Grocery Store Psychology & Weight Loss

When you are trying to lose weight,  a trip to the grocery store can feel like entering a battlefield. Everywhere you turn, you’re assaulted with the sights and smells of not-so-good-for-you foods. It’s enough to sway even the staunchest of will-powers and good intentions.

If that’s a familiar feeling to you, there’s a good reason why and it has very little to do with the strength of your resolve. In fact, there’s a psychology behind the layout of grocery stores that focuses on moving product and earning money while placing little emphasis on the health of the shoppers.

Psychology Today magazine delves into this psychology with the article “Ten Ways Your Local Grocery Store Hijacks Your Brain.” It’s a very eye-opening read, although be forewarned that once you read the article, your grocery shopping experience may never be the same again.

Don’t despair; there are many ways to avoid the landmines and pitfalls in the grocery store. Here are some tips to help you get through your shopping trip without guilt and with your good intentions intact.

  1. Be prepared! Don’t step foot into the grocery store without first having a plan in place. This plan can be as detailed as a menu plan and corresponding list for the week, or as simple as an overview of the foods you’ll eat and a more general list of the necessities. Shopping from a list, and only a list, can be a huge factor in keeping both your shopping and eating habits on track.
  2. Don’t shop when you’re hungry or in a bad mood. Both of those things can make you give in to temptation much more readily than you would if you were shopping on a full stomach while in a good mood.
  3. Avoid triggers, like the bakery section or the candy aisle, whenever possible. If the smell of a freshly baked donut or the sight of your favorite candy bar wrapper is enough to knock-out your willpower, stay away! Either quickly walk by those sections or avoid them altogether by taking a detour down another aisle.
  4. Limit the number of trips to the grocery store. Each trip to the store is another potential slip-up in your good intentions, so skip the daily trip by planning ahead and only going once or twice a week.
  5. Stick to the perimeter. There you’ll find the fresh produce, meats and dairy products that make up the core of a healthy diet. It’s in those middle aisles where you’ll run into trouble with the processed foods, sugary treats and salty snacks. It’s no accident that the store is laid out like that either. It all goes back to the psychology of the grocery store layout. Why is the milk, the one item many people are likely to make a quick run to the store for, all the way in the back? According to Psychology Today, “having to walk down the aisles to get your basics makes it more likely you’ll pick up some delectable, yet expensive impulse buy, placed precisely at eye level, along the way.
  6. Shop with an accountability buddy. Aside from turning your grocery shopping into a fun social experience, shopping with an accountability buddy can be a great way to keep you on track. Head to the store with someone who knows your goals and the importance of your making smart food choices and you’ll likely find the temptations you ordinarily face eliminated.

The secret to weight loss or long-term healthy eating success begins with the foods that you eat. Since many, if not all, of the foods you eat are purchased from the grocery store, understanding the psychology of the grocery store layout and taking steps to insure you stay on track can go a long way toward helping you succeed.

Kate Miller
Kate Miller

Kate Miller, mom of 5, is on a mission to stay fit and healthy. As HealthyWage's Community Manager, she's fortunate to be surrounded by inspiring success stories day after day. In 2012, Kate lost 50 pounds and documented most of her journey right here on the HealthyWage blog. Since then, she's had to learn the subtle intricacies of staying on track by mastering the daily ebb and flow (and parties and holidays and periods of extreme laziness) of life.

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