One of my latest theories is that the real cause of the obesity epidemic is the variety of food currently available. Historically, there were not that many food choices. Now, we have an enormous amount of food choices, even in the healthy food category.
If you look at what diets are successful, potentially they’re all the same. What they do is limit the types of foods that you’re allowed to eat. That can be a Mediterranean diet or a ketogenic (low-carb) diet or a whole food, plant-based diet. Vegan diets work when folks cut out meat, but only when the person is also careful and thoughtful about the carbohydrates they cut out. When people go crazy eating all kinds of carbohydrates on a vegan diet, it stops working. But it doesn’t matter what diet is followed. All that matters is that the person rejected a substantial amount of the food choices available.
The other advice we hear now is for folks to cook their own food. Why would that matter? The food at home can be as (if not more) tasty than food acquired outside. And you make all the food you want when you cook. In fact, many of us cook more than we need so we have leftovers. So it doesn’t look like the quantity of food is the problem. What’s up? At home, you don’t have a menu and you probably only create a limited range of options (especially if one is cooking for one or two). So, the common recommendations for losing weight of “cook your own meals” or “pack your own lunch” are basically saying “limit your food choices.”
For that reason, any situation where there is unlimited access to food is a mistake. So, buffets, cruises, pot-lucks, and parties are obesogenic activities. As a society, we have to find a way we can have fun without including unlimited food options – unless we are happy with a world that increasingly looks like the movie, Wall-e.
Per that cruises link, here is some unscientific data to support the issue and some wrong advice from a well-meaning person.
According to the polls of several online cruise reviewers, it appears that the average weight gain on a 7-day cruise ranges from 5 to 10 pounds, depending on several factors such as amount of alcoholic drinks and workout frequency. If you are concerned about gaining weight, you should keep track of what you are eating, especially during buffet lunches and dinners, and what you are drinking, particularly sodas and alcoholic drinks. Also, make good use of the onboard exercise facilities, such as the swimming pool, gym, spa and running track (if available).
The advice is wrong. We know that you cannot “exercise off” pounds. A single cookie from Panera has enough calories for a strenuous 1-hour bike ride or a 30 minute 4-mile run. Neither option is really possible on a boat. Running around a flat track is mostly useless (no hills = minimal exercise) and, sadly, the continuous training components of gyms don’t provide much benefit (thus, resistance training is useful). And, of course, exercise makes one hungry. In a world of unlimited food, that hunger can quickly find a solution.
My argument above is that “keeping track of food” is not a strategy. When the brain sees food, it tells the body to eat it. For a cruise, to help folks maintain a healthy weight, it would need to provide a grocery store (not a grocery store that cooks meals, or “groceraunt”) and a kitchen to everyone. As a society, we are currently talking about sugar taxes. Maybe the problem with excessive food is that unlimited food options are too cheap, and we need to apply some behavioral economics to the challenge.