Weighty Matters

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The Supermarket Obstacle Course

on February 27, 2013

I had to stop at the supermarket on my way home from work to pick up a few things.  I’ve gotten much better about making lists and following them when I shop.  Before I would wander around the store picking up anything that caught my eye or sparked a “yummm” response.

I’ve heard it suggested that we should shop the perimeter of a grocery store first because that’s where the freshest, healthiest products are displayed.  The inner aisles are where the processed foods are stocked, apparently.  I think there’s a lot to this theory, but it isn’t 100% true.  For example, when I enter the better of the two local supermarkets, I instinctively turn right.  This leads me right into tables of baked goods.  One needs to navigate around cookies, cupcakes, cakes, danish rings and other sugary, buttery things.

I’ve gotten pretty good at looking beyond this section and heading into the appetizer/deli area.  That’s where I can find some good hummus and the treat of good quality cheeses.  (Okay, it also brings me by the shelves of wine.  I like to keep a sauvignon blanc chilling in the house for when friends come over.)

After that, I’m in the healthy zone of produce.  I gravitate to the organic selections first for whatever vegetables and fruit I might need.  I didn’t have to get anything today because my co-workers and I belong to an organics buying club that delivers our orders every two weeks.  So yesterday I got a delivery of strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, bananas, kale and sweet potatoes.

Still following the perimeter, produce is followed by dairy.  This section is a mix of the good and the bad, don’t you think?  Sure there’s yogurt,  milk and healthier substitutes for butter.  (Confession time:  On this food plan, I use very little butter so I refuse to switch to a substitute.  The little bit that I eat is not going to harm me and I justify it by thinking of the better flavor.)

However, mixed in with that essential dairy stuff is the entire refrigerated dough products display.  Cookie dough, the makings of breakfast buns, tubes of chocolate brownies and so on.  I can remember a time when I’d buy them to bake at home and end up only baking half because I’d eaten a bunch of the dough raw. I like my sweets as much as the next person, but I think from now on, if I’m going to eat this stuff and give myself treat on rare occasions, I want it to be really delicious and not made out of overprocessed goo.  In my store, I need to dodge this display in order to get to the Greek yogurt.  That doesn’t seem to jive with the “the perimeter is the realm of the healthy theory”, does it?

Milk, eggs, cheese, and “fresh” pasta come next.  Then, all of sudden, you’re in seafood land and heading for the meat department.  Not too bad.  Everybody needs their protein and I’m definitely a carnivore.  After adding some selections to my cart, I took a left at the end and found myself in the second aisle of frozen foods — the one that has shelf after shelf of ice cream, frozen pies, cakes, and so on and so on and so on.

When all is said and done, there might be healthy nutritious food stocked on the perimeter, but there’s a helluva lot of temptation in the form of the things that I shouldn’t be eating.   In years past, my cart would fill with those things because, well, I had little resistance in the face of that temptation, not to mention the thousands of other things shelved in the interior aisles.

Nowadays I think of the supermarket as an obstacle course.  It’s a challenge that I need to get through without shoving food that I don’t want and shouldn’t eat into my cart. Absolutely, keeping that list is the most helpful tool.  Not shopping when I’m really hungry is another.  When all is said and done, the food doesn’t leap into my cart by itself.  As with all other choices, these are also up to me.

2 responses to “The Supermarket Obstacle Course

  1. Fearless Tam says:

    I always thought that they put the milk at the “end” of the store so it would stay cold longer, but Hope’s explanation makes much more sense.

    Mary, are there any treats that feel indulgent for you that fit into your food plan? Sugar-free sorbet, perhaps?

  2. Hope says:

    I wonder if supermarket managers figured out the perimeter trick and then rejiggered things to put temptation in our paths? I know that they always put the milk in a section that requires you to walk as long a distance as possible. The most common thing people get at the supermarket is milk, so they want you to be tempted by all of their other products.

    The other problem is probably that processed foods are taking over our lives, even the “healthy” areas of the grocery store.

    I’m so jealous of your organics club!

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