10 Reasons To Never Eat Free Food

by | Aug 22, 2012
By D Sharon Pruitt

By D Sharon Pruitt

Most people’s eyes light up if free food is mentioned. But using “free” as an excuse to eat junk food is nothing to be proud of.

We get excited by the concept of free food because at first glance it seems like a great value. But cheap, mass-produced food isn’t worth much in health, taste or even satisfaction.

Thus one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my 12 years of higher education is:

Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to eat it.

Occasionally someone will offer you high-quality food at no cost, but these chances are few and far between. More often you will find yourself wading through a sea of donuts, pizza, cookies and other junk food.

Your best bet is skipping the empty calories all together when attending meetings, seminars and other public events.

10 reasons to never eat free food

  1. It’s cheap. You might think that free food is a bargain, but if you think about what you’re really getting it won’t seem like such a good deal. Cheap food means low-quality, mass-produced calories made from industrial processes. That’s the stuff we want to avoid.
  2. It’s flavorless. The right combinations of sugar, fat and salt, pretty easily deceive your brain, as these ingredients strongly activate your neural reward pathways. But if you try and focus on the true flavor of food and eat mindfully, you’ll learn to taste the difference between real food and the flavorlessness industrial stuff.
  3. It’s bad for you. Processed foods are responsible for almost all “diseases of civilization” such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. When you wolf down a few of those Costco brownie bites at happy hour, you are directly contributing to your likelihood of developing these chronic diseases. Is that value?
  4. You aren’t saving money. You may tell yourself that this free meal will keep you from eating later, but there’s a good chance you will eat again anyway. Processed foods do not satisfy you, but actually stimulate your appetite and strengthen future cravings. Also, if you factor in your future health care costs, what you save by eating that $2 slice of free pizza starts to seem rather trivial.
  5. You’ll feel gross later. Junk food makes you feel bad, both physically and mentally. If someone offered you a free headache, would you take it?
  6. It screws up your metabolism. Highly refined foods can induce insulin resistance over the next few hours, making your next meal more fattening. If you make a habit of eating cheap abundant food, this condition can become chronic and develop into type 2 diabetes. What a bargain!
  7. You’ll gain weight. With insulin resistance comes weight gain, and with time you will gain more weight eating fewer calories. Unfortunately, people aren’t often giving away free plus-sized jeans.
  8. You’re eating empty calories. When you submit to eating cheap food, you are also choosing not to eat nutritious food. Choosing a diet rich in vitamins and other essential nutrients is necessary for reducing risk for sickness and disease. Foods typically offered as free don’t even fulfill our most basic nutritional (or emotional) needs.
  9. You don’t need it. Chances are you get plenty of calories in your typical day. So why do we feel like we need to eat junk food just because it is free? Healthy food does not have to be very expensive.
  10. It isn’t worth it. The truth is free junk food isn’t really free. Even if processed foods don’t cost you money, they still cost you your health, happiness and sense of well-being. You can do better.

Why do you eat free food? Originally published September 21, 2009.

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48 Responses to “10 Reasons To Never Eat Free Food”

  1. I agree and the only time I accept free food is when it’s a fruit or vegetable. It’s amazing how the empty calories add up if you always give in to the temptation.

  2. Haha great points! When I still worked in my old office, there was always free food and it was so hard to resist. I mean, it’s FREE! How silly though. It’s like giving out free poison. Great post.

  3. Come one who doesn’t want a pair of plus sized jeans. We can upholster a sofa. Okay that was a bit not nice. But it makes you think.

  4. Chandra says:

    Great reminders. I don’t come across free food very often, but I did just fend off a Pumpkin Spice Latte while typing in the comfort of mass produced Starbucks. Nice article, Darya.


  5. Wow, yeah, free food was a huge problem for me when I worked in a high school. In the teacher’s mailroom/copyroom, there was always free stuff. The PTSA had a basket of candies (including my weakness – those caramels with the white stuff in the middle), there was always some sort of free SOMETHING on the tables – anything from muffins to cookies to sheet cake. Not to mention the PTSA fed the faculty once a month, and the only healthy option on the menu was the salad (if you didn’t use dressing). There’d be a giant table full of cookies, brownies, blondies, lemon bars, fudge… ugh. No wonder I gained so much weight working there. ;p

    Working at home makes it a lot easier. If I’m hungry I can grab an apple or a handful of almonds. I have choices (and very few of them are unhealthy ones). If I go back to a traditional workplace, I think it would have to be with a stockpile of healthy food so I could avoid the free junk.

  6. jeff clark says:

    I agree with each of the 10 reasons, but why oh why did you put that luscious picture of chocolate chip cookies? I had cravings as soon as I saw the picture.

  7. Hanlie says:

    Oh absolutely! This was one of the hardest things for me to learn – I don’t have to accept food when it’s offered to me! Good post!

  8. Matt Shook says:

    How timely! Last week my work held an all-staff meeting and we were notified that the Costco rep was going to be stationed outside with an assortment of food items (read: mass produced junk food). When I declined to take anything from the 12′ spread of brownies, cookies, muffins, tarts, donuts, cupcakes, pies, cakes, loafs, pretzels (all elegantly displayed in plastic tubs of course)…I was quickly labeled a “food snob” by a few of my fellow co-workers. I graciously accepted the title, of course. 😉

    • Matt, I know what you mean about being labeled a food snob in those situations. Like you, I’ll graciously accept that title. And keep eating good food and turning down the junk, even if it is free (you get what you pay for!). Good points all, Darya.

  9. Kirsten says:

    Not only is this great advice for free food, especially as we go into party season, I found that a lot of your points can also apply to foods that have “free” on the label – aka mass produced “fat free” or “sugar free” foods. If your food needs a giant exclamation point to try to convince you it’s healthy, then it’s probably not.

  10. Antibody says:

    It’s really a interesting post! I often get free food from my fellow co-workers in the office, now…maybe I will try to say “NO” next time.

  11. julie says:

    I pass on the sweets and pastries, mostly, but pizza? It fills me up, I won’t eat again for a long time, and if it’s free? Bring it on! I feel the same way about sandwiches, barbecue, crackers/cheese, crudites, whatever. I’m unemployed, if I eat a big high fat meal, I won’t be hungry for a very very long time. I don’t advise this for everybody, but it works for me. I don’t consider most of these things health foods, but I don’t have to eat super healthy every meal, just most of them. I don’t have blood sugar/insulin issues (hello exercise!), white sugar/flour/fat doesn’t give me headaches, make me tired, or make my skin break out. If I eat two slices of free pizza for lunch, I can eat a salad for dinner, with a side of steamed kale. I balance, automatically.

  12. Such great timing for this post! I’m not even kidding – one of my co-workers brought in cans of SPAM to work. SPAM! A little easier to resist than glazed doughnuts (but just a little).

    It is hard to say no to free food, but if you take a second to think about what you’re actually eating, it helps in turning it down.

    • Darya Pino says:

      I agree. I think for most of us free food is more of a reflex. But if think for a second how much better the food will be if you just wait and make your own, the decision is easy.

  13. Janet says:

    Something I should have read *before* BlogHerFood. 😉 So true… there’s no such thing as a free lunch (especially when it’s frozen pasta. Ahem).

    Fabulous meeting you tonight. Really enjoying your blog!

  14. Eric Jaffa says:

    What are “processed foods”?

    • Darya Pino says:

      Flour is processed grain, hydrogenated oils are processed fats, sugar is processed cane, corn or beets. Any weird sounding chemical ingredients are also processed foods. Basically it’s foods that don’t come from the earth, but come from factories.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Funny you should ask. I’ve written about whole grain pasta, and I feel the same way about bread. Basically I think your decision should be made on taste (your preference), with the understanding that these aren’t healthy foods so you should try to keep it to relatively few servings per week. If you’re actively trying to lose weight, the fewer processed foods you eat the easier it will be. If you are trying to maintain your weight, you can play around with the servings of these foods. In my experience more than 1-2 servings of processed grains per day make weight loss very difficult. But I’m a small, athletic girl. You need to test what works for yourself.

  15. Free junk food is worth even less than what you paid for it!

  16. lxmorj says:

    besides my dark chocolate covered espresso beans, free work food is about the only time I eat junkfood, and it truly is not that good.

    way to keep us honest, darya 🙁

  17. maebyn says:

    “Free headache!” … You’re absolutely right. I look at the free spread at meetings in my office (muffins, pastries, cookies) and equate it with “Free sugar crash!” or “Guaranteed to lower your performance at work!” It is still hard to resist though…

  18. kaye says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! I guess its time to say bye bye to some of my fave food to eat!

  19. Free food at work is the enemy of all healthy goals! It’s there, it’s free. How about I have just one..maybe two…half a dozen cookies later…When we hear something is free, it’s almost like we can’t help ourselves from helping ourselves!

  20. Jess says:

    I’m glad you reposted this – I hadn’t seen it before. All the reasons listed are exactly why I don’t eat free food.

    I work at a fairly large company, and EVERY time there’s a birthday or baby shower or someone’s retiring (it’s always something at least once a week) there are free cookies and cake and donuts and bagels…etc. (with the occasional small cup of fruit – a lonely island in a sea of sugar-inducing coma treats).

    I get pressured from co-workers (lots of Weight Watchers members, interestingly enough) to come get some “food,” and usually politely decline. There are always the huffs and puffs and ‘whatever’ looks, like I must be crazy to turn down all the junk.

    Even better, what gets left over is put in the kitchen, so every time I go to get some hot water for my tea, there it is. Just sitting there, tempting me. But then I think about the fancy pastry or other dessert I could have on the weekend and actually share with people I’m happiest to be around, and then I can usually resist. 🙂

  21. I’ve just eaten free carrots and cabbage with dinner and a free apple this afternoon – all good 🙂

  22. Kate says:

    I have to say that Number 5, “If someone offered you a free headache, would you take it?” may be one of the funniest and most insightful expression I have ever heard! (And I was a script-reader in LA!)
    Delightful – I called everyone I have ever met to share your insight and blog with him/her.

    Great hook – please keep writing and continue to enchant your fans!


  23. Dee says:

    Our office provides a fruit tray with free fruit on mornings. What I do is take one serving then get up next half hour after my colleagues have taken, and take another serving or two, then I may make a third pass – all free. – but I don’t eat any, I take them home and put in fruit bowl for husband and kids. Only if I’m really hungry in he afternoon I may eat a pear… But rarely. When they order lunch, if it’s healthy or balanced i eat, if it’s junk like pizza or fried chicken nd chips, I pass or may take home. Taking the food for others is my strategy for seeing tempting food, that shouldn’t be wasted.

  24. Dee says:

    …and I like your points about food being flavorless and feeling gross later…. Free or not, I always feel like that about fried chicken and chips – KFC, McDonald’s …. Churches… Whoever … Gross!

  25. Brent Blum says:

    Dan Ariely has a great chapter on “The Cost of Zero,” in Predictably Irrational. In short, people miss or greatly underestimate the true (hidden) costs of free goods. Your list above is a great illustration of this.

  26. The only free food I like is the SAMPLES at Whole Foods. LOL!!!! Sometimes I go there for “lunch” and just feast on free samples! Ah ha ha!

  27. Anon says:

    Whilst the sentiment of the article might be valid (that is, don’t base your diet around low quality nasty food), your logic is somewhat skewed – In Europe (where I am) the junk foods you mention are never (to my knowledge) free – quite the opposite, they’re quite expensive actually. There’s plenty of low quality foods in supermarkets which have little to no nutritional value other than calories but are not marketed as, or perceived as junk foods. There are plenty of ‘Buy one get one free’ deals on foodstuffs in my local supermarket that are not only good value but are nutritious too. Ultimately better education from an early age is the only thing that will get the developed world eating significantly better (and healthier) than it is now. There is a place for just about anything in moderation – junk food included. If it were not enjoyable then it would not be so popular. Statements including phrases such as “Never” do this and “Never” do that are neither realistic nor helpful. The fact of the matter is that junk foods eaten in moderation are not bad for you – they are not good for you either as they have little nutritional value other than calories.

  28. Candy says:

    My mom would always love to buy vegetables attached with a bag of free green beans or green pepper that are close to expiry. In term of this kind of free food, I think it is OK.

  29. I can’t agree more. These are not needed in our daily life, though it is cheap, that is just a marketing method for merchants. No one does not know that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch “, “Like tree, like fruit”, you will paid for it. Actually, we spend on the quality food is not much higher than the “free”, what we need is a healthy and happy life. So, for our life, leave “free” away.

  30. Jenn says:

    That’s a simple enough list but HOW ?

    I am surrounded by unhealthy free food ALL the time in my job. And I keep gaining weight. Monday I said “no” to breakfast (doughnuts) and lunch (BBQ) and Tuesday said “no” to the lunch (pizza). But by today (Wednesday) I ate three of the tacos they had for breakfast and I already have the mental battle about lunch (“I messed up today already…”) Tomorrow we have lunch and a happy hour to look forward to…

    This is a typical week for me. There are vendors here ALL the time with free food.

    Once I went 2 weeks without giving in and lost 10 pounds (but then gave in the next week and put it all back on) and the only thing I did was eliminate free food. Most weeks I give out somewhere around Wednesday and leaving Church Sunday I re-commit to be healthier this week.

    Do you have any practical tips for developing the willpower to not eat it?

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