BY SHARYN SAFTLER, ARIVALE COACH, MPH RDN CD ACE-HCC
For better and worse, your brain is wired to perceive threats. When it perceives a scarcity of something deemed critical—food, water, time—it will kick into gear, ensuring that you are acutely aware of how much or little you have of said essential.
This can be incredibly helpful in the short term. For example, when time is scarce for an impending deadline, a scarcity mindset can help you focus. However, in the long term, a scarcity mindset can impact decision making and mental capacity or bandwidth. A study by the Association for Psychological Science gives one example of how, if a lack of food is perceived, the brain instinctively is drawn to food-related words. Mental capacity is narrowed to focus on the perceived threat at hand.
It may seem ironic to associate scarcity as a mindset in a culture where most are fortunate enough to have abundant food options. However, when we think about the not-so-uncommon mindset of restrictive “thou shalt nots,” which often occurs in a dieting mentality, it demonstrates that the reality of abundance does not override a perceived lack of abundance—even if the perception is based on one’s own, sometimes irrational, constraints.
It’s really important that we look at this from two perspectives:
1. How might a scarcity mindset occur in my current view of my diet?
2. How might the idea of upcoming vacation feel like a “limited time offering” in which I lose sight of the long-term effects?
Be careful in how you frame your perception of reality. If you see your current routine of eating, moving, sleeping, managing stress to be restrictive, you may find yourself in a scarcity mindset already (focusing on what you are lacking or giving up). Similarly, as you approach your vacation or travel plans, you may put a scarcity mentality around the limited time of “freedom” which can impact the decisions you make about food to be more focused on the immediacy of their availability rather than focusing on the long-term habits you want to build.
You can help shift your brain out of scarcity and into a sufficiency mindset by focusing on what you do have. When you know what you’re saying yes to—building healthy habits, optimizing your aging and brain health—it’s much easier to say “no thanks” to the things that do not move you in that direction.
- Remind yourself that you’re not depriving yourself—you’re making smarter choices that nourish your whole self.
- Request your Arivale Coach not give you any NEW action items when you’re feeling overwhelmed—bandwidth can be limited if you feel you are already limited in time.
- Find regular eating patterns/rhythms to help fuel your willpower to make consistent food and exercise choices.
- Avoid dualistic thinking (good versus bad, all versus nothing) and learn to embrace the tension of the “both/and:” (i.e. I can have both: good Swiss chocolate on my European vacation and lose weight). This helps reduce the tendency to make food a reward or the sense that you are “cheating.”
- Pick one to two specific things to be excited about for an upcoming vacation, holiday or travel experience. Let those be the things you savor and enjoy rather than going for anything and everything that is tempting/novel. What foods in particular are you looking forward to? Why? For example, if it’s the holidays, maybe it’s Grandma’s pumpkin bread that really makes the holiday for you. When you think about the other foods that are bound to be plentiful during this time, you may realize they don’t really do that much for you and you could make cookies and pies at other times during the year.
- Embrace food strategies that help guide you or give some structure to your meal patterns and food choices. (i.e. When given the option for drinks, appetizers and dessert—choose two out of the three.)
Just like any habit, switching from a scarcity to abundance mindset might require baby steps. Try picking a treat this week that you’re excited to experience and see if it helps you resist other temptations.
To your health!