Eating is far less about nutrition than it is psychology and sociology. This isn’t news. When was the last time someone asked you what your most nutritious food was, vs. what was your favorite food? This post is about one aspect of that, mostly what happens when there is free food.
Free food comes in many forms. Buffets, parties, potlucks, food tasting at stores and promotional giveaways. It tends to unhinge us when food is being offered to us. Buy a sheet pizza and put it in the office break room, any time of day, and it is as if we turn into vultures, descending on prey. People with grocery carts already full of food they are purchasing will use ruses to go back to the food tasting to get another free sample. People who are watching their weight in any other context will pile their plates high at a pot luck.
Of course, scientists will be happy to tell you this is biologically driven. Throughout most of human history, scarcity of food was the norm. You’d be a fool not to eat when it was available. Since food preservation was sketchy at best, eating food while it was fresh and storing it as fat was the most reliable way to get it where it needed to be.
That does little to help us today when abundance is becoming more the norm everywhere. If you are trying to not gain weight, or at least not eat junk food, good luck. I challenge you to take one week and see how often you are offered free food, especially as the holidays approach.
What to do? Other than become a hermit.
- Make decisions ahead of time. Most tempting situations repeat themselves. For example, at work, during the holidays, our management puts out cookies in the front room for customers. I’ve made it a habit to not go out there. I know if I walk past that plate too often, I will succumb.
- Make sure you eat. Maybe you could resist that new cereal sample normally, but you ate breakfast three hours ago and you’re getting hungry now. Shop right after a meal, or eat a healthy snack before you go. If you are at a buffet or other free meal, make sure you can see your plate, and only one plate. There should be space around each item. Tell yourself “I can always get more if this isn’t enough.” Drink a big glass of water prior to eating.
These tricks are the same for any eating situation, you just have the added problem that free food initiates in your brain, that magical green light to go for it. Remembering that it is just food, you aren’t starving, and that there will always be more, goes a long way to reining in that biological urge.