It’s been a few weeks since you’ve completed treatment. You have learned coping strategies to manage eating disorder impulses and behaviors, but certain activities can still be triggering. Shopping for food is a common challenge for so many who are struggling or have struggled with an eating disorder. A grocery store, with its endless options and food labels abound, can be an overwhelming place for anyone, let alone someone recovering from an eating disorder. When thoughts of food are already taking up your whole brain, entering an environment filled with such a vast amount of food can understandably exacerbate that issue, causing anxiety, fear, and distress.
We want to help you cope with this common trigger. In this article, we will cover the potential challenges of grocery shopping while in recovery, as well as helpful strategies to overcome those challenges.
Potential Challenges of Grocery Shopping When Recovering From an Eating Disorder
- The abundance of food around you
- The temptation to read food labels
- Triggering diet-culture language on food labels
- Overhearing upsetting comments about food from other shoppers
- The added stress of being in a busy public place while also dealing with eating disorder recovery stressors
Strategies for Grocery Shopping in Recovery
1. Plan ahead.
Sit down beforehand and pinpoint your anxieties surrounding grocery shopping. Once you’ve done that, create a plan to help ease those anxieties. It may also be helpful to pick one day for meal planning and one day for grocery shopping.
Big-box grocery stores often contain a vast selection of food options and seemingly endless aisles, which can cause more eating disorder-related challenges. For those reasons, a smaller grocery store might be a better option for you. Whatever you decide, make sure to plan the grocery store you’ll go to beforehand so that you know what kind of environment you’re going into.
2. Make a list.
The sheer number of options at a grocery store can be overwhelming for anyone, but especially for someone in eating disorder recovery. Making a list of the items you need can be a helpful way to make the trip quick and a little easier. It also leaves less room for making spur-of-the-moment decisions in the store, which could be triggering. Plan your meals for the week and then make a list of what you need. Your list should include the items you need for your meals and any staples you require every week. If you are feeling like you can handle it and your care team has approved it, try adding some foods to your list that will challenge your eating disorder.
3. Set a time limit.
It may make sense for you to set a goal for how much time you spend in the grocery store. The longer you’re in the store, the more time your eating disorder has to try to get you to examine food labels or overthink your choices. Your eating disorder may also try to rush you through the store, leaving you without enough time to get all the essentials you need.
In addition to setting an amount of time, you may want to also give yourself a time of day to go. Being around large groups of people might not be the best atmosphere for a stressful activity. The comments other shoppers make about food could be triggering for you, such as, “We’re not getting that, it’s not good for you,” or “I’m going to get the sugar-free version so I don’t feel so guilty.” You may also receive or perceive food judgment from the people around you or from the cashier at checkout. Because of these factors, choosing a less popular time to visit the store, such as weekdays and mornings, may be the best choice for you.
4. Shop online.
If visiting a brick-and-mortar grocery store seems like too tall a task, that is also perfectly fine! Luckily, we live in a time when grocery pickup and delivery are the norm. Shopping virtually eliminates the stress of big crowds and packed shelves. You could even choose this option on hard days when you’re not feeling up to going in person.
5. Get support.
You may want to have a loved one help you make some of your decisions surrounding grocery shopping, as well as come with you for support. While shopping, your support person can be a happy distraction, as well as someone to hold you accountable to the list you made.
You will also want professional support when navigating the grocery store in a way that serves your recovery. For guidance around your specific shopping challenges or dietary needs, we recommend reaching out to your care team.
While you’re still figuring out how to best shop for food in recovery, you may want to do some self-reflection after each trip and determine what worked and what didn’t. Soon enough, you will develop a routine that best serves you and your recovery and grocery shopping will no longer be such an emotionally taxing activity.