According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1% of Americans suffer from anorexia, a sometimes deadly psychiatric illness.
Along with anorexia, millions of Americans also struggle with binge eating disorder; and when grocery shopping, these individuals often feel anxious and overwhelmed as they are surrounded by more than 40,000 foods and beverages.
The Washington Post reports that a new form of telemedicine in which people can video chat with a nutritional counselor while at the supermarket is designed to help. This type of treatment, known as exposure therapy, allows people to face their traumas, phobias and anxieties by gradually exposing them to the feared stimulus. In short, telemedicine allows for virtual help.
“The eating disorder treatment world has adapted exposure therapy to help people face their food fears. Grocery store therapy can be beneficial by allowing individuals to confront their anxieties with the support of a trusted healthcare provider,” Kelsey Latimer, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Discovery, a treatment facility for eating disorders in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., told the Post.
Lois Zsarnay, a therapist and dietitian in Ventura, Calif., who was also interviewed by the newspaper, said telemedicine has expanded the support services she can offer. “With technology like FaceTime, I can virtually accompany my clients at the grocery store, which allows me to help them at that moment with their food struggles.”
For some retailers, like Hy-Vee, Loblaws and ShopRite who have a retail dietitian in every store, telemedicine is probably not the answer. But for other chains who may have a handful of retail dietitians covering say more than 100 stores the challenge to help as many shoppers as possible is very real. And one where this type of program may truly be of help.
Zsarnay describes what happens: “At first, we take a few deep breaths together, and then I remind my client about the objectives we reviewed during our planning meeting.”
Often, clients become triggered when walking down, for example, the cereal aisle. When this fear arises, she uses relaxation exercises to help decrease her client’s anxiety. If the client becomes too overwhelmed, she reminds them that they can walk back to an area of the store with “safer” foods. Once the anxiety dissipates, she proceeds to guide her client through their shopping list.
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