Do You Eat More When Food is Free?

Think about it …. if a particular food is free, do you eat more of it? I never really thought much about this concept until last week. Food was free for one day where I work and I witnessed a food frenzy occurring – in which I took part!

Employee Day at NewYork Presbyterian = free food
Lat week, the hospital offered its employees a free meal in recognition of our service. I didn’t even know about this day (guess I don’t always read my work emails on a timely basis…) but noticed people walking around with cartons of food – piled REALLY high. At first I thought “Wow, that nurse must be extremely hungry!” She had so much food that she had to put it in a carton. Her plate was piled high and she even had 2 desserts. I noticed many other employees with the same amount of food and figured out something was going on. One of my colleagues then alerted me of the free food situation.  (pic is of the nurses carton of food. I’m sure she thought I was a little strange when I asked her if I could take a picture of her food!)

I initially wasn’t going to go down to the cafeteria to get my free food because I had brought my lunch  in from home. However, eventually my curiosity got the best of me AND I wanted to take some pics for CGB blog. I have never seen so many people in line at the cafeteria. There had to have been over a 100 people in line.  There seemed to be a frenzy in the air, almost like free money was being given away. I waited in the line for a while. Finally I made it to the front. There was a Greek Olympian Theme (hence the Greek food). The atmosphere was very festive. There were several security guards keeping the crowd in order (fear of rioting? stealing food?).

Here was the food:
Pita bread
Chicken kabob
Spinach pie (big piece)
Greek salad
Yellow rice
Grilled veggies
Ice cream
Baklava (big piece)

My actions:
I got a carton and heaped on the food. Normally, I would never take this much – let alone 2 desserts! I told myself that this was all in the name of research for CGB … but looking back, I really think I had the intentions of taking food (especially the desserts) so I could eat them. Normally I would never buy dessert at work. The thought wouldn’t even enter my mind. It isn’t that I have a problem paying the $2 (or whatever it is) for a dessert,  but I just have absolutely no desire for it. But this day, I ate both the ice cream and the baklava. Why did I do this? I wasn’t hungry and while it was tasty, it wasn’t amazingly good. But I ate it all.

So why do we eat more food if it is free? (I say “we” because obviously I was not the only person who did this). Do we think the calories don’t count because it is free? Or we think “why not, it’s free”!

I have encountered this situation with some of my clients in NYC who have work late and get their dinners paid for by their employers. This “free dinner if you work late” situation actually happens fairly frequently in NYC.  I see many of my clients are tempted to eat more because it is free (the fact they are working 12 hr days and are exhausted doesn’t help their willpower!) This situation can really pack on the pounds unless you are careful with what you order. If you really feel the urge to take advantage of this situation for a free dinner, order in something expensive but low cal and healthy … like sashimi. Your boss will love that bill.

Bottom line, enjoy the free food if  it is a special occasion! But if you encounter situations like this on a somewhat regular basis, you will need to change your attitude or you’ll end up struggling to zip your skirt or button your pants. Your fat cells don’t know the difference between a free calorie or an expensive calorie!


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