If you can change your grocery store routine for the better, you can change your life. I’m totally serious. What we eat impacts our energy, body shape, body image, confidence and overall vitality. Healthy eating habits aren’t just about weight loss or gain. There’s a reason women and men trying to conceive are told to watch their diet for three months prior to trying. Even people attempting to heal from a physical injury are consulted on how best to eat to reduce inflammation and improve more quickly. The scope of what we can change through better eating is endless. The best place to start is your grocery store routine. From the moment you arrive to when you leave, there are simple strategies you can use to make the experience healthier. Here are 5 easy ones to try.
1) Where You Park
We’ve all been there…driving furious laps around the grocery store parking lot, attempting to find a space near the automatic front doors. It can feel like a personal assault that no spaces are open when we are in a hurry. We may even roll our eyes in exasperation as someone packing up their car with grocery bags seems to take fooorreeevvveerr.
Instead of wasting time trying to find that golden parking lot spot near the front or waiting for slowpoke to roll out, just take the first spot that you see. Why waste time going up and down the lanes when you can save time by parking in the first open spot (even if it’s way in the back) and walking in to the store? The extra steps won’t hurt you. In fact, changing this simple “find the easiest route” mentality is a huge deal. If we look at walking 100 yards or less from our car to the store as a nuisance, what other forms of movement throughout our day are we trying to shortcut? Do we avoid getting up more than a couple times a day from our desk to stretch, get water or loosen up with a little stroll around the office? Do we routinely take the escalator when the stairs are right beside it? Change this one simple thing and you’re on your way to including more movement across your whole day.
2) Shop the Periphery
The periphery of the grocery store is where the good stuff is. You might be thinking I’m wrong because the cookies, crackers, chips and soda are all in the aisles, but I promise you, the periphery of most stores is where you want to do the bulk of your shopping. Why? The perimeter is where the fresh items are: fruits, vegetables, freshly baked breads, meats, fish, and dairy (or dairy substitutes rich in calcium). These foodstuffs are lowest in additives like sugar, sodium and processed chemicals. They are also lower in calories than processed foods and can be delicious on their own or cooked with a little olive oil or some spices.
There are some healthy items such as beans, legumes, plant oils, nuts and grains that can be found in the aisles, but if you spend most of your shopping experience wandering up and down tossing boxes and bags of food into your cart, you’re probably missing out on the most nutrient-dense items your body needs to thrive. Next time you’re grocery shopping make note of where you’re spending most of your time. See if you can pull away from the chip aisle in favor of the produce section.
3) Plan Ahead
Healthy eating takes planning. Writing down how many meats and veggies you need for the week is a helpful way to have a game plan versus walking into the grocery store, getting overwhelmed thinking about dinner prep, and buying frozen pizzas and burritos. Leave them for hungry college kids to buy. If you balk at the prospect of making a unique meal for each dinner and/or lunch of the week then find two or three recipes that you can tackle one weekend afternoon and separate into meal-size portions for the whole week (or toss some in the freezer for later). Whatever works for you, write it on a notepad or in a phone memo. You want to go in to the store knowing what you’re buying so that last-minute stress and indecision can’t throw off your choices and wreck an entire week of eating.
Another way planning ahead with a list helps is to keep you from overindulging, especially if you go to the store hungry. This will always backfire so try to go after you’ve had a meal or snack. For example, ever gone into Trader Joe’s in the fall? Every inch of that store boasts a delicious pumpkin item from pumpkin butter to pumpkin ice cream. It’s serious pumpkin overload for both lovers and haters of the food. For those of us who LOVE this time of year, especially at TJ’s, it’s nearly impossible to walk out of the store without making impulse buys without a grocery list plan ready.
4) Allow Yourself a Splurge (or two)
Would it be fair to walk into pumpkin heaven (see above) without allowing myself to splurge on an item or two? No. That would be mean and cruel. Allowing yourself a very specific number of splurge items to buy is totally fine each grocery trip. I suggest two. I usually allow myself to buy some of my favorite sweet potato crackers as one splurge item and then, depending on the week, will let myself get either dark chocolate or coconut milk ice cream. I don’t eat any of these things in excess or all at once, but I like having them in my kitchen for moments when a little something special fits the bill.
Contrary to what people might think, allowing yourself to eat things that you crave can result in eating less, not more. Studies have shown that people who try to deprive themselves of desirable foods end up caving and eating way more of them (they even think about those foods more too!). People also tend to “eat around” what they really want. For example, they really want ice cream but will try to eat some nuts to satisfy their craving first. When the nuts don’t seem to work, they eat some bread or cheese, and on it goes until the person finally eats the ice cream. At this point, they are feeling so guilty for having overeaten other items that they also overeat the ice cream in a shame-binge. Save yourself from this. Just eat the darn ice cream already. And buy it too.
5) Get Active as You Exit
We often stand twiddling our thumbs while the cashier swipes our food items and bags them too. Instead of sitting back waiting to complete your transaction, try offering a helping hand. Start bagging the groceries. You will burn a little more energy, make things faster for other shoppers if the lines are long, and will help the friendly cashier with her job. Help out even if they aren’t friendly – you never know what someone is going through! You will also benefit by getting out the door faster and you will save your bananas and eggs from getting crushed. Always a worthy cause to motivate a shopper.
Lastly, as you prepare to leave the premises, your grocery bags neatly stowed in the trunk of your car, there is one last step before turning your key in the ignition. Put the shopping cart away!!! I see grocery store parking lots littered with shopping carts from people too lazy or busy to be bothered to complete this simple step. It’s a courtesy to the people working at the store and other drivers whose cars are at risk of getting hit by runaway carts. Just like step one in this article, this transition in mentality, taking action instead of the easy route out, transcends into other areas of your life too. This same mentality controls whether or not you get off your couch on the weekends and go on a run. It dictates whether you order take-out or cook something healthy.
Keep making the simple decisions that are best for your health and body. It doesn’t have to be hard. It can start with these basic steps at your local grocery store!
Yours in health and wellness,