Every time I go to the grocery store I feel like I am being assaulted with red and pink. First the lovely flowers, then the bakery with every kind of confection imaginable. Now I mostly shop the perimeter but sometimes I have to make a foray into the cereal and bread aisle and all kinds of horrors await. Last week I had to pick up some milk all the way on the other end of the store. To get there you know I had to walk by the massive “seasonal” aisle. Yes, that one. The one that is decorated for whatever holiday is coming next. As I started to walk by I paused and had an epiphany. This time of year is usually when my diet would get derailed and I was starting to understand why. Here I was, without any intentions of buying anything remotely sweet, staring at the mega aisle like it was my long-lost cousin. In that moment I couldn’t imagine not getting a heart shaped peanut butter cup with way more than the usual peanut butter to chocolate ratio. I mean it was going to be a whole year before this opportunity would come again. I’d better get it while I could. This sense of scarcity drives so much of what we (I) do. Birthdays only come once a year, right? Well, mine does but so does my husband’s, my children’s, my parents’, my besties’. Add it all up and I’m celebrating more than 2 birthdays a month. That my friends is not the definition of scarce. The seasonal holidays obviously play on this as well. In the past there were treats we could only get once a year. King Cakes (from Gambino’s in New Orleans) for Mardi Gras, Cadbury eggs for Easter, Boo Berry cereal for Halloween. Don’t get me started on Christmas. I wait all year for this box of goodies that my Aunt Judy makes. Seriously. But here is the deal: Everything, other than my Aunt Judy’s cookies, is not scarce. I’ve ordered a King Cake in July. Cadbury eggs now come in vampire form. And folks, I have the secret cookie recipe. Nothing now is truly scarce. So when that little idea pops into your head that “I’ve got to have this because I won’t get to eat it for……………………months”, I want you to stop and put a big question mark in your brain. Like a cartoon question mark in a bubble above your head. If you can come up with one way you can get this particular item, outside this particular time, then question yourself about your thoughts on scarcity. Going soon, almost gone, 4 more days until Christmas, only 2 pieces left. QUESTION, QUESTION, QUESTION! Because if feelings of scarcity are driving your actions, you can challenge your own beliefs and make a rational decision based on a new thought. This isn’t scarce because I can order it online. This isn’t scarce because I can have a peanut butter cup anytime of the year. This isn’t scarce because I DON’T EVEN LIKE BOO BERRY CEREAL.
Sometimes, mental scarcity goes hand in hand with feelings of deprivation. Have you ever gone to a party and felt like everyone else was eating but you weren’t allowed because you were dieting? It’s not a pleasant feeling and leads to over desire which never gets us what we want. You spend all evening trying not to eat the off-limit foods and forget why you came to the party in the first place. If you add social anxiety to the mix it’s no wonder we go off the rails and eat ALL THE FOOD. Now I am one of those people that once I start eating sweets I never want to stop. February, the month of Galentine’s Day (what the heck is that?) and don’t forget the Superbowl, was always ripe with opportunities for me to indulge. Once I started to become aware of my pattern, I was able to step back and look at this behavior critically. Are celebrations really about food or are they about enjoying the company of people you care about? We,(THEY) have conditioned ourselves to make the celebrations about food.
If the world ended tomorrow would you rather have had that last piece of cake or a few moments more with your family? True deprivation for me would be the loss of relationships but in the moment, food may seem like the answer to feeling left out. This work is some of the most important that my clients and I do. So the next time you are faced with the impossible red and pink mega aisle and you find yourself feeling deprived, ask yourself is this really true? Will you be missing anything important by not eating a particular food? I think you will find that you can march on by and go straight to the milk.