According to the Food Market Institute, the average number of products in a grocery store tops 28,000, enough to overwhelm any shopper. For those with eating disorders, the tremendous selection can further heighten difficulties with food and make grocery shopping an errand that is anything but enjoyable.
Food is a common preoccupation and trigger in eating disorders of all types, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Thoughts of food often consume the day, as do rules of what, when, and how much should be eaten. The abundance of food at the grocery store can exacerbate these thoughts, sparking significant anxiety, fear, and distress upon entry. Factor in the store aisles full of fellow shoppers commenting on food and it’s no surprise that the grocery store is a highly stressful environment for those with eating disorders.
Learn how to navigate the shelves in person or virtually, and ensure you check out with items that serve your recovery.
Shop at a Smaller Store
If the thought of entering a large grocery store is triggering, try shopping at a smaller market that has fewer options. This way, you can limit your exposure to overwhelming food choices and stick to the items on your list.
Shop at Quieter Times
At the grocery store, you may overhear comments from other shoppers (e.g., “We’re not getting that. That’s so bad for you.”) or cashiers (e.g., “Looks like a junk food run!”), which are likely to reinforce eating disorder thoughts and beliefs. You may also receive or perceive food judgment from those looking in your cart or at your items on the checkout belt.
The hustle and bustle of the grocery store can also be overstimulating, so try to shop at quieter times if possible. This may mean shopping early in the morning or later at night when there are fewer people in the store.
If the thought of going to the grocery store is too much, consider shopping online. This can help you avoid triggering situations altogether. When shopping online, you can take your time browsing through the selections and add items to your cart at your own pace.
Some grocery stores also offer drive-thru or curbside pickup, which can be a good middle ground if you’re not ready to go inside the store but aren’t sold on delivery services.
Make a List and Stick to It
Another way to ease anxiety and stick to your recovery plan is to make a list of the items you need before you even enter the store. This can guide your experience and keep you focused on a plan that supports your eating disorder recovery.
If you’re feeling particularly vulnerable, bring a friend or family member with you to help stick to your list. They can also provide support and distraction if you start to feel triggered while shopping.
What works for you may not work for somebody else, so find what grocery shopping method is best for your eating disorder recovery and stick with it. With time and practice, grocery shopping can become a less triggering and more manageable task.