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An Atypical Anorexia Sufferer Visits the Supermarket

These two posts, written two years apart, show how Mel managed to overcome a lot of the anxiety she felt around shopping for food. 


20th May 2018

Yes, that is correct. I went to the supermarket.

You might assume that a diagnosis of atypical anorexia means you avoid a place brimmed to the ceiling with food. With atypical anorexia, I still have a "normal" BMI, and even eating a vegetable feels like over-indulgence. But there are still necessities. I want to steer clear of Sainsbury's like the upcoming visit of a certain American president; however, I still need toilet roll and fabric softener, and I am still drinking my favourite squash drinks (not available anywhere else) like they are going out of fashion. And I still need some food.

Just only foods that are safe.

The trouble with safe foods is that there are not usually many of them.

So I’ve had to get creative and do some research to try and discover new safe foods. This morning, armed with inspiration and my mental shopping list of new foods, I braved the barbecue-embracing crowds of my town and crossed the threshold, manhandling the trolley as though it was capable of pouncing and running off to the bakery aisle of its own accord at any second. No, you don't.

Without the ED, I am like a bull in a china shop when food shopping. I know exactly what I want, and I get trolley rage when people slow me down. I am usually in and out of the door within twenty minutes. It's like Supermarket Sweep (RIP Dale, it was a classic!), minus the inflatables. I would have been so good on that show. 

Visiting the supermarket accompanied by an ED though has been a nightmare. So many products are now "not safe". The aisles are so full of temptation, and they mock and sneer as I walk past, my head down, hoping not to be noticed by those otherwise innocent packets of indulgent goodies. It sets every anxiety going from the second I walk through the door, to the second I leave.

Although there is part of me that hopes I will rebel and just throw everything into my trolley that I am desperately craving. Not only would that fulfil the Supermarket Sweep ambition (and I would definitely need a second trolley), but it would be a great way to stick fingers up at this condition.

I know that won't happen though.

Then there is the checkout process. When walking around the store, no one is really paying attention to you. Manners and this great concept of "queuing" seem to get left at the door, and everyone is pushing and barging trolleys and baskets into each other, because there are reduced foods in the chilled section and heaven forbid if someone takes the last item. So although I do feel I am being watched at the moment just for picking up a tinned product, that is nothing compared to the dreaded conveyor belt.

There it is, laid out for the world to see and to analyse. Hmm, okay, some healthy choices. But what about all that junk?! Is all of that food for a few days or weeks? Please let this amount of food be for more than one person! 

For the record, I do not do this to other people. Your trolley is a story of your day or weekend – it is buying in for the family barbecue, or Saturday night party, or that new recipe you want to try. Your trolley shows your lifestyle and interests, how food brings people together and celebrates who we are as individuals. This condition has made me fearful to eat in front of other people, so buying in enough food for a week requires considerable psyching up. My brain interprets my trolley's story in one way – you do not need food

Today's shop took an hour. I had to analyse everything that went in my trolley. And spent ten minutes trying to find one of my new safe foods, which typically had been moved. Traumatic!

I really do look forward to the day when I can walk confidently and calmly into the supermarket, and feel able to treat myself.


24th March 2020

Gosh, was that really two years ago?! How much has changed in that time! I still get trolley rage, especially in the current crisis with Coronavirus sending crowds to my local supermarket in their masses, hogging all the toilet roll.

In the early months after writing that first blog post, I found shopping little and often the most helpful. Write a list and stick to it. Zooming in and out of the door like a fly. I went to the supermarket most days, but only for five or ten minutes at a time: manageable chunks. I also think the regular exposure helped to lessen the fear.

Luckily my ED no longer dictates how I shop. Those nifty little websites really did enlighten me with new safe foods, which subsequently increased my menu of options, and gradually in turn helped me to conquer fear foods. I have now mastered so many fear foods that I don’t panic if something runs out of stock.

I no longer hug the shelves critically analysing the nutritional content of foods. I don’t spend ages choosing the perfectly-portioned vegetables. Goodies no longer jump off the shelves at me. The supermarket is a safe zone once again.

That said, I do avoid the checkout conveyor belt as much as I can. I tend to make a beeline for the self-service checkout, which I have an unfortunate habit of breaking. But it removes the fear of judgement because everyone else is busily breaking their own self-service checkout.

I never thought I would get to this stage, so I completely understand if you have read this and thought – in your dreams!

Yes, it was in my dreams, but I made it happen. You can too.

You do need to take your time, do your research and keep an open mind. I ended up trying new foods that were completely new to me, just because they met my “safe” criteria and I was desperate for some more variety in my very restricted diet.

You can do this. Food should not cause distress and nor should the process of obtaining it. Remember food is something to be enjoyed, and you absolutely do deserve it. Keep your head held high!

Contributed by Mel

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