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from a really average woman who lost 100 lbs.
and works every day to keep it off.

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Friday, September 19, 2003  

Complimentary Calories
Free food never is

We have a little problem in our household. We have a very hard time turning down free food. If the food comes with the experience, we are drawn to it. We have to have it.

We take on the bread that comes with the meal, the second side dish we aren't hungry for, second helpings at the breakfast buffet. Happy-hour hors d'ouvres? We'll take them. A snack buffet at an art opening, an airline pretzel pack, a packaged muffin? Bring it on. We collect our prizes and eat them when we aren't at all hungry.

We eat them though we know that the food itself is not well made, has been dissembled, laced with preservatives, puffed, blended, injected, remolded, heated and frozen and reheated until all that's left are calories and a chemical construct that will upset our systems if not kill us early. We know this stuff won't taste good, will stick like sawdust in our throats or lay a layer of grease in our mouths we won't be able to wash down with the complimentary high fructose corn syrup-laden soft drink. We eat it though it will make us queasy for the rest of the event, ride, flight, lecture, recital.

But! It's Free!

It's not free. These foods cost us dearly. Because we are two grownups leading busy lives, these foods crop up constantly. And they can consume a huge portion of our daily calorie requirement that we ought to be spending on foods that actually nourish us.

Not long ago researchers from Santa Barbara, California, and Waukesha, Wisconsin, took some time to analyze one of the free lunches that rarely now, but sometimes still do come along on domestic flights in the U.S. They published their results in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The results were horrifying.

The tiny lunch, 9 oz. of food in all, included a sandwich, a small package of corn chips, and a couple of cookies, and it cost 950 calories, loaded with saturated and trans fats. No veggies. No fruit. No nuts or whole grains. That is, 950 calories of heartburn-inducing, artery-clogging, indigestion-brewing non-food.

If you're really hungry, really, really, really hungry, and the flight won't be over for hours and you don't have an apple or nuts or a hunk of cheese in your bag (Why don't you have an apple or nuts or a hunk of cheese in your bag?), you could eat just the sandwich, without the mayo. Leave the cookies and corn chips behind.

But! They're Free!

There it is. It's that something-for-nothing impulse of ours. We need to fight it. Eating non-food you would never normally choose for yourself just because it's free or came with the price of the ticket? That's no prize.

That's just crazy.

We know it is, but our inborn thriftiness, our parents' depression-era hording instincts, our boredom, our need to do something with our hands in awkward situations, these all help propel us to eat these things that will hurt us in the end. Even if the offering is fruit and cheese, please ask yourself before reaching for it - are you actually hungry?

You know, do as we train our kids to do, and check your tummy. Is it empty? Really, really empty?

If not, don't do it. Smile politely and turn the non-food down. Ask for a nice glass of water. Feel better, enjoy the event more, sleep well that night.

I'm going to work on that this weekend. I will if you will,


Airline meal analyzed

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