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To Anyone ‘Essential Items’ Policing What's in My Grocery Cart

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Like a lot of people in recovery from an eating disorder, I’m finding lockdown difficult. Isolation makes it a lot easier for me to engage in harmful eating disorder behaviors without it getting noticed. As I’m living alone during lockdown, this is even more of an issue. And one thing that really, really isn’t helping me keep my recovery on track is the “essential items” policing I’ve been seeing online.

A lot of my Facebook friends have shared posts about how you should only leave the house for essentials, such as bread and milk. And I get it, I really do: I completely support the current UK lockdown due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), and I understand we should only leave the house when absolutely necessary. However, I think it’s important to understand that what is considered “essential” varies from person to person.

For example, a lot of the foods many people think of as essential are fear-foods to me, meaning they’re foods which make me especially anxious if I try to eat them. My eating disorder also often causes me to restrict my food intake and eat fewer calories than the average person might. These two factors combined mean that my shopping basket often seems sparse and filled with mostly “non-essential” items; almost as if I’m shopping for fun or for something to do, rather than shopping for necessary food. I can assure you that this is never the case — I only enter supermarkets when I have a genuine need to be there, as per the lockdown rules. It’s just that my essential looks a bit different to many people’s.

Even before lockdown began food shopping was an extremely stressful task for me, as when I go shopping I’m confronted with an amount of food and variety I find overwhelming — plus I fear that everyone is judging me for what I put in my basket. Pre-lockdown, as you might expect, for the most part no one paid any attention to my basket despite my fears. However, now I’m being confronted with a reality where a lot of people are judging others based on what they buy: I’ve seen plenty of posts online from people saying that they’ve seen others doing unnecessary shopping. But the thing is, you can’t know whether this is the case; we’re all just surviving the best way we know how, and so what’s essential varies wildly from person to person.

This added anxiety over grocery shopping has made it incredibly difficult and often impossible for me to go out and buy the food I need — causing my eating disorder behaviors and symptoms to worsen. In order to protect the health (both mental and physical) of people with pre-existing conditions, be it an eating disorder or another condition such as diabetes, we need to stop policing which food items count as essential and which don’t. I think we can all agree that above all it is essential to fuel our bodies with food, whatever that may look like.

I would urge anyone reading this to avoid commenting on the contents of an individual person’s shopping basket or trolley. The message that we should only leave the house for essential business is important and necessary. But it’s up to each individual person to know what counts as essential for them. At the end of the day, were all just trying to get through stressful and unprecedented times as best we can.

Struggling with your mental health due to COVID-19? Check out these articles from our community:

Getty image by Kwangmoozaa

Originally published: April 29, 2020
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