free candy

Free food seems to be everywhere in America, from samples of lasagna and cheese crackers at the grocery store and bowls of hard candy in shiny wrappers at the bank to birthday cakes at office parties and the never-ending sweets that appear during the holiday season.

Animals are hard-wired from eons of evolution to go after the free food if it’s there. Offer a dog a free cupcake and you will never have to ask twice. For the majority of human existence (and still the case for many on this earth), we had to take advantage of the presence of food when we could, where we could. If that food was high in calories – so much the better! Today we still have this programmed in our brains, even with an abundance of calories all around us.

Enter: Free food. When our natural urges to eat combine with other psychological forces, free food turns into more than we bargained for.

Consider the Free Sample.You may think you are getting free snacks to go along with your shopping excursion. But most human beings have a very strong and ingrained sense of reciprocity. If someone buys your lunch out of the blue, you will most likely return the favor later. Grocery stores know this and are counting on the fact that after you try a bite of vanilla mousse, you will feel obliged to reciprocate – with your wallet.

Free Food Doesn’t “Register.” Free food almost always comes along when you are doing something else – shopping for shoes at the mall, attending a new mothers meeting or waiting for your car at the mechanics. You are not in a mindful eating mode, and therefore anything you put into your mouth won’t register fully and your body and brain won’t get the satisfaction that it needs.

Free Food is Almost Always Bad for You. When is the last time someone brought in fresh fruit and organic salad for everyone at the office? Most likely it was fudge brownies, peanut butter bars or a dozen Krispy Kremes. People want to bring in a treat – never mind the fact that “treats” like these have become ubiquitous in every convenience store and gas station in America. Free food is usually high in fat and sugar and devoid of any nutritional content, and when it is met with social pressure (don’t you want Kenny to have a happy 39th?), then you will often go home with a belly full of empty (if not harmful) calories that you never meant to eat.

Free Food Costs a Most Precious Resource: Your Health. Until banks start serving fresh fruit kabobs instead of stale cookies and birthday cakes become birthday whole-grain quinoa wraps with spinach, free food will not be free. It may not cost you anything in present-day dollars, but it can take away value from your long-term health. All those sweets that you didn’t mean to eat and those birthday cakes you crammed down to be nice may end up haunting your health for years to come.

Just Say No to Free Food. Saying no to free food is easy – if you have a plan. Identify the free food problem that is plaguing you and the environment that presents it. Imagine yourself being offered a slice of birthday cake or a free sample at the grocery store, and practice saying no. Visualize yourself walking away and sitting down later to a healthy, though-out meal that will nourish your mind, body and spirit. All of a sudden that free cookie doesn’t look so appetizing, does it?

image: Pink Sherbet Photography