Your Brain on Malnutrition: Stealing

This is a tough one. Other scarcity mindset traits like hoarding items, and obsessively saving money are weird but don’t have the same shame and guilt attached to them as stealing does. I have written in detail about my own kleptomania.  In this post I want to further impress that yoinking stuff is to do with the scarcity mindset.

Scarcity mindset:

For the evolving human, food and resource scarcity would have been one of the biggest threats to survival. The ability to hunt and gather food was essential to our development as a species. In times of food scarcity, humans would have to move to find more food. Or die. Either way, food scarcity would have been pretty stressful. Food scarcity would also probably have led to scarcity of, and competition for, other resources. In general, food scarcity would mean that there were fewer resources in the immediate environment than were sufficient for everyone. I believe that when we restrict food and enter malnutrition for a prolonged period of time, our brains begin to assume general resource scarcity, and our behaviours change accordingly.

More blogs on scarcity mindset here

Why stealing is soothing when your brain is malnourished

In the same way that for some of us, hoarding stashes of everything from loo roll to ketchup sachets has a calming effect, pilthering things can induce a feeling of increased safety. At least, that is the best way that I can describe it. And, that makes total logical sense that you want to attain things without cost to yourself when you understand that your brain thinks that resources are scarce.

For me, attaining something without parting with money for it earned me a double sense of reward. I had got something and forfeited nothing. Of course, my healthy brain was appalled if I stole something, but the further into malnutrition I got, the less I could control my urges to take things. The more underweight I was the more I stole. The greater my energy deficit the greater my desire to take things that I was not paying for. The worse my physical condition, the greater that my brain perceived resource scarcity to be. Hence, the more I was restricting and the more I was exercising the more I was nicking stuff. To the point I would often take things just because I could, not because I needed them or couldn’t afford them or even wanted them.

It was really horrific to live through. It was as if my healthy brain was being dragged along for the ride and was an unwilling and traumatized witness to my own socially-dispicable behaviour. It did sometimes feel like an out of body experience. As if I were watching my own self take things and there was nothing I could do about it.


No, stealing when in malnutrition doesn’t mean you are a bad person

If you nick stuff when you are in malnutrition, you are no more a thief than someone who kills in self defense is a murderer.

Your brain is backed into a corner. Your reptile brain believes that your physical state and malnutrition can only be the result of incredible resource scarcity. Remember, your reptile brain is old. It was formed in a time when famine and resource scarcity would have been the biggest threat to humans. Your reptile brain doesn’t understand that you can be malnourished AND there is ample food out there. Your reptile brain links malnutrition to a hostile environment where it is either you or your neighbour and you can’t both survive.

This is a stark reminder, that regardless of how superior humans like to think we are, we are all just mammals. When it comes down to it, when our brains are threatened with resource scarcity, those basic mammal instincts to protect oneself and survive kick in, and they don’t ask. My brain didn’t ask me if I was okay with stealing loo roll. It took over. And while I have to be accountable for my actions, I can say that when I was in malnutrition, I was unable to control my urge to steal. You know how I worked out how to control that? I got out of malnutrition. I ate.



You want it to stop? Eat

The more I ate, the more control I had over my urge to steal. Once I was nutritionally rehabilitated there was no urge to steal, Not even a little bit.

If this is you, you can attend all the therapy sessions you like, you can go to confession every Sunday and vow to change, but the only thing that is going to stop you stealing is full nutritional rehabilitation. You are not going to be able to stop nicking stuff while your brain still thinks that it is Armageddon out there and that your survival of this hostile environment is dependent on your every-person-for-themselves attitude. You cannot negotiate with your reptile brain because it is pre-literate. It doesn’t respond to words or thoughts, only data. And while your body is underweight, it is receiving data that resources are scarce. When your brain thinks that resources are scarce, it doesn’t give a shit for your morals and values. You are a mammal trying to survive, and morals are a luxury you cannot afford.

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What do you think?