It’s one of the cardinal rules of weight loss: Don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. It’s a well-known fact that we buy more food when we make a trip to the grocery store with our stomach growling.

But what you might not realize is that hunger affects the type of foods we put in our shopping carts as well. It’s only when we get home and start unloading our purchases that we say to ourselves, "What was I thinking?"

Fasting has been shown to increase brain reactivity to certain types of food over others, specifically in areas of the brain associated with reward. One study suggested that people choose more high-calorie foods than low-calorie foods after an 18-hour fast.

While few of us go 18 hours without eating, the fact that food deprivation leads to higher-calorie food choices may have important implications for people who skip meals for any reason.

Frequent slip-ups at the grocery store can have significant health implications as we bring more unhealthy foods into our homes.

Going without food for a short time before shopping seems to encourage people to purchase more high-calorie and fewer low-calorie foods, a study conducted at Cornell University that looked at the effect of short-term food deprivation on grocery shopping behaviors has found.

Given that people lead such busy lives and the tendency to gain weight is such a problem for so many of us, frequent slip-ups at the grocery store can have significant health implications as we bring more unhealthy foods into our homes.

Smarter Grocery Shopping
So that you don’t fall into the trap of your empty stomach dictating your food purchases, keep these shopping tips in mind:
  • Don’t shop for groceries when you’re even a little bit hungry. If you do, it’s likely that you will find yourself tossing things in your cart that you wouldn’t buy if your stomach wasn’t overruling your brain. If necessary, eat a small, healthy snack like an apple or a cup of yogurt before embarking on your shopping trip.
  • Plan ahead. Look at your schedule for the week and write down what you are going to eat each day. Plan menus, taking into consideration your work schedule, your kids’ schedules, and anything else that could interfere with meal times.
  • Limit yourself to one trip to the grocery store each week. Every extra trip to the store will likely result in an unplanned purchase of goodies you just couldn’t resist.
  • Make a list of exactly what you need from the grocery store before you leave the house so you can be sure you will have all the food items needed for those menus you planned. There are no exceptions to your list unless you legitimately remember that you forgot a needed item.
  • Shop the perimeter of the store. This is where the lower calorie fresh foods like fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, and fish are typically placed. Avoid the center aisles as much as possible since that is where processed foods and junk foods tend to lurk.

Thinking ahead, planning menus, and making lists take time, but it’s time well spent when it comes to protecting your and your family’s health. If you need help getting started, try this downloadable menu planning template or search the Internet for other resources that meet your needs.

The study was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.