I've recently been putting some thought into my shopping habits and the impact they have on my health, and the world in general. The truth is that many factors can get in the way of spending our dollars mindfully. Budget challenges, product availability, and the time it takes to research a product's origins can all conspire to make mindless consumption the most appealing option. I've learned, though, that as our values change, so too can our shopping habits.
Let Your Values Evolve
When I was in college, I had to maximize every dollar. This often meant feeding myself with the cheapest calories I could find. I chose highly processed foods (with their long shelf life) over fresh items from the deli or the produce section. When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia after college, it was pretty instant feedback that my body needed some attention and TLC. I learned how a diet limited in sugar and processed foods was positively impacting thousands of people with my condition. And, I quickly experienced my own healing through cleaning up my diet. I had to start reading food labels, and all of a sudden shopping got more complicated. I started to shift my value from the cheapest possible foods to those that would nourish my body more effectively. My grocery bill increased, but so did my well-being—priceless!
This lesson was underscored some years later when my son was diagnosed with food sensitivities and intestinal dysbiosis (in the form of a yeast overgrowth). As we worked with a naturopath to re-think his diet, I started educating myself more about organic and non-GMO foods. We also began watching out for dairy and certain grains on ingredient lists, as they can hide in many products (especially snack foods that kids love!) Based on our family's health needs, my shopping habits began sliding further away from the bargain basement priorities I'd held previously.
Most recently, I am learning about the potentially harmful ingredients in household, beauty, and baby products. And, I'm FINALLY realizing what we put on our skin and sniff with our noses gets into our bodies and impacts our health. Where I once would shop for the go-to products that were familiar to me in my upbringing, I now read labels and avoid products with synthetic fragrances, dyes, and various other chemicals that I believe could have a potential impact on my health.
I have seen how my values have evolved over time, and it has become important to me to allow others' to do the same. I try really hard not to push my values on to my friends and family, or to judge others for having different shopping habits.
Know Your Stance
In addition to valuing clean ingredients, I have come to value the ethics and mission behind a product. It is important to me to have insight on what goes into my food and personal care products, and to feel in alignment with what a company stands for. I love to shop locally because I get to know the producer, what they value, how they operate, and I am clear about what my purchase is supporting. We have a small but mighty farmer's market and I love supporting the vendors there. While it is a bit more expensive than what I can find at the store, I know that I'm supporting so much more than just my family's health.
Even at the grocery store, I've seen that my dollars have power. When I request a certain item that's not always available, then make sure to buy it (and that my friends know about it, too) it finds a more permanent place on the shelf.
Knowledge is power
I have a family member (whom I love dearly) who finds my spending habits very confusing. The "expensive" foods we buy seem to make him uncomfortable—he will not hesitate to point out that we don't need to buy fancy pink or grey salt when plain old table salt costs a fraction as much—"salt is salt", he says. At the end of the day, our values are just different. Saving money is his underlying core value, and while I also do my best to make financially sound decisions, I don't have any interest in revisiting health problems of the past.
The truth is that I've made my career around understanding the impacts of our eating and lifestyle habits on our whole health, and I have spent a lot of time researching, talking, and thinking about these issues. If I were to go to the hardware store to buy a paintbrush, I'd be clueless about the best product to buy. I guarantee I would walk in and buy the cheapest brush on the shelf and be perfectly happy with it, whereas someone who paints for a living might be horrified at the prospect.
I know I can extend my values around food and household/personal care products to other areas of my life. Seeking out responsibly produced clothing is definitely one of them. There is always room to grow! And, endless opportunities to put our money where our health is.
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.