Retrofit Blog

Avoid Free Foods

They Are Not Really "Free"

August 1, 2013
Free bread with butter

As a Registered Dietitian, I recommend clients avoid free foods that may be available during the course of each day. Yes, they're tempting but they are hardly "free." In fact, regardless of whether they are free in dollars and cents, they are rarely free in calories. I appreciate that you may be exposed to that basket of chips or bread with olive oil while waiting for the entree eating at a nice restaurant. Or how about the myriad of free samples at the grocery store? Many sample food products can be laden with calories. As tempting as they are, I suggest you stay away from certain free foods that my not cost you financially, but certainly could compromise your healthy meal plan.

The Psychology of Food Samples

Free food samples are, by nature, small. They can't possibly hurt your ability to establish better eating habits, right? Wrong! First, grocery stores make them available to shoppers so you will buy that food item, which may not be allowed on your eating regimen with Retrofit but tastes oh-so-scrumptious. Inevitably, you surrender to purchasing it. Second, many of them can be prepared foods which can be higher in calories than your plan allows, not to mention have hidden calories even if the word "healthy" is on the package.

Additionally, even if you resist the temptation to buy a product, it is all too easy to fool yourself into thinking somehow these calories won't really amount to much since the portions are tiny. Wrong, again. Some shoppers can taste 15 or more grocery stores samples in one shopping expedition. While some free foods may be low in calories such as salmon, a low-calorie humus or multi-grain product, many are not. Invariably, stores will include an easy bake pasta dish, even high calorie items such as cookies or small pie or cake slices, even ice cream. Research shows that, depending on what you've sampled, you can actually add an extra 500 calories in one trip to the store if you have imbibed at every food display.

Resisting The Temptation

As an alternative to the "all or nothing" approach, I suggest a balanced and reasonable compromise. Allow yourself to take advantage of free food at the grocer's or big box store by eating mostly healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains or possibly very lean meats. If you choose to sample some "unhealthy" foods, i.e. calorie-laden with high fat content that could interfere with your efforts to establish better eating habits, eat only 2 or 3 of them and do not go back for seconds. Another option I suggest is that if you take advantage of free samples while shopping, factor them into your food plan. That way, you'll avoid succumbing to a greater temptation of over-sampling. In essence, small and/or healthy amounts of "free food" can be incorporated into your plan. You may even want to discuss this with your weight loss coach to avoid feeling deprived of exotic foods on occasion.

Dining Out

And those chips or bread before the entrée arrives I mentioned earlier? Just 2 slices of Italian or French bread with a couple teaspoons of olive oil can be as much as 240 calories, in addition to the 5 grams of fat that comes with them. And, for just 12 tortilla chips served before your favorite low-calorie Mexican dish, there can be as many 12 grams of fat and 260 calories.

All in all, it is usually best to avoid free foods altogether. It's a more effective way to manage your goal of establishing healthier habits than succumbing to free foods that you only have to burn them off later.

Get An Expert Team Now


Amy Margulies Retrofit Registered Dietitian

Amy is the Lead Registered Dietitian at Retrofit and a Certified Diabetes Educator. She has been educating about healthy eating for nearly 20 years. She helps clients find realistic ways to improve their overall health while successfully managing their weight.

Know someone who would like this blog post? Pass it on!

Back to Blog Overview Back to Blog
Get An Expert Team Now

Follow Retrofit:

If I "cheat" on my diet, I feel guilty afterward

Retrofit isn't a diet plan.
It's a different way of living.