Last week I wrote about eating disorders and money for the first time. One thing the comments on Facebook and the post confirmed is that many people suffering from eating disorders also experience strange feelings/thoughts/ behaviours around money.
“My relationship with money fluctuates from being a tightwad (I have stolen toilet rolls and…) to binge spending. Sometimes my relationship with money runs parallel to my ed, many times it is the opposite …”
This comment is important as it tells of irregular spending behavior that might be the mirror of what the eating disorder is doing in terms of food behaviour, but more importantly the fluctuations do coincide with eating disorder behavoiurs.
“I can also so relate to this with feeling not worthy of spending,as I’m always stressed about keeping money or having a specific amount kept away that I can’t go below,and sometimes I splurge on things I don’t really want or need in order to make myself feel better for that brief period,then I regret buying it,and I’m sure this is due to my eating disorder as I was never like this before my ED started 19yrs ago.”
While I disagree with the feeling of worthiness part — more on that below — this is a illustration of pre-eating disorder behaviour being very different from during eating disorder behaviour.
“In times when have been heavily restricted am more likely to wander and spend money on crap in poundland and primark…almost compensate for what I haven’t given myself in one way. Does that make sense?!”
Super interesting. The spending behaviour here mirroring the food behaviour.
“My daughter will vacillate between wanting to spend every penny imaginable, and denying herself what she needs…”
There were lots of comments and observations like this from parents too.
“My thought process has always been on the restrictive side. Even as a child I recall feeling super high when I self sacrificed. The more restriction and pain I could tolerate the stronger I felt and restricting spending was part of it. Still struggle with this and like you, big purchases like house car etc were not an issue but a dam tee shirt would kill me…
At 26yo, I owned a house. Car, worked full time yet could not buy a tee shirt let alone a full meal.. Crazy brain of mine but now at 53yo I try to really question my motives for restricting. I still get a high off a good bargain and never impulsively spend, ever.. But I do buy food and necessities.. I live by the laws of scarcity not by laws of abundance and despite my full awareness of this, I still gravitate to the scarcity rules in my head..”
Now this theme of big purchases being easier than small ones has come up a few times in comments and emails. Like again in this one below:
“It is fascinating what you describe though about spending on large items…. I agree that spending out on a much bigger item (such as house) causes less stress than spending a few pounds on some much needed loo rolls!! Speaking of loo rolls – I recently needed to buy some more and it took a good couple of weeks of trawling supermarkets for the best price on the rolls I wanted before I bit the bullet and decided I had found the best deal – feeling proud of myself for having saved those pennies… The amount of mental and physical effort though in doing so was very likely not worth the pennies of savings!
Thank you for your article – I hope it helps others without this illness understand that for those of us with this disease the impact is much more far reaching than just food / exercise / weight and other areas of life need help and support to return to normality too!”
This reminded me of another aspect of my own spending behaviour. I too would spend hours and hours visiting multiple shops to compare prices if I really needed to buy something. Say if I needed to buy toilet rolls, I would see what the lowest price for the highest quantity I could get in Tescos was, then walk to Safeway, then Wilkos, then Lidl. I’d note and compare them all, the go back to the one where the rolls were the cheapest. Of course after a while I knew by heart which store would sell which item cheapest, so typically a shopping trip for me would see me visit mulitple stores. I’d go to Tesco for X, then Lidl for Y — and of course I also knew what time of day to hit them up for the discounted EOD grocery items.
Not only was this all very time consuming, but is was also expensive in terms of mental energy. Phew!
Those are other people’s opinions. Now for my own — because it’s my blog so that’s what you’ll get 😉
On the “worthiness” theme:
I had many people suggest they thought that they didn’t spend money because they didn’t feel “worthy.” While I completely understand why they would conclude this, I have to say I disagree. I know that sounds a bit like I am telling people that their opinion is wrong, and if it does I apologize as that is not my intention. I just want to suggest that maybe that opinion is one of popular belief, and a product of suggestion. Anyway, I’ll try and explain.
I think that using feelings of unworthiness to justify an inability to spend money is attractive for a couple of reasons:
- It rationalizes the behavior.
- It appeals to the martyr that seems to exist within most people who have Anorexia. That may be a sweeping generalisation, but if it is it comes from knowing my own self during ED, and having known many many sufferers since. Oh, and past — think of the starving saints.
- It takes the focus away from “you need to eat” and puts it onto “you need to love yourself.” While it may be true that many people need to love themselves more, that is not going to help any person recover from an eating disorder — only eating will do that.
Here’s my reasoning:
Rationalizing behavior is something that we feel compelled to do, but it is not required when you understand that mental illness doesn’t need to be rationalized. People tried to tell me that I was not eating because I felt low body confidence, low self esteem, or that I didn’t like myself and was punishing myself. None of those things were true. I was not eating because I had a mental illness that fucked up the part of my brain that reacted to food. Period. No other reason.
In the same vein, people would tell me I was not spending money on myself because I didn’t value myself. That was an attractive proposal I have to admit. It appeals to the starving saint martyr in me, and it also appeals to my ego as that person is basically saying that I am worth something. Nice.
As it is however, I know it’s not really true. I value myself highly and always have done. My own feelings of self-worth were nothing to do with my inability to spend money in the same way they were nothing to do with my inability to eat. My inability to spend money cannot and should not be rationalized because mental illness doesn’t need to be rationalized.
The reason I could not eat? Anorexia
The reason I could not spend money? Anorexia
That is all the “reason” that is needed. Mental illness doesn’t need to be justified.
I get a bee in my bonnet when people try and rationalize behaviours that are due to a mental illness because this happened so many times for me with my ED and is rather freudian. I had doctors telling me I was “doing” this to myself because I wanted to be thin like a supermodel (I wasn’t), or because my parents made me feel worthless (they didn’t). Telling me I couldn’t spend money because I didn’t think I was “worthy” feels like the same thing.
I feel that trying to rationalize ED behaviors is dangerous. It means that rather than treating the ED with food, the psychoanalytical talk-therapy approach is taken. As mentioned in this podcast with Dr Sarah Ravin, a person suffering from an eating disorder will often prefer to explore a psychoanalytical solution because frankly their ED knows it won’t work and it will keep them from making a recovery.
In short, I think that the “worthiness” theme is popular with sufferers because their ED’s like the deflection. (And I don’t expect that to be a popular opinion amoung sufferers either.)
Pre and post behaviour support the notion my inability to spend was an ED thing.
Like said in the original post, I liked spending money before Anorexia, and I like spending it now I am recovered. In the same way I don’t overeat or undereat now, I don’t overspend or underspend.
It seems that other people have experienced the same thing. Even if it was reversed, the notion that their spending behaviour changed as a result of their eating disorder is true for many.
The comments I got regarding this were fascinating!
So many people noted that in times when they could not eat they were likely to binge spend on crap that they didn’t even need. How telling is that that the eating disorder is having some sort of affect on the area of the brain in charge of resources?
I want to explore this further as I didn’t experience it myself at all.
I’m still exploring this. I’m incredibly interested in your perspective and intend on continuing to gather other people’s experiences in the next few weeks. Please do write to me with your thoughts.