The Hidden Cost of Free Food

Think about the last time you encountered unplanned food. Was it a breakfast or lunch at work or a conference? Donuts brought in by a coworker to say thank you? Samples of a food you’ve never had before (and that you would never buy) in a store? These extra, unplanned calories add up and can take a toll on health and weight as they pile up on us.

It’s almost hard to talk about how surrounded by calories we find ourselves so often when so many people in our own communities don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Obesity impacts our calorie needs, as do our age and activity levels, yet many of us often consume calories with abandon, eating things that we may not ever pick for ourselves grocery shopping or at a restaurant, eating them simply because they are there.

The point of this is not to make any of us feel bad (purposely including myself here as I have eaten countless free food calories over the years, too), but instead to inspire us to think differently about what we consider a treat and how we approach all that food piled up in places where we didn’t expect it and maybe weren’t as prepared to say no as we could have been – or to say yes and own it, enjoy it, and move on. Here are my three tips to navigating free food while feeling treated, accountable, and oh yes, able to enjoy them when we choose them (like I did when I ate that dessert in the picture), and say no without feeling like we’re missing out:

  1. BYOC (bring your own calories). If you plan your meals and snacks instead of letting food choices happen to you, you’re going to eat things you’ve chosen for yourself versus someone else choosing for you.
  2. Ask yourself: Do I really want that? We’ve all fallen into the trap of eating something because it’s there. You deserve to take a moment, stop and look at what unexpected food is being offered, and think about it. Would you personally choose to buy it in a store or a restaurant? Most times, the answer is probably not. Except on that one day when I see a paczki, my answer is yes please, I’d love to enjoy the heck out of one that day. Yum.
  3. Redefine treat. How did it become that food choices that are the opposite of good for us are seen as a treat? If eating something does nothing but tickle the taste buds, that’s not a daily food choice that actually is treating you. Think about other ways to show gratitude to yourself or others. Flowers, a walk on a sunny day, a phone call or text message, a card. How do you define treat? Start thinking about that today – you deserve it.

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