Surviving the Grocery Store While Recovering From Anorexia

Lip quivering, tears slowly running down my cheek, hands shaking —  yep, a panic attack. 

Most people can go to the grocery store, list in hand, and effortlessly shop. But recovering from an eating disorder (ED)… specifically, recovering from anorexia? The grocery store is a minefield. And trust me, I knew this going in. That’s why I was putting it off for hours. But finally, I mustered up the courage to walk to Harris Teeter and buy myself some dinner. Eating alone is still something I’m working on — probably my most challenging goal right now. Accountability is an important part of my recovery, and it has been helping me stay on track. But when I’m by myself and can lie to my friends about what I’ve eaten… that’s a slippery slope.

So, I do the “right” thing — I pretend I’m brave, and I walk to Harris Teeter.

I walk through the doors, and suddenly it’s 100 degrees — my cheeks are hot and flushed and I can feel the anxiety building. I’ve got a short list (apples, bananas, bread, and sushi). Shouldn’t be too hard, right? People do this all the time without even thinking twice. But recovering from anorexia… this is hard. Maybe the hardest thing I’ve done all day — maybe even harder than sitting down for breakfast, lunch, and soon dinner.

The tears are coming faster now… The slow gentle tears are now a full-blown sob. The nice man at Harris Teeter asks if I’m OK. Struggling, I say, “Yeah, I’m fine.” (For those of you who have friends struggling from an ED, that is clue number one that she/he’s not fine.) I do a couple of deep breaths (they really work, trust me on this one) and manage to calm myself down. But wait, I haven’t even accomplished anything yet. 

Now I’ve got to gather all the items on my list. I start in the fruit aisle. The tears are slowly coming again. Feeling overwhelmed. Too many options, too many choices. How can anyone go to the grocery store without a meltdown? The idea seems foreign to me now. I used to be able to shop (with my boyfriend) with some anxiety, but since my latest relapse, it seems absolutely impossible. And being alone… that makes it so much more challenging.

I grab a few apples and walk over to the bananas. So much to think about. Too much to think about.

Let me tell you, the struggle is real. The idea of having to do this every week is terrifying. So, I start crying even more. People must think I’m ridiculous. Now I’m shopping for bread while simultaneously sobbing. People stare awkwardly, but I can’t really blame them. I mean, I am crying in the middle of the grocery store…

Last on my list: sushi. This is tonight’s dinner. There are only a handful of meals I’ve mastered in my recovery from my latest relapse, and sushi is one of them. So, sushi it is. I scan all the options and don’t see anything I like. Oh, great, another panic attack. For those of us in recovery, I know you know how hard it is to be flexible. This is something I work on every day. And this is the 468th time today I need to practice flexibility. I ask the man at the counter if they had any sushi behind the counter… maybe an eel and cucumber roll? He looks around and finds an eel and avocado roll. Not perfect, but better than my other options. #flexibilityforthewin

I smile (I’m sure with mascara-streaked makeup running down my face) and thank him; he’s helped me more than he knows. Off to check out. 

Hard part number one is over! Now I just have to pretend to be brave again and actually eat it…

This is the third time I’ve gone to the grocery store by myself, and each time, it gets a little easier (read — a little). It’s a slow process.

I know I have so much more to conquer. Like trying new foods, trying new places and, of course, learning how not to cry in the grocery store. But if you don’t know me, I’m a crier. If you do know me, I’m sorry because inevitably you’ve seen me cry… a lot. But I’m embracing this part of my recovery because I know it’s part of how I cope. It’s better than restricting and self-harming, right?

So, the next time you walk into the grocery store and have a panic attack, know I understand, and I empathize. Recovering from anorexia is no small feat. We have to learn to be around food, think about food, purchase food, and more importantly, eat food, even though it’s usually what causes us the most anxiety. 

We have to learn how to eat all over again as if we are kids. And it’s hard. Harder than you might think. But guess, what? That’s right… I’m doing it. 

And you can too. I promise you, it’s hard now, but the more we make the hard decisions, the easier it can get. 

So, go to the grocery store, cry if you have to, but know one day, it can be OK. One day we may go to the grocery store and effortlessly shop like millions of other people who don’t have eating disorders. It’s possible. Never give up, and always keep fighting, even on days when you have a breakdown in the grocery store.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo by xcarrot_007

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