Even Grocery Shopping Requires Preparation

Even Grocery Shopping Requires Preparation

Christine Tender Points
Grocery stores are not designed for people with fibromyalgia. For years I shopped at the same store – not because the food or the selection was better than anywhere else. It was because I had learned where in the store each item was located. To the average customer, that information is only interesting. To me, with a finite amount of energy each day, it was necessary. With that knowledge, I could calculate what I needed, how much walking it would take to get what I needed, and weigh that against my energy level. I could make an informed decision about whether grocery shopping was doable that day.

And then everything changed. In grocery store parlance, it’s called a reset. For the average customer, it probably made sense, given the number of new products and even new categories of products that have recently become available. But for me, it spelled disaster. Each trip now includes wandering up and down the aisles to locate the items I need or searching for a clerk to guide me in the right direction. In the process, I’m wasting precious energy I could have used to prepare a meal or wash a load of clothes later that day. Now the amount of energy required to shop is only a guess. After a few recent excursions, I considered myself fortunate if I had enough strength left to put away the things I bought.

Although I live in southern California, I dress for a northeast winter day when I shop. Why do they keep the temperature so low? I used to rationalize that the cold was emanating from the refrigerator cases and the freezer section. But now that they’ve enclosed a lot of the frozen things and moved the refrigerated sections to the back of the store, that argument doesn’t hold up. A blast of arctic air meets me at the front door. But then I look around, and I realize it’s only me. The rest of the customers are wearing tank tops; I’m wearing fleece. Fibromyalgia strikes again!

No one else appears bothered by the odors in the soap section except me. How I hate to be out of dishwasher detergent. It’s never where I found it last, and it’s frequently replaced by a new formulation. It used to be powder, then it was a gel. Now it’s in a small plastic cube. Each format has its own packaging. If I don’t read each box carefully, I’ll bring home the one that doesn’t work in my dishwasher. While studying the differences, my eyes are watering, and all my symptoms are getting worse. My best hope is that the one I need is at eye level and that it won’t require me to get up and off my cart.

Yes, I use motorized carts, and I appreciate them very much. There are days when the walk from the parking lot does me in. Those days I need a place to sit as soon as I arrive. Those carts have been lifesavers on more than one occasion.

But I’d like to suggest two improvements. One would be the addition of some subtle noise when they move to warn other customers of your approach, or that you’re waiting behind them. My sudden presence has startled many a customer, and I’ve felt badly about that. Second, and more important, I would include a long-handled grabber. Unless the things I want to buy are at my seated level, standing up is required for each item. The constant up-and-down and on-and-off can make shopping by electric cart more physically exhausting than walking and pushing a basket.

So, what’s my solution? Right now I’m busy memorizing the location of the items I purchase most frequently in the store where I formerly shopped. I’m also exploring different stores to see if their layouts make more sense to me. I now consider the shopping experience as my exercise for that day. I prefer not to use a cart unless it’s necessary. Walking is wonderful exercise – as long as I don’t have other physically demanding items on my agenda that day.

As with most other facets of life with fibromyalgia, grocery shopping is doable with planning and preparation.


Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.


  1. Diane says:

    Wow, I have the same problems, except I like it cooler in the market, it helps me to not get nauseous and faint feeling, I’ve got a heat intolerance.

    I’ve got trouble also putting the groceries away when I get back. I have to leave the nonperishable items in the trunk for the next day. It’s horrible because I have a walk from my garage, through the porch and then up & down three steps into the house and one more into the kitchen. (Stupid builders!).

    I am at the point where I truly dread needing groceries. Even ordering them online is a nightmare because they pack everything crazy, I never know if there’s one frozen item at the bottom of all the the dry goods. All that stress makes the fibro worse. I need a week to recover from groceries shopping. Geez..

  2. Donna says:

    Thank you so much for sharing that. I too use the wheel chair cart at stores. I have been doing that for many yrs. (I am still young, I am only 49, ) I am very self conscous about it because of the noise they make going backwards. Your right grocery stores are not wheelchair friendly. In my store in the produce dept. The table dispay’s require a zig zag in the wheelchair. Also at most places aisles are too narrow & knock stuff off the rack. A few yrs. ago I asked the dr. for handicap sticker because walking through the parking lot was exhausting & walking on uneven surfaces creates more pain. That’s before I walk in the store. On a good day I walk but by the time I finish or have to stand in line, I’m exhausted. Then go home carry everything in & put away. I go to Walmart, target & jewel because no one carries all the things I need. If i can get through 2 stores thats a great day! But exhausting I have to save the 3rd store (if I still need to)for tomorrow. Also, I am self consious because I am young looking people look at me as if they think I am parking in handicap & I don’t need it. On a good day I don’t use the handicap parking so I save it for people who need it worse than me.

  3. Katherine Johnson says:

    I shop online. In my area Safeway delivers, and Walmart lets you order online and pick up at the store, they just load it into your car. I do not shop in person if I can avoid it. I don’t like to waste my energy on it.

  4. Virginia Matthews says:

    I also have very limited energy. Grocery shopping is usually done by my caregivers, but when I am able to, I need to be able to get out and participate also. I use the electric carts, I ask for a map of the store at the customer service counter to save time and energy. Also, the stores have employees that will go with you to help you find, reach and assist you with your shopping, especially if you have health/ disabilities.
    I make a separate list of products I need in the household cleaning isle, soap isles, and 1) either the store clerks get it for me, or 2) I order it online and have it delivered.
    When I need items and have no caregivers available, Rosauers will do all the shipping and delivery for $7.99. And there is also Amazon. Walmart will do the shipping for you, and load the car. You just have to pay and unpack put away. Hope this helps.

  5. Bobbi Salvini says:

    Years ago my husband and I joined a Crossfit gym as he was having muscle wasting. The less he did, the less he could do. He was given a very small workout and even then he would turn gray, lie on the floor holding on to a trash can feeling like he was going to throw up. People asked me if he was going to die. Through experimentation we guessed that the cells in the body easily go into an oxygen starved state. Lactic acid build up would explain his nausea. It would also cause cells to die off, which is exhausting to recover, sometimes taking days. He looks and acts like a person that is recovering from surgery. Once he has overdone, in the following days very little effort puts him back in bed. This may explain the proteins that have recently been found in the blood of people with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. If oxygen is blocked from entering the cells, overdoing would literally kill off cells. Areas that have low blood supply such as tendon, ligaments and cartilage would be slow to recover and create lasting pain spots. Assuming this low cell oxygen to be true, he switched to tiny sets of work, with rest and deep breathing in between. The idea is to stop moving until the body was re-oxygenated. In addition he does much better drinking half water half electrolyte before and during workouts. Perhaps this counteracts the side effects of lactic acid production. This protocol allowed my husband to slowly recover muscle. When he follows this approach, he no longer turns gray, feels nausea, nor has the debilitating after effects from work outs. This makes him more capable to run errands and shop. If you are not yet in shape, I recommend using the watered down electrolite drink, and planning a couple of rest periods in your shopping trip. Ask the manager to hold your cart, and go back to your car, or find a bench and do deep breathing. Try hyperventilating a few times while shopping. Save frozen things for the last. It may take longer but you may find that you have more energy when you get home. The more you can manage without overdoing, the more in shape you will get, and the more you will be able to do. If you are the type that pushes through pain, stop this. A Fit bit may help you figure out how much you can do before you take a breather. Try to stop before you’re tired, and figure out how long you need to rest before it is OK to go on. This sounds like a pain, but it was the only thing that has made a significant improvement in my husband’s life.

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