I recently saw an article of tips and tricks about grocery shopping when you have an eating disorder. Of course I clicked on the link, but I was surprised to find that almost everything on the list was exactly the opposite of how I prefer to approach food.
People’s strategies for recovery are as widely varied as they themselves are, and different people find different approaches to meal planning, shopping, and cooking helpful. So I thought I might throw out some of what’s helped me become more comfortable with the process of getting food from the store to inside my belly in the hope that others might find something useful in it.
I’d also love to hear other people’s tactics. The more we can share with each other what’s helped us, the less alone and confused anyone has to feel. So here are my strategies for the actual shopping and cooking processes while in recovery.
- Plan ahead. I never ever go into a store without a list of everything that I need, and I try very hard not to buy anything that isn’t on the list (unless I look at it and realize I meant to put it on the list). This helps me to feel less out of control while I’m in the store, it ensures that my grocery trips take less time, and it means I can focus on crossing things off of the list instead of on all the food around me.
- Buy in bulk. Some people really don’t like this one, and I understand. There are times that it’s overwhelming to me to have too much food in my house. But I really prefer to have fewer trips to the store, and so I buy lots of frozen veggies, grains that don’t go bad, and other things that can last me up to a month so I don’t have to venture back to the store for as long as possible. Again, your mileage may vary on this one, and if you feel really overwhelmed with having too much at once then it can be really helpful to start with a smaller store rather than a Cub or a Rainbow.
- Produce and other things that go bad: approach with care. For a long time I wouldn’t buy anything that would go bad because it felt like too much pressure to eat it right this instant. If you have worries about things going bad then it’s actually possible to buy mostly long term things (frozen is your friend). My strategy has been to slowly introduce more perishables. I started with milk (because I need it for my mac and cheese) and have now worked up to such amazing buys as spinach. You don’t have to get a lot of any of these, or even a wide variety of perishables. You can make your basic diet one that doesn’t spoil and add on fresh things for more nutrients as you feel comfortable.
- Recipes aren’t necessary but they can be helpful to come up with fast and easy things. You in no way need to follow recipes exactly, especially if there are more ingredients than you want to deal with. I recommend doing some brainstorming before going to the store for things that will be as easy and fast as possible. I find the longer I have to commit to cooking, the less likely I am to get my meals in.
- Cooking in bulk can be great! I love to make extra pasta or rice so that I have a couple additional meals and don’t have to worry about cooking for a few days. Decreases stress, increases ease.
- Eat things that taste good to you. I don’t buy frozen meals even though in many ways they would seem ideal for me. I don’t like how they taste. Instead I try to get things that I want to eat because that will increase my motivation to cook them and put them in my stomach.
- With that said, also be aware of things that feel too anxiety provoking. I try not to have chips around too much because I eat them mindlessly and it causes me a lot of stress. That doesn’t mean cutting those foods out entirely, but rather being careful around them so that you can eat them with minimal stress (I only buy one bag of chips at my monthly grocery run so that I don’t feel overwhelmed).
- If you’re going to go grocery shopping with someone else, communicate how you shop and what they can do to support you. There are lots of people out there who like to wander and browse in the grocery store, so don’t assume that everyone wants a list or can be in and out quickly.
- I prefer to buy things that are not pre-portioned so that I can decide how much I am hungry for.
- Eat before you go! Shopping when hungry means everything will look good and it can get overwhelming really fast. I also try to build in some downtime post shopping trips so that I can calm any stress that might have built up.
- I prefer to have a few standbys for cooking that are as easy as possible and feel completely possible no matter how bad of a day I’m having. I always keep those around. For me it’s ramen noodles, mac and cheese, and chic’n nuggets.
- I also try to make my cooking in general simple. I like to do variations on the same theme. Most of my food comes in the form of grain+veg+sauce all mixed together. That means I only have to figure out three choices for any given meal, but also allows me all kinds of different flavors.
- When adding new things, don’t try to do too much at once. I never have enough protein in my diet, so I’ve been working on that, but I don’t try to do many things at once. This week I added protein smoothies to my diet. A few months ago I started adding fake meats to my basic meal template. One at a time is easier to keep track of, less stressful, easier to adjust if it starts stressing you out, and easier to grow accustomed to.
- There is no need to be a perfectionist. For a long time I didn’t want to cook because I didn’t feel confident about it and I hate not being perfect. But my food doesn’t have to turn out like the food on Iron Chef. It just has to turn out like something I want to eat. It can be ugly, I can make mistakes, and I can experiment without being some kind of failure.
- Spend money on food. I know that sounds privileged and stupid, but it’s an important shift of mindset for many people with eating disorders. For a long time I refused to budget any money for food because I didn’t see it as a necessity. But eating becomes much easier if you like the way your food tastes and if you can buy things that you enjoy, which means putting food as high on your budget priorities can go a long way. This is also part of why I allow myself to eat out more often than I probably should. My health is worth the money.
That’s what works for me at least. I hope some of it is helpful, and remember: if these things don’t sound useful for you then you don’t need to do them. Do what works for you.