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Real Talk: Grocery Shopping with Nerve Pain

Published February 9, 2018
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

On a Facebook forum, a woman with fibromyalgia shares her everyday struggle with being misunderstood by well-meaning family, friends, and followers who question her pain.

“I wish I could sit here and tell you that I’ve learned not to care what others think. It’s hard because people will Facebook me, in such disbelief, like I’m lying about being chronically sick just to get attention”, she recalls, adding. “I’m not going to post photos of me on social media throwing up all day. I’m going to post the one night a month I feel well enough to go on a date with my boyfriend and people don’t understand.”

Even something as simple as grocery shopping can be problematic for those in chronic pain. Walking from the car to the store on some days can be difficult, let alone completing the trip. Let's examine a few ways that those with fibromyalgia and other forms of chronic pain can get their shopping done.

Use the Cart

“I have to use a motorized cart—one that only the handicap or elderly use. I remember in my past life, looking at someone who seemed to be healthy on the outside, get into a motorized cart and secretly judging them,” says the chronic pain sufferer from the forum, who now understands the need.

She admits that she'd stare and think the person was being lazy. Now, she's in need of the cart because she too has the invisible pain.

“People stare. People judge. People call me lazy just like I used to secretly do. Then some will Facebook message me,” the patient continues. “I wish I could let it go in one ear and out the other, but at the end of the day, I still care.”

That chronic pain patient from the forum was Jessica Zapadka. You may remember her from: What's it Like Living with Invisible Pain? —One Girl Tells All or her Q&A: Invisible Illnesses & Fibromyalgia —“Just Because You Can’t See Pain, Doesn’t Mean it's Not Real.

She had to learn to put her pride aside, accept her condition, and understand that people may not get it.

Make a List

Like Zapadka, having a fibromyalgia diagnosis almost always means more than one disorder. According to the National Institute of Arthritis, a person may have two or more co-existing chronic pain conditions simultaneously.

“The doctor said that there was definitely something else wrong. So they kept doing blood test after blood test because they thought I also had Lyme’s Disease,” she recalled. “The disorders normally have the same symptoms as fibromyalgia and can be really hard to diagnosis. Then, I received the new results. I was now positive for lupus.”

That diagnosis could explain her multiple symptoms, which proves any of them could flare up at any time. She recommends that those who have chronic pain stay ahead of the condition by planning their moves ahead of time.

Making a grocery list on the computer.

If you want to be in and out of the store, be sure to make a list of the necessary items ahead of time. Don't know where to begin? Start here.

  • Prepare for your shopping trip at home first. This means mentally walk through each aisle.
  • Make sure you know the layout of the grocery store. This will help you to move with purpose through each aisle in a swift and organized manner.
  • Ask yourself, “Can I order this online instead?” If the answer is yes, scratch that from your list. Most things can now be ordered online and delivered to your front door. Some grocery stores allow for online ordering in which they will do the shopping for you and allow you to pick your groceries up curbside.
  • Write a list of the necessary items. Remember, everything you jot down, you'll have to put away.
  • You'll want to organize your list into food genres (i.e., produce, cleaning supplies, snacks, freezer items, etc.)
  • Are you missing anything? Did you add too many items? Always double check.

And now, you're ready for the fun part of selecting the food.

Food Selection 

In case you aren't aware, nutrition plays a pivotal role in our inflammation and pain levels. Therefore, you want to try and opt for healthy food choices such as lean proteins, dark leafy greens, and whole grain foods that can help reduce inflammation in the diet.

Although those food choices may not taste as good going down as an ice cream sundae or pizza, Zapadka says it's worth the substitute.

“When I was younger, I could eat anything I wanted and never gain weight,” she remembers. “Because of my illnesses, I have awful digestive issues that cause severe weight gain. I had to change my entire diet to clean eating. I even go on leisurely walks to lose weight, but then I’d gain it back.”

An amazing and healthy dish.

With chronic pain comes bodily changes, which is why selecting wholesome foods is important. Zapadka says it’s hard a lot of the time to go food shopping, among other activities, because all aspects of life are different.

“From October 12 to December 24 of last year, I gained over 30 pounds,” she reveals. “I was literally eating lettuce and walking all day every day, and still gained the weight. So I vigilantly research what foods I should eat and then prepare my list ahead of time. It adds a sense of fun to the spree as I cross the items off my list, I feel productive and good about myself.”

Bring a Sweater

When you have chronic pain, particularly in your nervous system, you're going to want to bundle up a little for those trips to chilly grocery stores.

"A blast of polar ice always greets me at the entrance and lingers throughout my entire time," Zapadka declares. "I'll look around though, and recognize—it’s only me. The rest of the store is wearing tank tops while I’m freezing in a sweater. I always say, 'Fibromyalgia strikes again!'"

Woman with chronic nerve pain wearing a sweater.

The Drive Home

Like anything though, it will come and go. Just as you arrive at the store, you'll also leave and return home—hopefully, stocked with everything you came to get.

If the thought of shopping alone scares you, ask a friend or your caretaker to join. You could make a day out of it and get lunch immediately after, which will give you something to look forward to.

“Those are the times when you need to pause. There are days when I literally can’t do it. I literally can’t do anything and definitely can't fake it until I make it,” the warrior states. “On those days, I may need a little extra help.”

With help and proper planning, you can grocery shop just like anyone else.

Updated: February 20, 2020

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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