Day Ninety-Eight: The first step to healthier eating? Reduce your barcodes


Good luck weighing this trolley-load, son.


Sometimes people ask me for tips on cleaning up their diet. It’s usually because they’ve watched me pull out a packed lunch of nuts, fruit, and salad (or more likely, because they’ve seen me turn down chocolate and cake at a party). I have no nutritional qualifications, mind you, only a basic grasp of what’s good and what’s not so good. But I noticed something today that I think sums up what a healthier lifestyle is all about.

I was watching the nice lad (yes, I’m 80) at the supermarket scanning my groceries. Or should I say, weighing and entering my groceries.

You see, this poor guy (check-out whizz though he was) only got about 10 easy scans out of the 50 items we bought. The rest he had to stop and locate in his database, and weigh, before handing them over to be bagged. That’s the key difference between our trolley and the ones of most other shoppers: 80 per cent of what we buy is in its original form. And if it has a barcode on it, it’s probably not in its original form.

When my boyfriend and I go shopping, we race down the packaged food aisle (the first one you encounter when you walk into Aldi, in contrast to the immediate fruit and veg onslaught in Coles and Woolworths–different marketing technique?), stopping only for some canned tomatoes, rice milk, and bags of sunflower seeds. The real fun happens in the fruit and veg section. (If you’re wondering, yes we do buy most of our fruit and vegetables from Aldi. Not organic, not all Australian-grown, but one battle at a time, hey? We also hit up the farmers’ markets when we can. But the Aldi stuff is well-priced and tasty, and we modestly-employed youngsters love a delicious bargain.)

We spend the bulk of our shopping trip skipping around the fruit and veg like small children who’ve been given free reign in the confectionery aisle, asking each other with shining eyes if we might get some pears this week. Discovering watermelon on special elicits squeals of excitement. Don’t even ask how many bananas we bought. That should last a few days, we told each other, before grabbing an extra bunch just to be safe.

The point is that healthy eating for beginners can be simplified into this: fill your trolley with 80 per cent barcode- and ingredient list-free products. If it comes in a box or a bag, it’s very likely been processed, pumped full of of excess sugar and preservatives, and too far from its natural state to be any good for you.


To break it down, here are food items we buy in packages:

Nuts (raw and unsalted)

Rice milk

Tinned tomatoes (because non-perishables are just so handy)



Gluten-free pasta

Gluten-free bread

Tuna (protein-rich lunch on the run)

Meat (this one makes it in here on a technicality, since it is in a packet and does have a barcode)


With the exception of the gluten-free bread, which has all sorted of crazy gums and stuff to hold it together in the absence of gluten, even the packaged stuff we buy has only a couple of ingredients.

The downside is that we have to stock up on fresh goodies more than once a week. The upside is happy tummies, clear minds, and an appreciation for how food is supposed to be eaten (i.e. fresh and whole).

I’m no expert, just a girl with hyper-sensitive guts trying to keep her body from rage-quitting–and, hey, it’s working out pretty well so far. To the ones who ask, I’ll tell them it’s all about taking the first step, making changes that are manageable for you, and learning to look at food differently. If I had it my way, we’d live on an acreage, grow our own fruit and vegetables, and start a co-op with like-minded neighbours, but we’re a way off that yet. For now, it’s enough to make better choices in the supermarket (enjoy our patronage while you can, you greedy bastards) and pat ourselves on the back when we crave bananas instead of cake.


(Of course, we do enjoy our modified treats too, because resisting chocolate will always be a challenge. Today was caramel slice aka Sweet Happiness.)



Related articles:

7 Tips to Help You Make Healthy Choices at the Supermarket (

The Benefits of Healthy Whole Foods (

Why Eat Wholefoods? (,14993)

Survey: Processed Foods vs Whole Foods (


Day Twenty: Why grocery shopping makes me feel like a child


It is just me or does food shopping make everyone crazy?

In a fit of independence (throw your hands up at me!) I decided that I would surprise my boyfriend by doing the shopping. He’s done it for me probably ten times. I’ll come home from work when he’s had a day off, and the fridge and pantry are overflowing with vittles. It’s pretty awesome, but makes me feel like a non-contributing bum. After all, whoever goes, pays.

The shopping expedition starts with a list. I feel mega organised because I’ve gone through the cupboards and noted what is lacking, and I pat myself on the back for remembering to place the list in my bag before leaving. Obviously this memory thing doesn’t extend to all areas of the shopping trip; I get downstairs to my car before I remember that I didn’t bring the effing bags. (We have those ‘green’ bags that make me feel less like an environmental terrorist.)

Off to a great start, I mumble to myself, then immediately check my neighbours’ balcony overhead to see if they’re on their way to call a mental health specialist.

I trudge back up the stairs and grab the bags. At least I didn’t leave without them, right? I sternly remind myself to take them inside the shopping centre when I arrive, and set off to do my grown-up duty.

The problem I have with shopping (and supermarkets in particular) is that it overwhelms me. I don’t know if it’s the lights, or the colourful displays, or just the sheer volume of shit on offer, but it makes my heart race and my brain turn to mush. I think I get this from my dad. He hates shopping with a passion. He’ll do the Christmas buying in one day, non-stop, until it’s done and he doesn’t have to face the horror again for another year. With that time of the year approaching again, I fear for my own sanity.


When I shop alone, I feel like I’m still a little kid. It’s like that for three reasons:

1. I cannot control a full trolley (or indeed a half-full trolley)

I’m not sure whether all people of low weight have this problem, or I’m just maneouvering it so poorly that I’m pushing against all the laws of physics. Either way, I feel like I’m about seven years old, and I need my mum to come and take the reins. Straight ahead is fine; it’s getting the damn thing to turn a corner that gets me. I know people are watching in amusement as I dig in my feet, strain my arms, and make a face as I slide my trolley awkwardly around a bend. Or just to the side slightly. I’d like to blame the age of the trolley (I know that the super old ones are notoriously lop-sided and rickety) but the ones at my supermarket are shiny and new. When I come up against a walker in an aisle I always smile apologetically, but what I really mean is, well it’s going to take me far longer to move this fucking thing than it will take you to walk around it. Mostly, though, I’m just jumping on the stupid thing and joy-riding through the carpark.


2. I impulse buy

I think I also get this from my dad. At times when my mum has been away (she’s the go-to teacher to chaperone awesome overseas trips) it has fallen to Dad to feed us, wash our clothes, and shop for food. It’s not that he’d never shopped for us before, but Mum was just efficient and willing to do it (and was the one cooking most of the meals). The first time Mum went overseas, we ended up with a cupboard full of Home Brand everything. I’ve never seen so much yellow. Dad bought things that we’d never had or expressed an interest in before–choc-cream biscuits, tinned berries, ‘fun’ new products clearly from the aisle ends. Now that I’m shopping for myself, I know how this happened. Supermarkets are fraught with panic- and excitement-inducing traps. If something says ‘new’ or has its own display, you’d better believe I’m going to be over there looking at it. When my boyfriend shops with me, I’ll show him things, my eyes shining.

“I’ve heard about this!” I tell him.

“Twelve bucks! That’s a bit hexy,” he says sensibly.

Today it was mangoes. I love mangoes. If I could eat one fruit forever, it’d be nectarines, but mangoes rate pretty highly. Without the sensible voice of the bf, I bought two for eight bucks (not a bargain, I know. Please help me). I then proceeded to the ‘reject’ table, where the overripe fruit is packaged up and marked down. Two probably-too-soft-to-eat-cleanly mangoes were half the price of the fresh ones. Did I stop and think that four mangoes between two people was a bad idea, given that it was hot and they’d be overripe in two days anyway? No, sir. I bought both. I’ll make smoothies/juice, I told myself, It’s a bargain. It’s only a bargain if you were going to buy it anyway and got a better price. In the quiet calm of my home, I know this. Damn those fluorescent lights!


3. I get tired quickly

When I’m shopping and I hear a baby crying or a toddler throwing a tantrum, I can understand it. I hear you, kid, I think as I drag the afore-mentioned trolley from aisle to aisle, trying to avoid looking at the cheap homewares in the centre of Aldi. Physically, I get sore feet (because I wear sandals and not hiking boots like I should), my back aches from hunching over the trolley, and my eyes burn from the blasting air-conditioning. Mentally, I’m full of self-doubt about my purchases, worry that I’m spending too much, and sensory overload from all the crazy colours and sounds. If that’s enough to set an adult’s teeth on edge, I can imagine how bad it must be for a kid. By the time I’ve been to four different shops to pick up the things that we need–we buy our fruit from the proper fruit shop, and the better (read: more expensive) tuna from Woolies–I’ve traversed a good kilometre, endured temperatures that vary from comfortable to ice-box, and produced my wallet more times than I care to mention. If I had been dragged along on that journey against my will, I’d be melting down in the middle of Aldi too. The drive home is a small respite before loading up on heavy bags (all of them at once, obviously, because I’m not going to do another trip), fiddling with keys, climbing two flights of stairs, fiddling with keys again, and putting all the stuff away. No wonder I feel like napping.


Food shopping can be a little quicker and a little less painful with a bit of preparation–making a list and sticking to it, keeping your eyes on the prize, and limiting your trolley-load to something you can handle (also good for saving money since you’re buying fewer things). Mostly though, it’s something that I’d prefer to share with someone else. The excited grabber needs the sensible money-considerer; the habitual forgetter needs the elephant; the same-shit-every-weeker needs the shake-it-upperer.

What I really need though is a strong trolley-pusher, blinkers to keep me focussed, and a good sleep.


Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some mangoes that need my attention.