed interest in a food on the first go round, and it’s just sitting there. I might look around and say, “Anyone want any X before I finish them?” At least half the time, that scarcity-factor kicks in and she will try some. Use this approach with caution. Accept when the answer is “no,” and have no emotion or no reaction, do not pressure or push. Used judiciously, it is an opportunity to observe the child’s reaction.
- You might not be hungry, but there is only so much dessert, so you take your “share.”
the anticipation of scarcity:
- Yesterday I had saved the home-made Door County cherry cobbler dessert from lunch. I wasn’t really hungry for cobbler at 5 pm, but I ate it knowing I might not eat dinner until 7:30, and I would likely be VERY hungry by then. You have the opportunity to eat now, knowing you might not be able to eat for some time. You are not really hungry, but you eat it.
- If I’m out and about when I usually have a meal (my body is so used to the routine, that I experience hunger at roughly the same times every day) I have baggies of almonds or cashews with me in my purse so I know I can “keep the wolf from the door” and won’t get too hungry.
- If you know you can’t eat for a medical test the next morning. You might eat more than you want to anticipate and mitigate the hunger the next day.
A history of scarcity:
- A child adopted from an institutional setting now lives in a home with plenty, but hides food in his pockets, become anxious when someone nibbles from his plate, gobbles his food quickly, takes most of the rolls form the common serving bowl… His history of scarcity (and possible malnutrition) informs everything about his approach to food. It will likely take months of reliable feeding and reassurance to rehabilitate his relationship with food. (Reassure, “There will always be enough.”)
- Poverty and related food insecurity— which is at it’s highest levels in the last 25 years. Not knowing if and when you will be fed, if it will be enough, if there will be satisfying variety is incredibly frightening, particularly for a child who has so little control. A history of food scarcity is shown to dramatically alter one’s relationship with food. It will likely take months to years of reliable feeding and reassurance to rehabilitate the relationship with food
Dieting or restriction (perceived scarcity):
- My friend who is “good” all morning, eating less than she wants and needs to. The physiological hunger, low blood sugar, and the psychological scarcity and deprivation overwhelm and she drives to the grocery store and eats a box of cookies.
- That reaction to repeated or chronic real and perceived scarcity can become ingrained, almost reflexive. (Like the adopted child mentioned above.)
Scarcity -> desire and craving -> eating in the absence of hunger/overeating/binging (repeat)
For some who have dieted, and struggled with disordered eating, even the thought of a diet, the keeping of a food journal, the sight of a favored or “bad” food triggers the vicious cycle. It will likely take months to years of reliable feeding and reassurance (and possibly more direct help) to rehabilitate the relationship with food and the body.
Well, these were just a few thoughts, after a long day and a short night, and not particularly well organized. What are your experiences with real and perceived scarcity? (I think the reaction to my last post about the cook’s “rules” where the first line said, “other than meals and snacks, the kitchen is closed” triggered this scarcity effect in some readers.) Does knowing that the “scarcity-effect” exists help make the reactions less reflexive and more mindful and intentional? Does knowing give you more control?