Compulsive Spending: When Shopping Mirrors an Eating Disorder

Blog contributed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President @ Eating Disorder Hope, and Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Director @ Eating Disorder Hope

Shopping. Retail Therapy.  Whether it involves purchasing clothes, shoes, home décor, purses, beauty products, or entertainment, shopping and spending have become the mentality of American consumers.  As a society, we are constantly saturated and bombarded with messages of materialism, a driving force behind excessive or unwanted spending.  In 2001, advertising expenditures in the United States topped $230 billion, more than doubling the $105 billion spent in 1980 [1].  For many individuals, obtaining wanted or desired items will lead to spending beyond their means, acquiring debt through the use of credit cards or loans.  According to Economy Watch, the total amount of consumer debt in the US is nearly $2.4 trillion in 2010, which breaks down to about $7,800 debt per person [2].

Excessive spending can be a detrimental problem as it begins affecting quality of life, relationships, and well-being.  Oniomania, or compulsive shopping, can be a mental disorder among consumers, in which individuals experience an uncontrollable urge to buy things.  Also known as “shopaholism” or a shopping addiction, this disorder is characteristic of highs and lows commonly seen in other addictions.  A person addicted to shopping may be triggered to spend impulsively by overwhelming circumstances or emotions.  The behaviors associated with compulsive spending may lead to feelings of guilt, anger, or frustration, which will perpetuate the cycle even further.  Unlike normal shopping, or the occasional shopping splurge, compulsive shoppers may experience depression or regret as a result of their behaviors and incurring debt, leading to a secretive addiction and lifestyle.

Compulsive shopping or shopping addiction can often be co-occurring with an eating disorder.  Both of these disorders may share commonalities in how they develop.  Shopping and eating disorders may both be connected by behaviors that develop from a need to cope with overwhelming emotions or situations.  Similarly, both of these disorders can create a form of distraction or artificial sense of “control” when life circumstances are unbearable to deal with.  A woman or man who struggles with bulimia may feel triggered to binge when facing a painful emotion or experience, resulting in a purge that is often done out of guilt or in compensation of the binge.  In the same way, a shopping addict may indulge in a compulsive shopping spree to escape a troublesome relationship.  This will usually lead to shame or anger over the amount of money that may have been recklessly spent.

Compulsive spending can wreck havoc on every aspect of a person’s life, as does an eating disorder: Emotional, physical, social, financial, and spiritual.  Being aware of the possible connections between shopping addiction and eating disorders is important in identifying and treating the root causes.  Effective treatment and recovery from an eating disorder should address any co-occurring disorders, such as a shopping addiction.  If you are struggling with an eating disorder and shopping addiction, be sure to confide in a health care professional, who can help direct you to appropriate treatment.  Life does not need to hinge on your next purchase…real freedom and recovery can be experienced today.


[1]: McCann-Erickson U.S. Advertising Volume Reports and Bob Coen’s Insider’s Report for December 2001

[2]: Economy Watch, “A Dozen Alarming Consumer Debt Statistics”,

*image courtesy of naypong at

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website.