Never Enough: Food Obsession & Hoarding
See this picture? This was what my 'protein bar drawer' looked like before I went to Carolina House in the summer of 2017. Even before I left to go to North Carolina, I kept all of my precious bars and other protein snacks for when I came back. Little did I know I was going to be spending six months in treatment, instead of what I thought was going to be four weeks.
Excuse the poor quality of this photo, but I think it is so crucial that I post this. It beautifully illustrates how obsessed I was about having enough food in the house (if you can even call half of these bars real food). I always had to have my drawer stocked, and could never imagine having an empty kitchen.
I obsessively looked at fitness and supplement websites, scrolling, selecting, and ordering more bars for my drawer. I was totally obsessed with food. My biggest fear was having something run out at the grocery store, that I made sure I always had enough for that worst-case scenario.
Although it may seem counterintuitive for someone with a restrictive eating disorder, it is a very serious and important symptom to recognize: food hoarding.
Food hoarding is one of those things that doesn't get picked up on consistently. Because people with restrictive eating disorders often tend to not eat, food hoarding is often not recognized as an eating disorder behavior.
But it is.
So why do you hoard food?
Food is one of the basic needs of life; a lack thereof is one of the biggest threats to human survival. The ability to hunt and gather food was essential to our development as a species. So if food did become scarce, we would have to move to find more food (the biological reason behind exercise urges with eating disorders) or die. Either way, life would be pretty stressful.
Food hoarding calms that stress.
Just imagine you lost your job and thus were running low on money. You would most likely feel extremely stressed, and not be able to calm down unless you have that job security again. In this example, your job loss is the weight you have lost, and the money you are running short on is a metaphor for the calories you are eating.
When us humans feel stressed or in potential danger, we feel a strong urge to gather and store items that are important to us. In other words, we feel more secure and less stressed when we know that we have a stockpile of essentials. This is the reason we hoard food. Our brains perceive food as scarce, and thus react by hoarding all the possible food.
When I was in the throes of my eating disorder, I hoarded all kinds of food, but mostly my ‘safe’ foods. I would also buy anything that was ‘safe’ and on sale—from artificially sweetened protein bars to non-fat, high-protein yogurt to low carb bread, you get the picture. I would actually freeze loaves and loaves of bread—so much that the rest of my family wouldn’t even be able to fit their stuff in the freezer! So the freezer was always full, but didn’t allow for very spontaneous eating. Just the way my eating disorder liked it. The knowledge that I had a lot of food stored in the house was calming to me.
What can you do about your hoarding behavior?
Eat without restriction. Rest, and allow your body to relax. You have to convince your brain that you are not in an area of scarce resources. You do this by allowing unrestricted food first and foremost.
When you feel the urge to save something, you should identify and classify this urge as an indication that your brain believes there is scarcity. The correct action when you feel the urge to keep things and stockpile is to eat more food. Right then and there in that moment. Consistently show your brain that there is no scarcity, and it will stop behaving as if there is.