Transcript – thank you Marie!
Restrictive Eating Disorders and Hoarding
Hello there and welcome to this weeks podcast. Just me this week, I’m not going to talk to anyone so you’re just going to have to put up with my voice. Today I’m going to talk about anorexia and hoarding. I’ve videoed a YouTube video, me going on about anorexia and hoarding a bit. I’ve also written a blog post and I’ve got quite a lot of response to those things so I thought round this off by doing a short podcast on it.
So why is this important? This is important I think because if you look at the DSM V or whatever it is you’re looking at, to say what is indicative of an eating disorder, hoarding doesn’t come in to it. It’s one of these weird little things that most of us, we live through our eating disorder thinking it’s only us that does this weird thing. Some of us don’t even put it down to our eating disorder. We just think we’ve got a bit weird, that’s what I thought anyway. I just thought that I’d gone a bit weird as I got older that I did all of these really strange things.
Now I know that I did all of these really strange things as a result of my brain being in malnutrition and the reason that I know that is because now my brain is no longer in malnutrition I don’t do these weird things any more. I don’t hoard anything. In fact I’m quite the opposite, I get rid of everything, can’t stand having clutter in my house. Can’t stand having things in cupboards, so I have totally reverted back to the way I was before I ever had anorexia. OK, so before we get into hoarding though. I’ve got to explain the scarcity mindset a little bit and I blog about the scarcity mindset and I’ve actually got a whole YouTube section title, ‘Your Brain on Malnutrition’ which is basically about the scarcity mindset. So what am I talking about when I say scarcity mindset? I’m talking about the perception that your brain has that resources are scarce. And why does your brain thing resources are scarce? Your brain thinks that resources are scarce because you’ve not been eating enough food. I’m talking about the sort of reptile brain, the survival part of the brain, the evolved part, the old bit that’s been around for thousands and thousands of years of human evolution that has evolved to survive resource scarcity.
So we have got to remember that it might not be true now that for many of us, especially in the western world, that resources are scarce but years and years ago that would have been the biggest threat to humans, scarce resources. Specifically scarce resources when it comes to food. So when you don’t eat enough, your logical brain might know, I’m not eating enough because I’m going on a diet, or I’m trying to lose weight, or I want to be a size 0, or whatever. Your logical brain knows that, but all your reptile brain knows is that suddenly enough food is not coming. And so your reptile brain thinks we must be in a famine or we must be in a scarce resource environment. For those of us that give our brains the perception that we are in a scarce resource environment for a prolonged period time, so that’s long and enduring anorexia that goes on for years. Our brains quite logically might start to act as if other resources are scarce as well.
So that’s why this scarcity mindset leads to all these other sorts of weird behaviours, hoarding is definitely one of them, stealing is another and I did that, I was a small time petty thief, shoplifting apples from my local grocery store. That’s not me by the way, that’s what my brain does when it’s got malnutrition. Other things like money, saving excessively, real stress and inability to spend money. And I’m going to get into all those things separately. Today I’m going to focus on hoarding.
But I’m hoping you will understand from this that hoarding behaviour when you have an eating disorder is because, or as I see it makes logical sense to me that’s because your brain perceives that you are in an environment of scarce resources. Animals hoard food when they are in scarce resources, it’s not just humans that do this stuff. The most common thing that people who have eating disorders hoard is food and this is where it gets really weird, I used to hoard food and I would hoard my safe foods and that makes sense, my safe foods where the only foods that I’d allow myself to eat so it makes total sense that my brain will want to hoard those because, you know, your brains thinking I don’t get enough food as it is, the last thing I want to do is run out of these cardboard like tasting cereal bars that I always eat because they are low fat despite the fact that they taste like complete shit. So my brain was very very very tight around my safe foods. I would stockpile things like Muller light yogurts which also taste like shit and the cardboard like cereal bars that I used to eat and bran flakes. Pretty much anything though that was low fat or was low calorie that went on offer in the supermarket I would stockpile that stuff.
The weird bit about this was I could have a cupboard full of horrible low calorie cereal bars but if anybody came around my house, I would sit there worrying the whole time that they might see that I had all these cereal bars and want to eat one. I didn’t want to share I guess is what I’m saying. Not that anybody in their right mind would come around my house and see those horrible cereal bars and want to eat one because they are horrible. But I was really worrying, in fact that’s one of the reasons that I didn’t ever want to invite people round my house, because I didn’t want them using my resources. Not just was I scared about them eating my cereal bars. I was worried about them doing things like going to the toilet and using my toilet roll.
Which leads me on to non food resources that some of us turn into hoarders about. And in the blog I just wrote, I wrote a long list of non food hoarding. Food hoarding is kind of standard, a little bit more normal when your brain thinks that food is scarce. The non food hoarding is indicative that you’ve been in that scarcity mindset long enough that your brain thinks that general resources are scarce.
So I’m going to read out this list of non food things that I used to hoard, plastic bags, in case you ever need to use plastic bags, cling film and baking foil cut off’s. I used to wash cling film and then I used to hang it off my kitchen tap and dry it off and put it in the cupboard to reuse. Zip lock bags I used to do the same thing, I used to wash out zip lock bags. Toilet roll another resource that’s kind of a necessity and I used to steal toilet roll from my university toilets and public toilets and hoard them in the cupboard in my house. Cotton wool, medical supplies like plasters and disinfecting wipes, alongside shampoo, conditioner and soap. I also used collect sanitary pads if I was ever in a public restroom that offered them, I would fill my pockets with those and hoard them in my house. Not that I was getting my period but just in case I guess. Sunscreen, I used to go to the doctors and they would have those samples of sunscreen, I’d take handfuls of those, shove them in my pockets and hoard them in my house. Same with toothpaste and toothbrushes.
Now I’ve also included that I hoarded petrol in my car, which you can’t really hoard petrol because it’s a limited capacity in the tank. But I used to hoard it in as much as I didn’t want to drive my car, I didn’t want to use it up. I used to hoard clothes especially underwear, don’t asked me why, raggedy old knickers with holes. I would keep them and keep wearing them. It would make me very anxious to wear any new clothes that I was given or bought, though I didn’t buy things very often I have to admit, if I was given any new clothes they would always be saved for best and I would want to wear out the old old ones. So that resulted in my for years and years and years looking like a complete ragamuffin.
I used to hoard kitchen towels and serviettes. I used to hoard plastic cups, paper plates and plastic cutlery. I would actually wash off paper plates and store them, nothing weird about that is there?! Pens and paper. I actually used to keep junk mail and use it so that I could write on it. Now that I know that nobody uses a pen any more, I rarely use a pen myself but when I was sick it was the days when we used pens and paper. So I stockpiled the stuff. I would even collect pieces of scrap paper that people would leave around so that I could write on it. Wrapping paper, so if somebody would give me a gift. I would very carefully unwrap it to not damage any of the wrapping paper and I’d neatly fold that wrapping paper up and I’d store it in case I ever had to give anybody a present.
It was very unlikely that I would ever give anyone a present because I had a severe aversion to spending money. But in case I needed to give anyone a present I would store the wrapping paper. That was true for birthdays and Christmas times. Bubble wrap I used to store that if I ever got a package, I would keep the bubble wrap in case I ever needed to bubble wrap something. I used to keep pins and tacks and paper clip and pretty much any sort of stationary that can be reused.
So anything disposable really I would store and I’m sure that you can understand from listening me going through that list, it’s as if my brain was preparing for Armageddon. I don’t why my brain thought that plastic forks would save me at the end of the world. But it’s as if my brain was preparing me for something apocalyptic and for resources to become massively scarce and for there to be competition for resources such as paper clips!
That’s what my brain was doing. So hoarding doesn’t have much logical thought behind it. If you’d asked me at the time why are you storing bubble wrap, I probably wouldn’t of had much of an answer for you. Especially because I’m not really someone who bubble wraps anything. I wouldn’t of sat there and said yeah, I’m storing it because we might get into a resource scarcity in the next 10 years and who knows what’s going to happen and the world might implode so I’m keeping this bubble wrap in case I need it.
I wouldn’t of said that to you. I just knew that I had this feeling that I wanted to store things. I also knew that when I did store things, it gave me this feeling of safety, of warmth of cosiness and it just made me feel good. I also know that when my resources became depleted like if I used up something, that would make me feel anxious so I was just reacting to how I was feeling. I was reacting to those emotions that my brain was giving me and now I know that our brains don’t do stuff for the heck of it. When your brain gives you an emotion it’s doing it because it wants to motivate you to behave in a certain way. And my brain by reinforcing storing behaviour and disincentivising me using things up was motivating me to store things as if resources were scarce.
Hoarding is a protection from future resource scarcity and when my brain was in malnutrition, my brain starting acting as if all resources were going to become scarce. So if you hoard and you have active anorexia there’s nothing weird about you. Your brains just doing what it thinks is logical for an environment where resources are scares and the best thing about all this is with full recovery you wont feel the need to hoard any more. I mean, I certainly don’t .
There is something I still find freedom and release in ripping open a present and not worrying about trying to keep the wrapping paper. I know that sounds like something 99% of the population are not going to identify with but for me just that act of being able to do that and not feel anxious that I have to save the wrapping paper is freedom. It’s those tiny things that make recovery and the shit that you’ve got to go through to get to this point, so very worth while and it’s because my brain perceives that it’s not in an environment of scarce resources, it no longer feels that it has to be anxious about saving wrapping paper.
So how do you do that? How do you get your brain out of the scarcity mindset? Well you’ve got to convince your brain that resources are not scarce don’t you? How do you convince your brain that resources are not scarce? Your actions inform your brain. And if you are acting as if resources are scarce, by restricting food, by not eating enough then your brain is going to believe that resources are scarce and while your body is in malnutrition your brain is going to believe that resources are scarce because why else would you not be eating enough other than resources being scarce?
Your brain stem area, your reptile brain has not yet evolved to the point where people just go on diets for the heck of it. Your brainstem, that old reptile brain of your thinks that if you are not getting enough food, it’s down to resource scarcity and it’s acting as if it is. So the way that you do that is that you convince your brain that you are not in an area of scarce resources and the way that you do that is by eating lots and lots of food without restriction. Get it? The food part is the most important part, you’re never going to convince your brain that you are out of the famine, you are out of this area of scarce resources while you are still in malnutrition.
So you’ve got to get yourself weight restored, you’ve got to get yourself nutritional rehabilitated. You’ve got to be eating abundantly and frequently. But there are other things you can do while you do that and those things might push you again out of your comfort zone, but they are going to convince your brain that you are no longer in an area of scarce resources and those are things like not stealing things like toilet roll, not hoarding things. Allowing yourself to use things, allowing yourself to spend money.
All of these actions of not acting as if you are in an area of scarce resources informs your brain that you are not in an area of scarce resources. Your actions are what are going to get you out of this and those actions are eating without restriction, eating abundantly and letting yourself use things and spend money. That’s all for this week, email me if you have any questions or comments on that. Cheers and until next time, cheerio.