Why You Can't Shop (or Diet) Your Way to a Better Body Image

New York Times bestselling author Geneen Roth and the connection between compulsive eating and shopping

We talk a lot about compulsive eating. But when I'm anxious or unhappy, I don't stress eat -- I stress shop. I start by deciding (whether it's true or not) that I've gained weight and everything in my closet makes me look fat and frumpy. This leads to a closet panic attack where I compulsively try on every possible outfit combination I own and reject them all, followed by a shopping spree -- where I blow through whatever budget I've set for myself and rarely end up finding anything that solves my so-called wardrobe conundrum.

I've been known to buy a whole new outfit en route to a party or a job interview because I decide somewhere along the way that everything I'm wearing is wrong. At my last office job, I celebrated Clearance Rack Thursdays, where I'd hit up the sale sections of the nearest Gap and Banana Republic on my lunch hour. And if I'm stuck on a tricky deadline, you can bet that jcrew.com is open and the cart is filling.

I've long wondered if my stress shopping parallels the diet-binge cycle that so many women engage in. And in her new book Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money, which hit the New York Times bestseller list on Sunday, author Geneen Roth says yes. "With both food and money, we deprive ourselves from eating or buying what we want until we can't take it anymore and binge or splurge," says Roth, a recovered compulsive eater who figured this out after losing her entire life savings to Bernie Madoff forced her to take a closer look at her relationship with money. "Many women think they can counter how they feel inside through buying clothes to fix their bodies outside. But you have to ask, what's really going on here? What feelings aren't being acknowledged?" 

The good news is that Roth has identified several coping strategies that can help whether your vice of choice is a pint of Ben & Jerry's or the entire Nordstrom's shoe department. Her tips:

View beauty and pleasure as necessities. "We thrive on beauty and relax with pleasure," says Roth. "If you put yourself on a strict diet or budget that doesn't permit that, you'll just end up sneaking it in and feeling ashamed." Honor your needs for delicious foods and pretty shoes by letting yourself enjoy.

Allow yourself to have what you already have. Take time to appreciate the clothes in your closet and the food on your plate, instead of always thinking that you don't have enough. "Enough is not some specific quantity where you'll feel satisfied -- it's a way of looking at what we have," advises Roth. "Most compulsive eaters don't enjoy what they're eating." And compulsive spending can be the same, when you buy just to buy.

Make it real. Try paying for everything in cash one day per week, to remind yourself that money has value. And take the time to notice how foods make you feel after you eat them. "We get disconnected from food and money when we binge or splurge without noticing these things," says Roth.

Don't give your power away. "We're so inundated with advice about how to spend and save, how much to eat and when to eat it that women often feel like they can't trust themselves to manage their money or eat sensibly," says Roth. "But it's your life. It's your body. And it's your money. I want women to know that it is possible to have clarity and power in their relationships with these things."


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