Being a Consumer

It's odd. When you hear the verb "consume," you probably think of food. She consumed X calories today. He consumed the whole cheesecake. I've yet to hear someone say "she consumed a celery stick." She snacked, she nibbled...but not she consumed.

Then there are the scary statistics about Americans' use of gasoline and oil. "...consumed at a rate of X gallons per day." Ditto for water. It referred to something in excess.

We live in a consumer society. We want. We buy. We use. We consume.

I don't always like that. I don't want to be a "consumer." I don't want to want, to need, to consume. Eating was a part of that. Soon, it traveled beyond food and eating. I didn't want to spend money or get myself nice things. Don't be a consumer, Carrie. Don't waste. Don't use up. Don't need. Don't want. You can get by without another pair of jeans or shoes or towels or books.

The amount of food I ate was excessive. Cut back. I was excessive. Want less, need less. You can make do. With 300 calories a day. With 5 hours of sleep a night. With an 8-year-old pair of jeans. Sandals that were almost worn through. Socks that were worn through.

I'm astounded, really, that I didn't try to cut down on the amount of oxygen I used. If I could have figured out a way, I'm sure I would have tried.

Where does this mentality come from? It's very common in people with anorexia- the pinched purses, the fear of excess. Could there be a neurological basis for this? Is it cultural? Is it both?

I was told by some therapist somewhere (there's been far too many) that it was a rebellion against the culture at large. I was rebelling against being a woman, I was rebelling against a me-driven, want want want culture. I don't really agree with the first part, but the second makes me stop and think. I will confess- I like being a little different. When a band I like gets popular, it really annoys me. My preferences have become almost cliche.

More than that, though, there was a subtle sense of superiority at not going shopping, at not buying much. The same that went along with not eating much. Those people, I sniffed. With their new cars and new clothes and pizza dinners. I don't need that. My celery stick suits me just fine.

I was, of course, also jealous of those people. Jealous that they could want and need and have. I couldn't- or at least wouldn't let myself. So I prided myself in the opposite. It made the quasi-existential crisis somewhat easier to bear.

Did this fear of consumption start with the eating disorder? I remember going to the mall with my friends in middle school and high school, helping them carry their packages since I had bought nothing. At most a pair of earrings or some lip gloss. I went to a Rennaisance Festival with my high school BFF and she bought a $100 costume thingy. I was shocked. First of all, it was kind of tacky. No- it was really tacky. Secondly, it had no use. Thirdly, it was wasteful. She didn't need something like that. I couldn't imagine forking over that amount of cash for something like that.

It definitely got worse with the eating disorder. The only things I continued to buy were coffee, Diet Coke, and books. For me, books have their own sustanance. I don't eat the paper or anything, but they do help sustain my mind and soul. Any new clothes I got were because my mom couldn't stand to see my old jeans hanging off my butt. Or because she had cleaned out my closet while I was inpatient and I wasn't about to go out in January in my skivvies.

Walter Kaye at UCSD did some studies in weight-restored anorexics measuring the amount of dopamine in the brain. What he found was interesting: anorexics had higher levels of dopamine than healthy controls. The theory is that people with anorexia are stimulated and get pleasure at much lower levels. An attempt to restrict food and consumption is a way to modulate the levels of dopamine. Other experiments found that those with addictive behaviors (alcohol, drug abuse, gambling) had lower levels of dopamine. They were the pleasure seekers. There wasn't enough dopamine, so they did things to increase it.

I don't know that we'll ever fully tease this apart. Nature and nurture has no distinct division. They influence and tug back and forth on each other. I still have to work daily to modulate my tendency to avoid and do without. It is helpful when you don't have a job, true, but I'm also not totally destitute. I can afford food. Socks. New chap stick. It's okay. We're all consumers- and there's nothing wrong with that.

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Sarah said...

This is really interesting to read, Carrie, and it makes a lot of sense to me. I am definitely a pleasure-seeker. And if I have it, I spend it. I was out with a group of AA women yesterday and my friend A said something like, "my drug of choice was, MORE." And everyone "got it" immediately.

Anonymous said...

And my drug of choice is "less." I'm not proud of it, but I am this way. My family is going on vacation next week, and one of my goals while they're gone is to not spend any money.

carrie said...

I think there's also an interesting paradox: we want MORE of LESS. It's like, cut down to 1500 calories/day. Then 1200. Then 1000. We have to keep ratcheting up the turning down.

This is probably not one of those questions you should consider while deprived of caffeine, however. :)

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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