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Why Grocery Shopping After New Year's Frustrates Me as Someone With IBS

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After returning home from the holiday break, I stop at the bulk store for my usual grocery list: big containers of strawberries, lettuce, frozen chicken breasts, etc. The store is usually packed, but as I make my way through, I’m greeted by display after display of vitamins, supplements, protein powders and exercise trackers. I continue through the store and they’ve moved many of the items I typically buy into massive displays in the center of the floor. People around me shovel plastic clamshells of fruit into their carts without looking. I go towards the protein bars and explore a few new options the store has added, and as usual I look thoroughly at the nutrition facts, as well as all the ingredients, checking for things that might irritate my stomach.

I notice, however, that the display also has bars masquerading as “healthy protein bars” (which are basically candy bars with a few grams of protein) and a couple in front of me mindlessly grabs two boxes for their cart. I look up and I’m face-to-face with various treadmills, ellipticals and other exercise equipment for the home. I finish up my regular shopping and head to the checkout lines where I see cart after cart filled with evidence of New Year’s resolutions. I get to the car and realize why I feel so frustrated, and honestly, angry.

Health for most people is a fleeting thought, and gets put on the back-burner for most of the year until January 1st; we, the chronically ill, don’t have that luxury.

The store, which merely a week before was stocked with chocolates, candies and other holiday items, had stocked merchandise for January 1st. When New Year’s rolls around, everyone breaks out their “healthy alter-egos” and thinks about eating well, joining a gym and taking vitamins. This bulk store was simply responding to the desires of their customers, and their fleeting ideas on health. Inevitably, next month those items will be gone, while containers of Valentine’s themed candy take the place of fruit and vitamins. Most of the people who surrounded me the other day, mindlessly grabbing “healthy” items, will have forgotten their resolutions and stock up on heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.

With IBS or any chronic illness, the topic of health (or lack of it) is like a gnat relentlessly buzzing in your ear. With IBS I have to eat fresh, unprocessed food in every month of the year — not just January — or risk extreme sickness. I was frustrated at the realization that some people can take their health for granted and only consider it when it is convenient. But then I realized I was probably like that before I was diagnosed so many years ago.

This experience made me think about the new year and what kinds of resolutions are worth making, despite (or perhaps because of) IBS:

Let go of anger. Yes, it can be frustrating to be surrounded by people deciding to be healthy this year, when you would give anything to not think about your health every moment – but being angry only upsets you and your stomach.

Try out mindfulness, meditation or yoga. I tend not to make proclamations about my physical fitness or health because sometimes IBS has its own thoughts on the matter. Instead, this year focus on relaxation, because that is something you can control. If you already meditate or do yoga, re-commit yourself to your practice this year.

Resolve to do something just for you. Sometimes with IBS it can feel like you are intertwined with your diagnosis (and the bathroom), so this year pick something you’ve always wanted to do and find a way to make it happen. Read more books for your enjoyment, learn to play an instrument, learn a new language or make a list of must-see movies and watch them this year. You deserve some TLC – this is the year to make it happen.

Regardless of what resolutions you decide to make, remember that you, not your IBS, are in control of how you choose to face this year!

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Photo via Antonio_Diaz on Getty Images

Originally published: January 17, 2018
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