Food shopping with an eating disorder

Something you don’t see when people talk about eating disorders is the effect it can have on simple every day tasks. For me, one of the hardest tasks is food shopping. This comes with a trigger warning.

In the depths of my anorexia I used to prowl the supermarkets, walking round and round the store for hours on end often attracting the attention of a security guard for suspicious behaviour. I still vividly remember the relief I felt when I was inpatient and discovered I wasn’t alone in that experience.
I would look forward to Saturday when I would walk 45 minutes to the big Asda in clapham with a sort of desperation and spend a good hour walking round the supermarket living vicariously through other people’s baskets. I would wander around the vegetable section looking for the perfect broccoli for dinner and picking out 5 flawless apples, always Braeburn, for my lunches. Then the frozen section for prawns and the drinks section for almond milk and diet coke. Finally I would buy sugar free jelly by the basketful and sachets of options hot chocolate. And that would be it. It would cost me the princely sum of £15 for a week’s shopping and walking back to my flat I would feel as if I had nourished myself. It was in fact the opposite, my shopping was usually carried out so as to skip lunch. I remember being so desperately embarrassed by people looking at my basket, fearing that they would consider me greedy or wonder why I was eating.
And there was the sheer overwhelming nature of a shopping trip which at times rendered me completely incapable of decision making. I remember being told by my therapist that I needed to have sandwiches for lunch. I went to the supermarket and spent nearly three hours picking up and putting down loaves of bread, reading and rereading nutritional information, frozen by panic. I came away with the lowest calorie bread of which I replaced my lunch of an apple with a single slice of bread folded in half. And I convinced myself it was a sandwich.
When I started getting overnight leave from inpatient food would scarcely feature and instead I would distract myself by going from supermarket to supermarket, I knew all the offers and new products even if I never bought them.

With bulimia too supermarkets became a place of pleasure and torment. Restricting somewhat outside of my binges I fall into the same routines I fell into as when I was anorexic. But there’s the added embarrassment and fear of binge food shopping. Again it involves so much time, time that could be so much better spent than spent in agony of indecision torn between 36 and 38 calories. And there’s the way you hover in front of fear foods, food you don’t want to eat but you also want eat and won’t allow yourself to normally. Then very suddenly it’s dropped into your basket. You feel like everyone is staring at you as your basket fills with food you are terrified of, food that will be all flushed down the toilet in a couple of hours time. It feels like you have this flashing sign ‘BULIMIC’ over your head as you pick up and put back the same product five times, walk round the shop three times before avoiding everyone’s eyes whilst you quickly scan everything at the self service till.

On the times you’re not binge shopping it’s still a numbers game. 400, too many. 300, maybe but hang on what’s the saturated fat? No? Okay well that one’s 289 so that one should do. But wait, there’s one there you really hate the sound of but it’s 267. That one then.

And on and on and on.

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6 thoughts on “Food shopping with an eating disorder

  1. ambivalencegirl

    OMG, I even drive myself insane thinking how stupid I’m being. I won’t buy potatoes in a bag bc I have to have them all the same size and shape. And we know that isn’t going to happen. As if Mother Nature made uniform potatoes. I spent close to 30 minutes picking out 5 potatoes and ended up putting one back. Ugh, and then I flip out again when I bake them wondering if it was too big or too small. ED’s stink big time.

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  2. Emma Cooper

    Oh how I relate! Especially the sugar free jelly and options! Just to say, Becca, it does get better, it just takes time, lots of time and work in therapy. I am still not completely ‘normal’ with food shops and I admit the other day it took me twenty minutes to choose a sandwich, but I am way better than I was. You have described this really well and I hope it will help people who don’t understand the way an eating disorder wraps itself around every aspect of someone’s life, to ‘get it’ a little bit more.

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    1. Becca Post author

      Thank you, it helps to hear it gets easier. It’s part of my disorder I despair of being rid of, it’s so horrible standing in a supermarket feeling that panic grow. I’m glad you are able to manage better now x

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  3. Mackenzie

    Thank you for taking the time to share this with us. I relate to this so much. I feel like every time I go to the grocery store people are constantly staring at me. Going back and forth as whether or not to purchase something. Thank goodness for self-checkout aisles, because I’ve definitely gotten some weird looks as to what is in my cart.

    I hope you’re doing okay, love

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