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Six Steps for Successful Grocery Shopping

How to Stay Calm and Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed


Updated April 10, 2012

Six Steps for Successful Grocery Shopping

Whether you have just gotten out of inpatient or residential treatment for your eating disorder or you are in outpatient therapy, grocery shopping is one of the most challenging events for someone suffering from an eating disorder. People suffering from anorexia nervosa or restricting behaviors often avoid grocery shopping, resulting in having too little food on hand and thus continuing a cycle of restriction. People suffering from bulimia nervosa or binge eating behaviors also often avoid grocery shopping in order to avoid having binge foods on hand. This often results in getting too hungry or going to the store while hungry, again continuing a cycle of disordered eating behaviors. Consider these six steps to stay calm and have a successful grocery shopping experience.

  1. Plan ahead. Talk to your therapist and dietician about your shopping trip(s) and what parts are most difficult for you. Are there specific sections of the store that are hardest? Or purchasing specific foods?

    Discuss what types of food you need to purchase to fulfill any meal plan requirements and whether or not you are ready to try to purchase a more challenging food (something you typically avoid and/or binge on). Dieticians can be incredibly helpful at helping create meal ideas that fit into meal plans without overwhelming you.

  2. Make a list and stick to it. After talking about what types of foods fulfill your meal plan, make a list for the shopping trip. You may need to create a menu for several days so that you can get all of the ingredients needed. Having a list can help you stay focused on the task at hand and avoid getting stuck comparing various foods or not being able to decide what to get. As you go through the store, remind yourself that you need to go ahead and get each item on the list. Don't get caught up in reading nutritional information or deciding between two sizes of the same food.

  3. Choose the right time to go shopping. If at all possible, go to your grocery store when it is the least crowded. This is often on a weekday during regular working hours. It can be anxiety provoking for anyone to have to cope with a crowded market and standing in line. Try to go when you are calm and well rested. You will also want to avoid going to the grocery store when you are hungry.

  4. Choose the right place to go shopping. I've have many clients, especially those suffering from bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder, describe how triggering their grocery store can be as this is where they have purchased foods to binge on many times in the past. Try to choose a store that is not triggering to you. This may be a smaller store or one that is not a 'health food' store.

  5. Take a friend with you. Having a friend or family member who is supportive of your recovery with you during grocery shopping trips can be extremely helpful. This person can help keep you on task as well as distract you from the stressful situation with interesting conversation. If you don't have anyone personally who could go with you, you may want to consider asking your dietician if they accompany clients on community outings or if they could recommend someone who does.

  6. Process the trip and learn from it. Not all grocery shopping experiences are going to go well. Sometimes you may get overwhelmed and leave the store without purchasing anything at all. Other times you may end up buying more than you had intended. This is okay. Talk about your grocery shopping trips with your therapist and dietician. One of the most important things in recovery is that you learn from experiences and figure out what you can do differently the next time a difficult situation arises.

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