Never Shop Hungry; Always Carry Snacks
Part of the common language among outdoorsy people in America is something called the Leave No Trace Principles. (When I say “outdoorsy people in America” I mean the particular subset of people who shop at REI or EMS, tend to drive Japanese cars, have climbed at least a handful of mountains, largely do not own guns, and who cringe at the thought of going a national park in a full-sized RV.) These principles are meant as rules for the back-country traveler to help maintain our wild spaces, but I find that many of them are transferable to front-country life as well.
The first of these principles is “Plan Ahead and Prepare.” There is lots of wisdom in this rule. In the back-country, it can be the difference between being a little miserable in the rain versus getting hypothermia because you didn’t bring a rain layer. Or the difference between leaving plenty of time for rough terrain versus hiking in the dark because you didn’t read the guidebook.
Rewritten for front-country life, this rule translates as follows:
Never Shop Hungry. Always Carry Snacks.
When you shop hungry, you buy more food than you intended to, you get things you never set out to purchase, and you end up with junk food in your cart. Have you ever noticed yourself hungry in a grocery store? Your brain and your body go positively nuts. All that sugar, all that fat, all those easily-digestible calories. So readily available! All the most tempting things right there at eye level! MUST. HAVE. THAT.
People often tell me that they spend too much on groceries, and hungry shopping may be the #1 culprit.
It’s the food industry’s dream.
It is also your inner demon’s dream.
And it is your higher self’s worst nightmare.
Chances are, you go home with your groceries, have a bite to eat, and then wonder what you were thinking when you bought all that stuff. You bought too much, so things will go bad. You got things you try not to have in the house, but now that they’re here you’ll eat them. And why did you buy artichoke hearts when you don’t even like them?
Well, my friend, you weren’t thinking. Your hungry self was operating in a totally different mode from the part of you that first conceptualized the shopping trip. It happens to the very best of us.
What to do? The concept is super-simple, but it may take a few tries and adjustments before it becomes second nature.
Before you set out for the grocery store, check in with yourself. Ask, “Hey, self! Are you hungry?”
If the answer is yes, do not leave the house yet. Eat a snack, have a drink of water, and then go.
Maybe you’re coming straight from work, or the gym, or you just forgot to check in with yourself before you left the house. That’s okay! This situation can be remedied with that old “planning ahead and preparing” trick. You can anticipate the trials and tribulations of your day by carrying snacks.
What kinds of snacks, you ask?
Snacks can be anything that give you a little boost to tide you over between meals and that travels well. (Also, ideally, something you won't be overly disgusted to discover you forgot in your purse / bag / car.) Some carrots, cut-up bell pepper, trail mix, nuts, a peanut butter sandwich. If you eat meat, beef jerky is an awesome tider-overer. Junk food is not recommended. Not that you should never ever eat it, it’s just not what is going to help you function when you’re in need of some power fuel.
Now, back to you who just came from the gym and is about to go shopping. When you arrive at the grocery store but before you walk in, ask yourself if you are hungry. If the answer is yes, then eat a snack. Don’t wolf it down as you walk in the door with your cart. Take a minute, take some deep breaths, and chew your food, ideally outside the store and sitting down. Remember, this snacking business is not some kind of punishment for showing up to the store hungry. It’s self-care, and it is going to pay off bigtime on your grocery bill.
Let’s say — heaven forfend! — you get to the store, you realize you’re ravenously hungry, and you forgot to bring snacks when you left the house today.
While this situation is less than ideal and requires a little more focus and brainpower than you might like to use during this moment of hunger, you can still turn things around. Here’s how:
Step One: BEFORE YOU WALK INTO THE STORE start by taking a few deep breaths and noticing.
Acknowledge that you’re hungry, and that you’re prone to making, er, interesting choices if your hunger goes unchecked. Still without entering that supermarket, think about one thing you can purchase that will give you some focused energy. Your brain will probably tempt you with thoughts of junk food because your body is looking for some fast calories. Have a little conversation with yourself, and say “No, that won’t satisfy me right now. What will really help me sail through this shopping trip?” Maybe it’s a few pieces of sushi from the prepared foods section, a bag of peanuts, a little yogurt, or some carrots and hummus.
I recommend actually making a list of snacks like this and carrying it in your wallet for this precise moment. It will take just a little more hungry-brain out of the picture and help you stay focused.
Step two: Keep that snack choice in your mind, and go into the supermarket to buy that and only that.
You will be tempted by so many other things! Don’t buy them. Just get your snack and get out.
Step three: Find a good place to eat your snack.
Maybe the store has some seating and you can eat there. If it’s nice out, go sit outside for a few minutes. If it’s not and you drove, you can go sit in the car. Anywhere that is a little distance from the shelves full of food is fine.
Step four: Eat your snack.
Again, don’t wolf it down in an attempt to get it over with as fast as possible. Eat it like you’re nurturing yourself. Finish your snack. Regain composure. Focus in on the task at hand. Now you are ready to grocery shop.
Plan ahead and prepare. Always carry snacks.
See if it affects your grocery bill and let me know!