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Expert Advice: Are You a Shopping Bulimic?

Expert Advice: Are You a Shopping Bulimic?
Jackie De Pape Hornick

Bulimia is an eating disorder rooted in bingeing and purging behavior. But, what if the bingeing and purging involved shopping instead of food? Experts and the media are acknowledging that shopping bulimia is a growing phenomenon, as we are bombarded with constant messages of happiness being just the swipe of a plastic card away.

So, what exactly is shopping bulimia? Dr. Tracy Thomas, Ph. D., is a licensed psychologist and coach, who will help us better understand compulsive shopping and the process it involves.

Excessive shopping

compulsive shopping

“Initially this process disorder involves compulsive, impulsive or excessive shopping that isn’t about actual needs, but instead involves a kind of zoning out,” says Thomas. “It’s about a complete numbing out to regular life to cope and avoid feelings.”

Here are some warning signs that you may be a compulsive shopper:

  • Experiencing feelings of euphoria while shopping and buying, followed by extreme lows of buyer's remorse
  • Using shopping as a distraction
  • Shopping to avoid doing other things
  • Shopping without knowing what you're looking for
  • Shopping when you don't have money
  • Hiding purchases from loved ones

Online and TV shopping only make the problem all that more accessible.

Countless returnsshopping bulimic

“The bulimic part of the process comes in because the whole thing was never about needing the items being purchased. It was about checking out of the present moment – and in this case the drug of choice was called shopping.”

When the shopping process is over, the high fades and the person can see for a moment that they didn’t need the items to begin with. This leads to the returning of the items (the purge).

Many stores offer very liberal return policies, allowing the purge process to go easily. Unfortunately, the returning part of this disorder is only the avenue to more shopping and the process can start all over again.

The Bigger Issue

“The key thing is to understand that this isn’t a shopping and returning issue, it’s a process ‘addiction’ or an obsessive compulsive disorder/anxiety disorder manifesting itself in this landscape,” Thomas explains. “The issue is dealing with why they shop.

In these cases, the shopping is taking the place of something else the person could be positively spending their time on and it may be time to seek out the help of a professional.

Finding Help

Dr. Thomas recommends seeking out a “therapist, counselor or coach who treats things like anxiety, depression or obsessive/compulsive disorders.” It is professional support people like these who can help people get at the root of their feelings and work through them – or as Dr. Thomas calls it, “move on with their lives and off the merry-go-round.” Once you understand the feelings causing the behavior and become comfortable when these feelings occur, you can heal and move on.

Do you know anyone who suffers from shopping bulimia? What kind of characteristics did you encounter? Share your stories of compulsive shopping with us.


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