closeup photo of sliced pie on white ceramic saucer
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ESCAPE the Free Food Trap: Strategies for Being Healthy This Holiday Season

This week I attended a conference in San Diego, and at one point, to my horror I found that I was EATING CHILI LIME TORTILLA CHIPS FOR BREAKFAST.

WHAT THE WHAT? This my friends is a classic case of the “Free Food Trap,” and no one, not even the ones with the most willpower, are safe.

Whether it is a work event, friendsgiving/family Thanksgiving, holiday party, or even just minding your own business in Costco, there is FREE FOOD everywhere. And no matter how financially secure you may feel, for some reason, the natural reaction is to shovel it in like you were at the Last Supper.

Free food, it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures, right? We all love to indulge in delicious treats, and when they’re offered to us without a price tag, it’s even better. However, this “free food trap” can lead to overindulgence and impact our health, especially in typical scenarios like holidays, work events, kids’ school functions, and parties. But fear not, we’ve got strategies to help you navigate these situations while still enjoying yourself.

The good news is, there is a logical explanation, a primal reason in fact. And the key to escaping the food trap is understanding this reason and figuring out a way to outsmart it.

The Psychology of Free Food and Why We Fall into the Trap

Also known as “food insecurity,” the food scarcity mindset is a primal response to free food. The food scarcity mindset is a deeply ingrained belief that there is never enough food to go around. It can stem from personal experiences of hunger or scarcity, as well as cultural or societal factors. This mindset often leads individuals to adopt behaviors that prioritize hoarding or overconsumption, fearing that they may not have access to food in the future. It can be difficult to break free from this mindset, as it creates a cycle of anxiety and stress around food.

You might be thinking why would we think this way, when there is an abundance of food? Think about the craze around pumpkin spice, peppermint bark, and other holiday-specific foods like apple pie. Your brain fires up when it sees that kind of food and thinks, this is the ONLY time of year when I can eat all this. I have to do it now! It’s a feast or famine mindset.

The same when it comes to “free” food. You may not have thought twice about taking a bag of popcorn, or a big Dutch pretzel, or a handful of M&Ms, but when they are right in front of you, that same little light goes off and that voice that says “get it while you can” makes you act like a squirrel hoarding away nuts for the winter.

The good news is, there is a solution.

Food Scarcity Situations and Tactics

1. Holidays:

Holidays are notorious for tempting us with a cornucopia of delectable dishes. Here’s how to enjoy the festivities without overindulging:

• Stay away from the food table: The food and drinks are usually congregated in a specific spot. Find the first person you know as far away from hat table as possible. If it’s more of a family event, avoid gathering in the kitchen especially when the meal is hours away, or your will undoubtedly feel like nibbling and munching the nearest bag of chips and dip.

• Bring a healthy dish: Contribute a nutritious dish to the gathering to ensure there’s something healthy to eat. It can be as simple as raw carrots and celery, with a homemade or store-bought dip.

• Stay active: Incorporate physical activities into holiday traditions, like a family walk or a game of touch football. Or if you are like me, be the one who volunteers to watch the kids while the parents eat. As someone who recently held a 7 month old for 30 minutes while her mom ate a taco, I can say that the double benefit is lots of auntie brownie points and a sick set of arms!

2. Work Events:

Work events often involve free catered meals or snacks. Here’s how to stay on track while socializing:

• Eat beforehand: Have a small, balanced meal before attending the event to curb your hunger.

• Practice portion control: Choose smaller portions and savor every bite.

• Focus on networking: Shift your attention to connecting with colleagues instead of focusing on the food.

A big work event trap as I alluded to earlier is work conferences. I made a video on how to avoid the food trap and stay active:

3. Kids’ School Functions:

School events are filled with sugary treats and fast food. Here’s how to navigate them:

• Communicate with teachers: Ask about healthier options or offer to bring nutritious snacks for your child’s class.

• Teach moderation: Educate your children about balanced eating and the importance of treats in moderation.

• Be a role model: Show your kids how to make healthy choices and enjoy treats in a controlled manner.

The “free food trap” doesn’t have to sabotage your health or weight management goals in social scenarios. By planning ahead, practicing portion control, and being mindful of your choices, you can enjoy the festivities without falling into the trap of overindulgence. Remember, it’s all about balance and moderation. So go ahead, savor those holiday dishes, navigate work events with finesse, guide your kids through school functions, and celebrate at parties, all while maintaining your well-being and health.

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