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Don’t Shop Before Supper

sharma-obesity-variety1One of the most popular recommendations to anyone trying to control their caloric intake is to not eat when you are starving – this is the worst time to eat, as your food choices are likely to be calorie-dense and tachyphagia (eating too fast) is likely to overwhelm any chances of your satiation response stopping you before you eat too much.

The same apparently applies to shopping, especially if you shop in the evenings just before supper – a time, when most people (especially those who don’t eat much during the day) are famished.

A short paper by Aner Tal and Brian Wansink, published in JAMA Internal Medicine nicely illustrates this point.

In a first study, conducted in the laboratory, participants (age range, 18-62 years; 71% were female) were asked to avoid eating for 5 hours prior to the study after which, they were eater fed of remained hungry prior to shopping on a simulated online grocery store that offered a mix of lower-calorie foods (fruits, vegetables, chicken breasts) and higher-calorie (candy, salty snacks, red meat) foods with each high-calorie item paralleled by a lower-calorie alternative.

In a a follow-up field study, the researchers tracked people’s purchases in an actual grocery store at different times of the day  when an earlier study had indicated they were most likely to be full (1:00-4:00 PM) or hungry (4:00-7:00 PM).

Surprisingly (or perhaps as expected), hungry participants bought a significantly larger amount of higher-calorie foods and fewer healthier low-caloric items. This was also true for the real-life shoppers, who shopped in between 4.00 and 7.00 PM (i.e. before supper).

Although hungry shoppers bought more calories, they did not buy more food items, suggesting that it is really the calories they are interested in rather than the actual amount of food.

The learning from this finding are clear to the researchers,

“It suggests that people should be more careful about their choices when food-deprived and possibly avoid choice situations when hungry by making choices while in less hungry states (eg, by eating an appetizer [sic] before shopping).”

Or in other words, stop by the hot-dog stand on your way into the grocery store – not on your way out.

Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgTal A, & Wansink B (2013). Fattening fasting: hungry grocery shoppers buy more calories, not more food. JAMA internal medicine, 173 (12), 1146-8 PMID: 23649173




  1. Sometimes I stop to pick up supper on the way home from work. This usually happens when I haven’t planned how we will get through supper before all the different kid activities. My experience supports the findings of this paper however my choices are largely driven by convenience. When you are hungry you want something quick and easy to prepare without a lot of fuss, thought or time for preparation. You want to eat now! Not in 30-40 mini. The choices for less calorie dense, highly convenient foods are limited. I usually buy a rotisserie chicken but the salad and sides typically offered in the deli are high calorie.

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  2. This is probably a pretty decent study but I often go shopping at 6pm (which would be classified in this study as a hungery time period) but this is after supper for me. Also i am not sure why red meat is in the bad category…yes we shouldn’t eat large quantities of it but it is hardly in the same league as candy and chips.

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  3. Instead of a hot dog buy a meal replacement protein bar and eat it before shopping. Buy fruit and maybe greek yogurt for when you get home for desert, because if you eat a meal replacement bar (or a hot dog) before shopping you don’t want to go home and have another meal. You might have to cook supper for other people, but if you’ve just eaten a meal replacement bar (or hot dog) you can’t go and eat another meal at home.

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  4. Write a list after checking what’s in the kitchen cupboards and the refrigerator. Make a menu. That way even if you aren’t hungry when shopping (which results in a desultory experience) or even if you are hungry (which results in buying stuff you shouldn’t eat) being organized about what you really need means you tend to not buy stuff you don’t need.

    Nothing restricts eating unnecessary calories than looking in the fridge and realizing that in order to consume a meal it is going to require cooking from scratch. That solves impulse eating.

    Only problem is when I’m really tired and fed up I pour myself a drink. That’s bad.

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  5. the tough part about this article is that many seniors homes and groups plus many others myself included have supper at 5 p.m. therefore if I head down to the store right after I am still purchasing at the before supper time slot. I well know just how busy the stores are at that time

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