How a Scarcity Mindset Can Turn into an Eating Disorder

January 13, 2021 Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

If you live confined within a scarcity mindset, then be warned: this mentality can—and often does—turn into an eating disorder. The term scarcity mindset refers to a belief that you do not deserve abundance and lack a sense of personal worth, so you act out of self-denial instead of nourishment and freedom. This can lead to dangerous behaviors, such as caloric restriction in an effort to deprive or discipline yourself, which could become a full-blown eating disorder over time. A scarcity mindset is detrimental to your healing, but it can be overcome in eating disorder recovery.   

My Own Experience with an Eating Disorder and Scarcity Mindset 

As I have learned, a scarcity mindset can take numerous forms. In my own life, it manifests in depriving myself of basic pleasures since my eating disorder voice tells me I am not allowed to feel enjoyment or satisfaction. I tend to label these emotions as self-indulgent, so I punish myself with starvation and restriction anytime those emotions begin to surface. Just recently, this toxic pattern was brought to my attention, and one of my goals for 2021 is to replace that scarcity mindset with an outlook of abundance. 

Last month, my parents flew across the country from Florida to spend the holidays with me in Arizona, and during their visit, I found myself discussing this concept of a scarcity mindset quite often with my mom. It all started when she walked into my kitchen and noticed a green cast iron teapot that my sister had purchased for me while on vacation in Spain a few years prior.

She asked me if I ever actually use this teapot, to which I replied, "I don't trust myself to use something so delicate and beautiful, so I just keep it as a decoration."

My mom shook her head with a compassionate smile, then pointed out how this has become a recurring—not to mention, limiting—cycle for me.

"Do you recall when you were in residential eating disorder treatment, and your therapist would share updates on your progress with me each week?" she asked. In all honesty, I do not remember much about this time in my life, but I was willing to take her word for it, so I motioned for her to continue.

 "According to what your therapist once told me, you were an unusual eating disorder case," my mom explained. "Most individuals with anorexia react with fear and revulsion when food is placed in front of them, but your immediate response was different. You reacted first with pleasure, then with self-flagellation, as if you had to penalize yourself for wanting to feel pleasure." 

As I mulled that over, it occurred to me: this scarcity mindset was at least somewhat responsible for my eating disorder. For years, it had influenced both my actions and decisions. In fact, it was interfering with all aspects of my life. 

How to Combat a Scarcity Mindset in Eating Disorder Recovery

If you have a scarcity mindset which, at some point, turned into an eating disorder, then I want to offer you some encouragement that it is possible to overcome this. Below are four coping mechanisms that help me quiet the scarcity mindset and refocus my attention on eating disorder recovery. I hope these strategies will benefit you too.  

  1. Be curious about what brings you pleasure, then resist the impulse to deprive yourself of or apologize for this.
  2. Practice gratitude for what you have, rather than obsessing about whether or not you deserve the abundance.
  3. Embrace your freedom of choice—no matter the circumstances, you still have the agency to pursue a brighter future. 
  4. Focus on possibilities rather than perceived limitations because you are allowed to claim space and honor your own needs.

Do you struggle with a scarcity mindset that has turned into an eating disorder? What helps you work through this and remain committed to eating disorder recovery? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. 

APA Reference
Schurrer, M. (2021, January 13). How a Scarcity Mindset Can Turn into an Eating Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 29 from

Author: Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

Connect with Mary-Elizabeth on Facebook, Instagram and her personal blog.

February, 15 2022 at 12:36 pm

II just stumbled upon this post while searching for “scarcity mindset eating disorder” via Google. I had found a other blog post correlating the two. I wanted to make a post because I thought it may be beneficial to myself and others. I have been a binge eater since childhood. I am first generation American and my parents are from a 3rd world country where food was constantly scarce and starvation was a real thing. When I was in my early 20s I stumbled upon a job making lots and lots of money. I had never been “trim” in my life, but as I earned more money, my obsession with food and scarcity went away and I ended successfully losing weight for the first time in my life. During my “earning” years(10 years), I kept the weight off(with some mild ED patterns still in the background). As my earnings fell, my binge eating increased, and so did my “scarcity mindset.” Things like eating food past it’s prime, taking toilet paper and lotions from hotels because a norm and I am now unemployed and living off my investments. This seems like it would be any 40+ year olds dream to be semi-retired and living off investments, but it’s only made my BED worse. I have not pursued relationships because the cost money, I have not been able to get my BED under control bc of my thinking surrounding food waste, I have pigeon holed my life into one where I am fully isolated and spend as little money as I can. In other words I’m not living life at all.
I just wanted to chime in and express my own thoughts regarding this “scarcity mindset” and how it correlated with BED similar in your own experience. I’ve always thought the two were correlated and have even mentioned it to multiple therapists, but until reading your post I thought it was just my own hypothesis.
It makes me happy(in some ways) to read that others have correlated similar thoughts and it makes me want to work harder on my “scarcity mindset” to potentially start living a fulfilling life again.

February, 16 2022 at 11:27 am

Hi E,
Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience and insights on this topic. It's so true that, however eating disorder behaviors manifest, a scarcity mindset is often at the root of those compulsions. I appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable and open about how this has contributed to your binge eating disorder, and I hope that you're able to find support and healing in this area. If you're interested, the HealthyPlace eating disorders community has some resources and information that might be helpful to you: In the meantime, I'm grateful for your openness and honesty to share.

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