Free can be expensive

shopping cart in supermarket aisle with product shelves interior defocused blur background

“But it’s FREE!” The guy at the deli counter raised his voice to make sure that I understood. The croissants were free with the purchase of roasted chicken salad.

“Yes,” I smiled. “But no one in my family eats bread.” His lips never moved, but his eyes asked, What’s wrong with you people?!

It wasn’t his strange look that gave me pause, but the word ‘free.’ The croissants were free. Even though I haven’t eaten bread in over 6 years, I stopped to consider grabbing the box, especially after the deli guy said, “With two pounds of chicken salad, you’re entitled to two free boxes.”

Entitled. As if it was my inalienable right to take free bread. And that’s the thought that gave me pause. It was my bread, and I was just leaving it there on the table! It was part of what I paid for when I got the chicken salad. It belonged to me. For free!

I stopped to consider taking the croissants and gifting them to someone, but there was no one I really wanted to give them to. My struggle had nothing to do with croissants, but the idea that they were free and that I was giving up or missing something that I should be elated to have. For free.

What I know for sure is that the croissants may be free, but they come at a significant cost to me. Not in the cost of my groceries, but in the havoc the carbs wreak on my body. The unstable blood glucose, hunger, cravings, and even hypoglycemia that I experienced when I used to eat a standard American diet and which caused me to be obese.

Obesity limited my mobility and kept me from doing things I loved with people I loved, especially my children who will never be toddlers again. Not being able to play with them levied a significant cost. Some days I feel as if I will never pay off that tab because I live with the guilt of not being the mother they needed.

I left the ‘free’ croissants right there on the display table and wheeled the cart around to the peanut grinder station to make my own peanut butter with no added sugar, just ground peanuts and salt. Then I grabbed a pint (or two) of cream because it was on sale.

I strolled to the checkout smiling, not because I’d gotten free croissants, but because I had left them behind.

/ Kristie Sullivan, PhD

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