Everyone has to eat to survive, even those who are suffering from an eating disorder of any type. In order to obtain food, most people have to go grocery shopping. Grocery shopping is stressful enough as it is, but when you add an eating disorder into the mix, you get an awful, anxiety filled chore. I know that for me, I absolutely dread going grocery shopping. I know that there are just so many opportunities for me to slip up and buy binge foods. The fortunate news, however, is that there are some tips to follow that can make grocery shopping less stressful for anyone, especially those with an eating disorder.
Plan Ahead of Time
One of the most important steps in grocery shopping is planning ahead. This step involves planning out your meals for the week (or next few days), checking to see what you already have, and making a grocery list. I personally use the 7 day meal chart that follows the Herrin Food Plan for Eating Disorders’ rule of three (3 meals and 3 snacks no more than 3 hours apart) to plan my meals for the week. This chart allows me to plan both snacks and meals for the upcoming week and also includes space for what time you plan on eating. You can make your own chart or just ask your counselor/dietitian to provide one for you. Filling this meal plan out ahead of time helps me to know what I will need when I go grocery shopping, but also takes the stress of planning meals the day of.
Bonus tip: When I am meal planning, I like to use Canada’s food guide as well as my Herrin Food Plan printout to help me ensure that I am planning the proper amount from each food group (dairy, protein, grains, fruits/vegetables). It is important to have a balanced meal plan, so using these guides can be a big help in finding new ideas and properly planning adequate nutrition.
The second step before actually going to the grocery store is checking flyers for sales and deals. It is never a bad thing to buy things for a cheap as you can, especially since following a healthy meal plan can get expensive. Checking for sales ahead of time saves gas money and time so that you don’t have to run to numerous stores to check for the lowest price. Some stores will even match prices if a competitor has a better deal, so remember to bring your flyers with you when you go grocery shopping. Flyers also help to give me new ideas for meals or snacks. It is not necessary to use flyers, but they can serve as a time and money saver if you do. Plus, it’s never a bad thing to have some new ideas for what to eat. I also find it helpful to check online for sales and coupons. Some stores will offer coupons that you can only get online, so it never hurts to check. Flyers can also be downloaded using stores’ websites.
Bonus tip: Another way to save money is to bring your own bags. This really adds up over time and also helps to protect the environment.
You may have heard people say that you should never shop on an empty stomach. The good news is this isn’t a myth and is actually quite true. This is especially helpful for those with tendencies for compulsive buying or binging. Eating first can help you to use your head when you grocery shop, rather than your hungry stomach. Those who have issues with binging will find this tip very helpful. I know with my bulimia, if I go grocery shopping when I am starving, I want to buy so many extra ‘binge foods’ that I wouldn’t have bought had I not been hungry. So before you go grocery shopping, be sure to have either a snack or a meal to avoid overspending or compulsive buying.
Bonus tip: Stick to your grocery list. It is okay to buy some things that are not on it, but try not to veer too far off from what you intended to buy.
Try New Things
Although it is advisable to buy only what is on your grocery list, it is always a good idea to try new ideas and different foods. I personally like to try new fruits and vegetables that are in season. Buying new seasonal fruits and vegetables is a cool way to try new, healthy things. And because these are closer to the range of ‘safe’ foods, it is an easy way to transition into trying newer things. You might find that you really enjoy something. My advice would be to buy new things in smaller amounts, that way if you don’t enjoy it, you didn’t waste too much money or food.
Bonus tip: There are always new, cool, fun recipe ideas on social media, like Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. When you see a recipe or new idea, save it and add it to your next grocery list. Social media also has eating disorder recovery groups that often post healthy recipes to try. If you enjoy something, spread the word to let others know.
I have often heard that is is smart to shop around the aisles, leaving the middle of the grocery store for last. Grocery stores often position fresh foods around the outside aisles and stock all processed and packaged foods in the middle. To avoid the temptation to overbuy too much ‘fun food’, shop around the fresh aisles first. This way, when you get to the middle, your cart will already be full and you may have more sense to say no to something that will lead to eating disorder behaviors later. Remember, ‘fun food’ is perfectly okay, as long as you don’t buy too much of it to the point that you will be too tempted to binge if you have it laying around the house. It is much wiser to spend your money on the healthy fresh foods like fruits, veggies, milk products, and fresh grains on the outer aisles rather than on processed canned foods stocked in the middle.
Bonus tip: Frozen vegetables are a cheaper option to fresh and still have more nutrients that canned. If you can’t afford fresh, buy frozen rather than canned options.
Do Not Buy In Bulk
Since fresh food is the best for you, it is smart to only buy enough for the next week or so, otherwise it may go to waste. This means that it is better to buy in smaller amounts rather than in bulk. Buying ‘fun food’ in bulk also can be risky. I personally like buying my ‘fun foods’ in individual packages, rather than in family sized bags. For example, I will buy a box of the small bags of chips rather than buying one big bag. Having the individual wrapping helps me stop before it turns into a binge. This also prevents binge food from laying around the house where it will be easy to slip into eating disorder behavior. I only buy enough ‘fun food’ to fit into my meal plan for the week so that there isn’t extra in my house. I know that if it is there, I am more likely to binge and purge than if it wasn’t. This also delays binging, since if you do not have it in the house, you would have to actually go out to purchase whatever food you wanted to eat. This can help people prevent binging and purging from occurring. My dietitian also recommends buying individually packaged food because she says that the wrapping serves as a sort of barrier. Also, she recommends ‘fun food’ be a ‘sweet ending’ to a meal, and having it individually wrapped feels more like a stop than if you had to measure out a serving from a larger package.
Bonus tip: Try a store that offers free sampling. Trying new things in the store can help make it a more pleasurable experience. Also, shopping with a friend who is supportive of recovery can be a fun way to help you stay on track while also enjoying the shopping experience. The idea is that you want your relationship with food and shopping to become a positive one, so any way to make grocery shopping more exciting is a good idea.
These tips have helped me with my grocery shopping. When I apply these ideas and tips to my routine, I don’t dread grocery shopping nearly as much. It is still sometimes trial and error, but I now better understand what to do to make the experience more positive. I hope that they will help others as much as they have helped me. Remember, food is not the enemy and grocery shopping doesn’t have to be an anxiety-ridden experience.
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