It’s True: You Should Not Go Grocery Shopping On Empty

Grocery Shopping on an Empty Stomach

It’s a common piece of weight loss advice heard at almost every Weight Watcher’s meeting I went to and in almost every article and book written about weight loss, including my own.

Do not go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, especially if you are losing weight. 

The rationale has always been that if you are hungry, it stands to reason that you would be less able to resist fattening foods that just seem to call your name. Foods like chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, hot dogs, ice cream, or whatever food tempts you the most. I don’t know if you are like I was, but I had a hard enough time resisting the junk food at the grocery store when I was losing weight without adding to the difficulty by going to the grocery store on an empty stomach.

New research published in the JAMA Internal Medicine studied the effect of having a healthy snack prior to shopping on grocery store shoppers. The first part of the study was conducted in a controlled setting with half the participants having a snack before they embarked on their simulated grocery shopping experience and the other half not having a healthy snack. The group that ate beforehand picked out foods with fewer calories than the non-snack group.

Then, at another time, the researchers studied the same group of people in a traditional grocery store setting. They sent them off shopping at a time they would normally be hungry and again, the hungrier they were, the more calorie-dense food they purchased.

Although this study showed what a lot of us have experienced firsthand, it is still worth examining.

You have to remember that grocery stores are set up in a way to appeal to all of our senses. The displays are carefully arranged to be appealing, the foods that are featured in special locations are there because the food manufacturer has an agreement with the grocery store to display them on the end caps, and grocery stores are in the business of making money regardless of whether they are a Whole Foods type store or a Wal-Mart type store.

There is nothing wrong with grocery stores wanting to make money, but you need to be careful when shopping in order to make the choices that you intend to make and not the choices the grocery stores want you to make.

You have to be in control. And part of having the most self-control when going to the grocery store involves being prepared by not going when you are starving. Even after 15 years of weight maintenance I have to be careful if I happen to head to the grocery store hungry. I will find myself subconsciously looking at foods I normally would not buy and having to mentally tell myself that I do not need that food, do not want that food, and should not buy that food.

Make it as easy on yourself as possible when grocery shopping by sticking with the common sense advice that we have known all along. Eat before you go, go with a plan, and if you can – leave the kids at home!

Do you find that grocery shopping on an empty stomach makes you more drawn to higher calorie foods? What’s your strategy? Diane

13 thoughts on “It’s True: You Should Not Go Grocery Shopping On Empty

  1. MIZ says:

    it totally did for me…until it didnt 😉
    Until I segued into intuitive eating.
    I may buy and EAT IN THE CAR on the way home (Im honest) but it’s what my body intuitively demands…not junk.

  2. Natalie says:

    Totally true for me … if I’m hungry I want to buy calorie-dense foods.

    But not about the kids. Mine have always been angels when they shop with me. I do buy them treats sometimes, but certainly not always, and they never whine. Of course some of this might be genetics (I’m lovely too!) but I’ve seen so many parents say: “No, no, no, no, OH OK THEN JUST SHUT UP AND YOU CAN HAVE IT!” And what does that teach the child? That if they whine long enough the parent will give in, so they will do it again next time! My kids know that being obnoxious will never get them what they want.

  3. Jody - Fit at 55 says:

    I think for many, this is so true!! Me, I am used to this life so.. well, I can go either way & be fine but I have been at this a lot of years. Others, that stuff while you are in line may call your name! 😉

  4. Madijo says:

    I have not really noticed/paid attention what I buy if I am hungry or not when I shop. I have noticed that when I am on a diet that my shopping basket has awesome fruits and veggies. I also feel like the queen of the world with a shinning halo on my head.

    Where as when I am not watching what I am eating, my basket is a sad sad affair of junk and one one lonely fruit. Then I try to get through the line up without anyone seeing everything what I am buying.

  5. Kyra says:

    In my marketing classes in college they went over not only the placement and manipulation, but the light fixtures in stores. Many deliberately choose lighting that is hard on the human body, and wears a person down. In those more sensitive it can actually cause seizures or disorientation – my own mother who has severe MS can actually lose the ability to speak in some of these stores because of the lighting. For me, I get worn down quickly by these lights (migraines apparently make me more susceptible, and I didn’t realize it was the lighting until I read the research on it) so I always eat before I grocery shop if I can. If I go on empty, I want to not only grab the junk, but do it as quickly as possible (cutting down on thinking time, not good!) The marketing side of me from college understands what they’re doing… the personal side wants to grab these marketers and throttle them! 🙂

  6. Hope K says:

    Oh, haha, this brings back memories. When I was a youth, my father got a job teaching on air force bases. We watched the armed forces network a lot because it was in English. Anyway, they had this commercial that they ran all the time, and it had a jingle I wish I could sing to you. Anyway, the words went, “Don’t shop when you’re hungry, no, no, no!”

    Wal-Mart annoys me because they are always moving stuff around. They do that, I believe, to get you to buy more, but it angers me because it can turn a quick shopping trip into a scavenger hunt. I try not to go there and instead go to my local little grocery store, but Wal-Mart has the best selection of foods in town, so I wind up having to go there sometimes anyway. Grrrrr.

  7. JenB says:

    I’m so driven my sales and such … that affects me more than hunger I think. I have a hard time paying more for something, even if I’m craving it. But then I’ll often buy things, stock up when there is a sale … and then the food is THERE IN MY HOUSE which is almost impossible to resist.

    If it was just me, I MIGHT try harder to resist buying anything empty calories (ok … who am I kidding, I’m sure I’d cave) but my family will have none of that! Must have cookies on hand!

  8. Dr. J says:

    I guess I’m a contrarian here too, but since I practice IF I always shop on an empty stomach. It’s too bad more people don’t do it because it eliminates most of the eating problems. Unfortunately it also eliminates many of the eating pleasures, lol!

  9. L says:

    Although I’m not sure everyone can relate, I totally understand how foods can call my name. Just today, I had a frustrating interaction with an other, and my immediate instinct was to get something to eat. What? Why? What does one thing have to do with another? In my moments of frustration in the past, I ate to sate the anger, not knowing how broken that was. Thanks for being here, Diane. Some days, sanity lies in clicking on you blog and reading about what the escape from compulsive eating looks like from your perspective. I appreciate you.

  10. PlumPetals says:

    I just came back from the supermarket. I wasn’t super-hungry, but I was definitely getting there. If, due to some scheduling glitch, I do go to the supermarket before I’ve had a chance to eat a meal, I sometimes have a small pack of raw nuts/raisins in my bag that I munch on while I shop. This keeps me distracted from any temptations. Even if I don’t have a snack, like today, having a detailed grocery list of exactly what I need keeps me focused.

  11. blackhuff says:

    Absolutely. I still can’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. It just don’t work because I either buy food that I am not supposed to eat and eat it at home or I buy more food than I should.

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