Not all trips to the grocery store are created equal—especially not when weight loss is concerned. Everything from the time of day to your level of hunger can set you up for success or failure. In order to stay on track and avoid temptation, we asked two weight and nutrition experts to shed light on when the best times to grocery shop for weight loss are. Ready your shopping carts and go!
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After You’ve Eaten
We know, you’ve heard this one before, but that’s because it’s entirely true. Grocery shopping while hungry (e.g. after going to the gym, immediately after waking up, or right before dinner) can make resisting tempting foods all the more difficult. “Never shop hungry, because this can lead to impulse purchases,” says Jonathan Valdez, MBA, RDN, certified personal trainer, and owner and founder of Genki Nutrition. From items you’ve been avoiding to just about anything you can get your hands on, grocery shopping while hungry is likely to result in regrettable decisions. And, you can’t lose weight when your cart (and therefore kitchen) is filled to the brim with junk.
“Always ensure that you have eaten relatively recently before going,” advises Dr. Candice Seti, certified nutrition coach, personal trainer, weight management specialist, and creator of The Weight Loss Therapist. “We tend to make less thoughtful and more impulsive decisions when we’re hungry. And we certainly don’t want to subject ourselves to that at the grocery store! If you are satiated and content, you are more likely to make good decisions and stick with your plans.” Going to the store satisfied ensures that you’ll take your time and make better choices than you would otherwise.
Once You’ve Made a List
Food shopping can be an intimidating experience; tenfold if you’re looking to lose weight. Because of this, it’s important to create a specific shopping list before stepping foot inside of a store. Planning ahead gets you right down to the things that you actually need to purchase. This way you avoid aimlessly roaming the aisles.
“If you shop from a list you are more focused on finding your specific items and less subject to all the advertising gimmicks in the store and on the packages,” Seti explains. “Make a plan ahead of time and write out your list. Planning to make a casserole for the week? Make sure you’ve included all the ingredients on your list. Planning to food prep some protein? Make sure you’ve included it.” Seti makes a good point in that. Write down each ingredient you need. If you don’t, you might throw away your healthy meal altogether and opt for something last-minute.
This becomes all the more important if you’re someone who meal preps. “Meal-planning for the week is important to make sure [that] you’re getting all the ingredients you need before you go shopping,” notes Valdez. “This prevents impulse purchases and forgetting items, then having to go back to the grocery store to pick them up.” Who wants to turn around and go back to the store a second time? Not us (and we’re thinking not you, either). Check your list, then check it twice for all of your meal-prep needs and pantry staples.
When Your Grocers Recommend
“In general, always ask your grocer, butchers, and bakeries when the best times are to come to the store,” says Valdez. While this might not seem like it’s very important, it’s crucial when it comes to getting the first pick of fresh produce. Grocery shopping on the days that your local store gets its shipments in, or coming in early when everything is freshly made, exposes you to the healthiest foods that your store has to offer. There’s much less of a chance that you’ll run into overripe avocados or a lack of something you need. Being able to purchase all of your fruits, veggies, breads, and meats puts you on the path to eating optimally and sticking to your plan. To discover your grocery store’s stock days and baking times, ask the workers in the various sections of the store.
“Another time to go shopping is off-peak hours so that it’s not a madhouse and a battle for parking and getting through the aisles,” Valdez tells us. And, he’s right. It’ll do you well to be smart about the days and times that you head to the grocery store. The lack of crowds leaves you feeling less stressed (hallelujah). Plus, it will provide you with more time to seek out foods, read through labels, and go into sections that, when otherwise crowded, you may avoid. “If you’re off on a weekday, those are probably the best times,” Valdez adds, “or early morning or late evening, right after the store opens or right before the store closes.”
He also suggests avoiding going around lunchtime, right after working hours, the days of (or leading up to) big sporting events, Saturdays, and Sundays around noon (when most places of worship let out). Don’t get us wrong, shopping during these times isn’t detrimental. Just be prepared for bigger crowds, stick to your list, and expect more hustle and bustle.
Consider Online Shopping
Between work, taking care of a family, leading a social life, and so much more, many of us don’t have the time to go on a comprehensive shopping trip. If that’s the case for you, you may want to consider online grocery shopping. A bit of a new phenomenon, this option allows you to easily select the foods you need and have them delivered to your door. This also effectively eliminates the temptation that comes with roaming the various aisles. “If you have the funds, you may want to consider online grocery shopping. But be careful, because the fresh produce that is purchased may not be the best option compared to you shopping for it yourself,” explains Valdez. If you’re looking into this option, try calling the store or stores that your food would be delivered from. Ask for their stock days, and plan to order on them.
Now that you’re ready to plan your next food trip, brush up on some smart shopping practices. The best times to go grocery shopping are only truly effective if you use them wisely! “Sweep the perimeter,” Seti recommends first. “The outside aisles of the grocery store tend to be where all the best foods hang out: the produce section, the butcher, the seafood. The middle aisles all tend to be filled with processed foods and less healthy items. Try and spend most of your time in the grocery store on the outside aisles.” Most of the items on your list are probably in these areas anyway. Make it a priority to walk the outskirts of the store before venturing into the aisles. Then, ask yourself if you even need to go through them.
“Since you are going to be spending time hanging out in the perimeter of the grocery store, it’s a great time to explore the produce section,” Seti continues. “While you are there, consider picking up a new piece of produce. Instead of sticking to lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots, maybe pick up some jicama or a spaghetti squash or some collard greens. Use it as an opportunity to explore. Try to incorporate your new produce into some fun new recipes that week!” If you’re able to visit the grocery store at a less than busy time, take your time looking at new foods. You may discover a new staple.
Read the label.
Lastly, Seti recommends always scanning your products’ labels. “It might go without saying, but reading the nutrition labels on food before purchasing is always a must. If a product seems like it has no nutritional properties to it or is overloaded on sodium, sugar, or just a lot of ingredients, it might just be better to skip it altogether.” Looking over everything you’ve picked up before going through check out is a great way of making sure that you’re getting only the best foods. This lends itself to discovering the ingredients in your food, as well.
Feeling prepared for your next grocery trip? Check out how to manage the portion sizes of your foods for weight loss.