Strategies for grocery shopping in eating disorder recovery

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After you’ve finished a higher level of care like inpatient eating disorder treatment, transitioning back to your everyday life and environment can be a difficult adjustment for many people. Grocery shopping has the potential to be challenging for individuals in recovery from an eating disorder, but there are things you can do before and during your grocery shopping trip to help manage any potential distress.

Last updated on 
July 21, 2022
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9 tips to help you manage challenges at the grocery store

Repairing your relationship with food and eating can take time. And grocery shopping, with its endless choices and busy environment, can be overwhelming for anyone, but particularly for those recovering from an eating disorder. Some challenges you may encounter when going food shopping include the impulse to read food labels, the sheer amount of food available, problematic diet culture language, both on signs and overheard in conversations orBut these challenges don’t have to control your trip. With some help and intentional practices, you can make going to the grocery store much more manageable.

1. Avoid shopping when you are extremely full or hungry

When you are extremely hungry or full, disordered eating impulses may be more profound than usual, which may cause you to be more susceptible to the triggers common in grocery stores. If this happens, it is important to be mindful and challenge the beliefs you have related to eating and body image.

2. Mentally prepare for your outing

Before you head out, you may want to do some grounding exercises that you have found to be helpful—whether that means you meditate for fifteen minutes, do some breathing exercises, or listen to calming music. This can help you get into the right headspace for grocery shopping.

3. Make a list beforehand

No matter who you are, making a shopping list can help make things go smoother once you get to the store. You’ll want to plan your meals for the week, whether by yourself or with the help of a registered dietician, and include a list of whatever you need to purchase the food you need. That way, once you get to the store, you can focus on finding what was on the lists.

4. Go with a support buddy

Stressful situations can be ameliorated by the presence of a supportive and understanding friend or family member. Ask someone you trust to join you on your grocery shopping trip. Ask them to help you stay on track if you veer from your list or get sidetracked by checking labels or obsessing over types of foods. 

5. Choose a small store if possible

Large grocery stores can be extremely overwhelming, busy, with many food options. It can often feel like the aisles never end. A simple solution for this problem is trying out a smaller grocery store, even a neighborhood market, if possible. A smaller store can make it easier to get in and get out with what you need, while mitigating any potential triggers.

6. Limit reading labels

If reading labels is something you’ve struggled with in the past, going to the store may feel overwhelming. Try setting a goal as to how many labels you are allowed to check and if your goal is to avoid checking any labels whatsoever, don’t shame yourself if you do. Your recovery can have ups and downs, but what matters most is that you are progressing and asking for more support if you can’t seem to do it alone. You can have a friend or loved one assist in label checking, particularly if you have allergies, or need to check labels for other health reasons. Aim to buy as many food items on your list even if the beliefs caused by your eating disorder say otherwise 

7. Set a time limit

It can be easy to get caught wandering aimlessly around a grocery store if you aren’t paying attention. And on the other hand, you may rush through the store just to say that you did it, without actually buying the food you need. One way to establish your intentions and manage your challenges is to set a time limit for yourself. If you have a support person, ask them to help keep track of the time and hold you accountable as well.

8. Shop during off-peak time

A crowded grocery store may be particularly triggering for someone in eating disorder recovery because of the potential exposure to stigmatizing or harmful commentary from other shoppers or store employees who may not realize what they’re saying. Going to the grocery store during less popular times may limit your exposure to unnecessary triggers.

9. Order groceries online

If the very notion of stepping foot into a grocery store is too much for you, having groceries delivered to you can be an alternative. We live in an age in which you can purchase almost anything online, including groceries from many different stores. Shopping for food online takes the crowded stores, countless aisles, and packed shelves out of the equation so that you can focus on buying what you need to start the week off right.

Grocery shopping assistance at Within Health

At Within Health, a virtual eating disorder treatment program, we offer meal support in many capacities, depending on your needs, situation, and level of comfort. Meal support can include several options, all accessible through the app, including:

  • Providing you with a grocery list
  • Providing a Care Partner to go shopping with you
  • Working with you to order grocery deliveries
  • Cooking with you
  • Assisting with building a plate with appropriate portions
  • Eating with a Care Partner

At our comprehensive, integrated treatment program, we can support you during three meals and three snacks per day so that you never have to be alone during this integral time of your recovery.

In addition to practical meal support, we also offer pre-meal and post-meal process groups in which you can express your feelings before and after the meal, as well as request any support you may need. And once you complete the program, you can continue to receive support through our alumni program, giving people a chance to continue connecting and benefiting from the community. Talk with our team today to learn about our treatment program meal plans. 

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

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