Scarcity Mindset Triggers Both Weight Gain & Weight Loss During COVID

scarcity mindset during covid

The Quarantine 15, as many are calling it, or the weight gain from overeating associated with COVID-19, is not the only problem we are seeing when it comes to weighty matters.  Calorie restriction and with it, weight loss, is also becoming more of a problem.  Both may be triggered by the Scarcity Mindset that has been surging in our country for the past 7 months.  

Weight gain during COVID-19 has been in the news a lot and a number of my patients, family members and friends have experienced it.  But I have seen a 15-20% uptick in the number of individuals seeking help for the first time for Anorexia (restricting food intake.) This also appears to be directly related to being quarantined and may also be driven by a scarcity mindset. While the weight gain problem seems to be on everyone’s mind, I don’t think this restricting/weight loss phenomenon is on the radar of the public or the professionals who treat such disorders. However, given the seriousness of Anorexia, perhaps it should be. 

Taking into consideration the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having in the U.S. and the fact that we are dealing with scarcity, the likes of which most of us have never seen, the overeating and restricting will likely get worse before they get better.  It is very important that the public, and especially practitioners, understand this connection and how to intervene effectively, i.e. if you are seeing patients in your practice that are suddenly losing or gaining weight, refer them to an eating disorder specialist.

Although these two things, bingeing/over-eating and restricting seem to be polar opposites, they actually have one very important thing in common; both can be triggered by a scarcity mindset.  

The scarcity mindset is a behavioral phenomenon that has a biological component, which means that we may experience it in situations for which it was not intended, kind of like the adrenalin rush we get in near miss situations.  This is known as the fight or flight response that was hard-wired into us to protect us from our predators back when we first showed up on earth.  

The scarcity mindset is similar.  It was hardwired into our brains, in part so that we would search for the food and other resources we needed to survive when we first showed up on Earth.  Without it, we would have remained in our comfy caves and starved to death instead of hunting, fishing and gathering like the good cavemen and women that we were.  

Like fight or flight, the scarcity mindset wasn’t particularly functional in the U.S., until recently, in that we are the wealthiest country in the world.  In fact, most people with a scarcity mindset were seen as neurotic, especially those with disordered eating, because food and other resources have been plentiful in the U.S. for most people for most of our history.  Not anymore.  Now the scarcity is real and people who might not have started over-eating or restricting are doing so in response to this pandemic.

Want to know more?  Dr. Norton outlines the biology as well as the psychology in this article. 


Does someone you love suffer from an eating disorder?

Dr. Renae Norton specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Call 513-205-6543 to schedule an appointment or fill out our online contact form for someone to call you to discuss your concerns. Tele-therapy sessions available. Individual and family sessions also available.

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Materials contained on this site are made available solely for educational purposes and as part of an effort to raise general awareness of the psychological treatments available to individuals with health issues. These materials are not intended to be, and are not a substitute for, direct professional medical or psychological care based on your individual condition and circumstances.  Dr. J. Renae Norton does not diagnose or treat medical conditions. While this site may contain descriptions of pharmacological, psychiatric and psychological treatments, such descriptions and any related materials should not be used to diagnose or treat a mental health problem without consulting a qualified mental health care provider.  You are advised to consult your medical health provider about your personal questions or concerns.

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