Who doesn’t love free food? I mean, honestly, a box of donuts in the break room may be the only thing that keeps you from going crazy on a Tuesday morning that really feels like it should be a Friday afternoon. But a little donut in the breakroom plus a pecan cluster that
“you just have to try”
Or a “thank you” cookie
for helping out with a project last week can all add up to another diet that goes plummeting down the drain.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. A recent survey found that food obtained at work:
“averaged 1277 kcal per person per week….and free food accounted for 71% of all calories acquired. The leading food types obtained include foods typically high in solid fat, added sugars, or sodium such as pizza, soft drinks, cookies/brownies, cakes and pies, and candy.”
It’s not just the office break room that is the problem. Potlucks, birthdays, holidays, thank yous, welcomes, goodbyes, get well soons, “I dropped in to say hi and felt like I had to bring something”, are also common culprits. There is no end to the occasions where we feel the need to share high calorie, low nutrient food.
Sharing food helps us feel connected. It brings a sense of community, shows affection, and occasionally shows off our master cooking skills. We like to give food that tastes good, so we often give unhealthy food. It can be easy to make and obtain, and is a sure-fire crowd pleaser.
This topic is particularly near and dear to my heart because I am guilty party #1. I love to cook and one way I show people I love and appreciate them is by making them food. Boy am I a great cook and I know how to make things that people like: Banana foster cake for my husband, caramel popcorn balls for my mom, monkey bread for our game night group, and peanut butter cupcakes for my puppy Darla.
But I have to ask you this question. Are we really helping anyone when we show affection through treats? While my husband tries so hard to stay healthy, lean, and fit for his career in the Marine Corp, I make him an entire banana foster cake to eat by himself. I am essentially sabotaging his career--the person I love more than anybody in the world!
This is most likely the case with many people that we befriend with food. Considering that 45 million people go on a diet every year and 70% of adults are overweight, chances are that one of the people you smother with free food is trying their best to avoid such food. Not only do they really want to accept your gift (because they want to eat it), but they will feel guilty for refusing. Essentially, we set our dieting friends up for failure.
I am challenging myself to be more cognizant of the needs and long term goals of people I love. I challenge you to think more about the consequences of your well intentioned generosity too. Here are some tips to stop being the problem and start being part of the solution:
At work, parties, and potlucks, there is no shame in being the person who brought the veggie or fruit tray. Every party needs that person. Personally, I really appreciate that person, and I am sure other people do too.
If it kills you to “just” bring a veggie or fruit tray, use your creativity to make it a really beautiful display of fruits and veggies. Cut them in fancy shapes, make towers, use garnishes, whatever you can dream up. You can still impress the party.
Food is a quick, easy, and fool-proof gift. But, if you really want to show how much you care, take the time to think of something else they will really appreciate. Write a heartfelt note or spend quality time with the person.
If there is no way around giving food as a gift, choose healthier options. I think it is fun to give specialty items that are in flavors that you wouldn’t expect. I can spend hours at places like Trader Joe’s checking out the unique flavors of regular food items. A grapple (apple and grape hybrid), can of seasonal butternut squash soup, or buffalo flavored popcorn can be a healthy, and fun alternative.
If you must give unhealthy foods, give in reasonable portions. Rather than an entire plate of cookies, try wrapping a single cookie in a seasonal bag.
Finally, I think the most important thing to have is open communication with those that you are close with. Recently, my husband and I had a talk about how often treat gifts are acceptable. I know what his diet goals are and we are working together to achieve them. It can be difficult for me when I so badly want to spoil him with a surprise. But, it is important to both of us that we reach his long term goals rather than satisfying our impulsive cravings.
The world we live in is built for diet failure. Rather than complaining about it, it is time to become part of the solution. Hopefully our efforts to help other people achieve their diet goals will come full circle and we can develop a community that supports our healthy lifestyle as well.