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Compulsive behavior

Here are three tips:

1) Start writing things down

2) Steer clear of unnecessary temptations

3) Find healthy alternatives

I bet you assumed those were weight-loss tips, what with this being a weight-loss blog and all. WRONG! These are tips about how to overcome compulsive shopping. However, when I read the list of tips and the companion article, I was amazed at how similar compulsive shopping seems to be to compulsive eating.

Compulsive Shoppers Compulsive Eaters
Set up secret post office boxes to receive overdue bills and new credit card offers Hide stashes of food around the house and binge in secret
Spend more than they make, accumulating piles of debt Eat more calories than they burn, accumulating piles of fat
Buy a power drill when feeling stressed, experiences euphoria, then regret it Eat six powdered donuts when feeling stressed, experience euphoria, then regret it
Live in a consumer-driven society and still have to buy things to survive Live in a world of convenient, fatty, high-calories foods and still have to eat to survive

By the time I’d gotten to the copyright notice at the end of that article, I felt such kinship for compulsive shoppers. They’re like the Bizarro World versions of overeaters! The strategies they recommend for dealing with the problem are similar to the tips for weight loss, like tracking your spending/calories and taking note of your feelings when you overspend/overeat.

Frequently on weight-loss blogs I will see people bemoan the fact that they are not “normal” when it comes to eating. I admit, it sucks that I have to put so much thought into planning meals and making healthy choices all the time. However, when I focus on the ways in which I’m screwed up in comparison to the rest of the species, I forget to notice all the ways in which I’m completely normal. I’ve never felt a compulsion to hit the “clearance” rack at Sak’s Fifth Avenue and buy a couple $300 dresses marked down from $1200. I’d love to have a flat-screen TV, but I wouldn’t actually buy one unless I was sure it fit into my budget. I don’t have $23,000 of credit card debt. I don’t have a spending problem and I’ve never put much thought into what it would be like having one.

I do have an eating problem though. When someone places a slice of cake right in front of me at a party, it can be really hard to turn down. Sometimes I resent the fact that someone dares to offer me a fluffy, chocolate pastry of perfection when I have struggled with a weight problem all my life. Can’t you see that I used to have a weight problem! Why can’t you be more sensitive? However, when I got a prescription filled at Target last night, the pharmacist mentioned I could get 10% off if I got a Target Visa. This was no big deal for me to turn down or accept, but if I were a compulsive shopper this situation would have been just like a waiter reading me a list of fine dessert selections. Maybe everyone is crazy in their own little way and everyone has little battles they fight every day. We just don’t always know what they are. We witness inner warfare all around as and are none the wiser.

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Nancy Bea • October 4, 2007 at 9:45 am

Wow, is that the truth! It is hard to remember that every single person we see, no matter how thin or happy or successful they appear, everyone is carrying a heavy load. Sometimes that load is invisible to others, sometimes it’s right in your face. But it doesn’t matter, it’s there.

So of course the corollary is: be kind to everyone.


john • October 4, 2007 at 9:49 am

That’s really amazing, dead on. I remember you wrote once about “real” binge eaters and how you determined you weren’t one, and it sounded like for the most part I am not either – but this compulsive eating, that I can totally see in myself. And despite my early success I am far from eliminating it.


BrightAngel • October 4, 2007 at 10:04 am



K • October 4, 2007 at 10:28 am

Nancy Bea is SO right.

I’m not a compulsive shopper in the sense of having massive credit-card debts, but in the sense of buying things to make myself feel better? Yeah. And I’ve noticed I do this _more_ when I’m concentrating on health (mind you, back when I wasn’t, sometimes I would buy food to make myself feel better… there’s an overlap there, I think!)

I think it’s true in a sense that all addictions are the same; some are more damaging than others, but some are easier to avoid.


Jenny • October 4, 2007 at 10:52 am

We all got something, that’s for sure. The problem with over eating, is that the whole world can see “the problem.” When you over shop…. you just look good. It’s not like your credit card balance is pinned to your forehead.


psychsarah • October 4, 2007 at 11:18 am

PQ-I love this post! Once I realized that various disordered behaviours had commonalities, I gained a much better appreciation for my patients and everyone else in my life (like Nancy Bea says-be kind to everyone-here here!). For instance, even though I wish it were so easy to just tell my OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) patients to just stop washing their hands, I now get that it would be like someone telling me to just stop eating so much! It’s not that easy! Just like the person with OCD knows to some extent that their hand washing is excessive, its tough to change that behaviour, just like its tough for me to change the behaviour of excessive eating even though I know its happening…

I also love your perspective on normalizing other parts of your life/personality. Just like we can admit we all have foibles and “abnormal” parts of ourselves (whatever normal and abnormal means…)we can also be happy about our strengths, like your ability to resist over-shopping.

If only everyone could get on board with this accepting and open-minded view of human behaviour, perhaps we could get over the stigma associated with compulsive behaviours of all kinds… (ahhh-just my rose-coloured eyeballs hoping for peace on earth and goodwill towards humans…)


Tiffany • October 4, 2007 at 11:34 am

Suzy Orman says there is a direct relation to being overweight and being in debt. She actually gave a statistic for #’s overweight and credit card debt. With what you showed, wow, how easy that would be to happen.


MB • October 4, 2007 at 12:06 pm

You are so right, as always. I think the same is true for all complusive behavior(alcohol, drugs, food, shopping – whatever your vice may be). The worst part about the food addictions is you can’t just stop eating.

I was able to pay off an enornmous amount of credit card debt and now need to have the same focus on my battle with my fat.

I paid off almost $30K (oh, the amount of $$ I wasted on interest alone) when all my friends were telling me to just file bankruptcy. They couldn’t understand why I insisted on paying it off. It was my debt, I used those credit cards foolishly, had nothing to show for it but I just couldn’t take the easy way out and let society pay for my mistakes or I never would have learned my lesson. I spent years paying it off and felt a huge sense of accomplishment after making that last payment. I’m happy to say I’m finally credit card debt free.

Now I need to take responsibility for my weight, learn my lessons and succeed at this weight loss battle.

You are my inspiration!


MizAngie • October 4, 2007 at 12:12 pm

I’m jealous that compulsives of other sorts don’t wear their guilt around their waists!! Every type of compulsive behavior should make someone automatically get a double-chin! I’ve read several articles about addictive personalities and how they’ll exchange one addiction for another; some more healthful, some equally as bad. For instance, a lot of people in Alcoholics Anonymous become voracious coffee drinkers and smokers. Compulsive eaters might become compulsive shoppers. According to what I’ve read it’s not the compulsion that’s the problem, it’s the personality type. Ugh. Now I’m depressed – guess I’ll go to lunch and shopping!!


MB • October 4, 2007 at 12:33 pm

hmmmmm … maybe I substituted my complusive spending and accumulation of debt with compulsive eating and accumulation of fat. I need to find a way to be a compulsive healthy person, is there a pill for that?


JEM • October 4, 2007 at 12:49 pm

Most addictions are very similar no matter what you are addicted to. What is scary to me is that it seems (and this is all my opinion) that when you are addicted to something the addiction rarely goes away…most people just transfer it to something else. They only way to win is to at least transfer it to something healthy. I have seen this many times first hand. My brother was a drug addict. When he finally kicked the addiction he started weight lifting and he was completely obessed and addicted to that and then he transfered the addiction again to women. (it was all unfortunate.) Also, my mother who was a food addict transfered her addiction to shopping as she lost weight. (Much to my dad’s dismay. Triple chocolate brownies were much cheaper than designer shoes.) And finally my friend who also was a food addict, kicked it, lost a ton of weight and then was addicted to working out. Its just interesting.


Anonymous • October 4, 2007 at 12:55 pm

Wow, the similarities really are striking when they are listed side-by-side like that.

I would like to say that we have $30K of cc debt, but I don’t think I’m a compulsive shopper–we’re just really bad with money. About $8K of this was incurred while I was in college and we were broke. A few thousand was incurred when we needed furniture for our new house. Another $5K was incurred when our house desperately needed new windows. Several thousands are due to car repairs. A couple thousand is due to a vacation that we planned to repay immediately upon our return but then we were hit with a huge vehicle repair bill. Very little of it is due to us just wanting a new coat or new jeans or something like that.

I am happy to report that both of our vehicles will be paid off at the 1st of the year, at which point we are going to start methodically paying down our credit card debt. I can’t wait! I wish the 1st of the year was here now.

This isn’t really relevant to weight loss, I know, but I felt the need to explain. I’m sure people don’t understand (not that I tell anyone because I’m so ashamed) how we could get so far into debt, so hopefully this helps explain it somewhat.

PQ – I totally understand. I accumulated credit card debt after college and as soon as I’d pay some of it off, my transmission would break or I’d discover I had 12 cavities (because I didn’t go to the dentist for a year to save money, ha!). But, like with weight loss, you get rid of it a little bit at a time. It feels SOOOO good when you finally pay it off.


the veggie paparazzo • October 4, 2007 at 1:50 pm

For me, learning to take care of my finances played a big role in setting myself up to be able to take care of my body. They are tied together in some ways in my mind and emotions.


Mia • October 4, 2007 at 2:27 pm

Oh holy mother of God, can just you imagine the trouble we’d be in if our food cravings were translated into shopping? I am thankful I don’t have ANY credit card debt, and as a grad student that’s a real accomplishment, if I do say so myself (!). However, if I walk by a cute store I’m tempted to buy something I don’t need, and often do; similarly, if I’m walking past a bakery I want to pick up a croissant or something I wouldn’t normally buy.


Girl on a mission • October 4, 2007 at 3:40 pm

Well, I guess I’m screwed. I’m a compulsive eater and I’m 50,000 in debt. I have 10,000 worth of credit card debt, 10,000 car loan, 30,000 worth of student loans. Dear lord…I must be doomed for failure. My spouse came in to our relationship with zero debt and money in the bank….i’m on the road to recovery with debt…and paid off over $15,000 since February….BUT, I have a long way to go with eating- and with debt.

I thought I was the only abnormal person out there.

I blog to write about emotions and how I feel…to curb my urge to run to the pantry…and I blog to write about how debt affects my emotions and my overall sense of happiness.


Kyle • October 4, 2007 at 7:33 pm

So true…everyone’s got a little bit of crazy inside them. For the first two years of knowing my sister in law I thought she seemed incredibly normal and well adjusted. I didn’t find out until later that she has severe depression and there are days she can’t even get out of bed…her parents have to drag her out(and yes, she’s 28 and lives at home…that’s totally normal here in Chile). She hid her problems so well.

Anyways, point being, you just never know what burdens other people are carrying. So many addictions are easy to hide, like compulsive shopping, so we may never know what that person struggles with.


adrienne • October 4, 2007 at 8:38 pm

As you wisely resisted the temptation of the local Fall Festival, I’m slapping you with a meme:


I thought you might enjoy it. If not, feel free to send me a nastygram.


hanlie • October 5, 2007 at 2:14 am

I believe that all addictions have an underlying emotional cause. Therefore, on our weightloss journey we need to constantly take note of our achievements and the changes in our lives, so that we can adjust our self-esteem accordingly. We are working hard for what we want, hauling ourselves out of a deep hole, and we need to develop respect for ourselves along the way… (if you allow yourself to become obese, there’s clearly not a lot of self-respect).

It’s been well documented that people who have weightloss surgery very often develop other addictions… be it shopping, sex, alcohol, prescription drugs, whatever. That is because they have not learnt to deal with the emotional aspect of their addiction, they did not “overcome” their problems and the problems will out in another way.

My motto on my weightloss journey is “Balance, not perfection” and I have to repeat it every day to remind me that I’m becoming a normal person.


Zentient • October 5, 2007 at 8:28 am


What are we seeking through our over- everything? Eating,spending,drinking,drugging,doing. How difficult it seems at times, just to be an ordinary human with a balanced life. I used to call that boring.


Kathy • October 5, 2007 at 10:48 am

I can totally relate to this article. I have both a compulsive spending problem and a eating problem. Both in a bad way. I am trying to deal with my eating issues at the moment but the financial issues I just can’t seem to get a hold of. To top this off, I have OCD which makes the spending and eating even worse. I try not to think of my eating plan as a diet but as a “lifestyle change” because I hate the word diet. I feel that I am being deprived of something. With my “lifestyle change” I can make reasonable choices which can include foods that I love.


Purple Girl • October 23, 2007 at 7:28 pm

LOL–$23,000 in debt is exactly where I was two years ago! While I don’t think I’m regularly a compulsive shopper or compulsive eater, I’ve certainly had episodes of both–hence my credit card debt and my fat debt!

At least with the shopping I can return things a couple days later when I ask myself, “Why did I buy purple plastic flamingos for my non-existent yard?” :)


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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