Fitness for One and All Home Page



Man v. Food

TV Show Review

By Gary F. Zeolla

Man v. Food is the title of a TV show seen on the “Travel Channel.” In this show, the host, Adam, visits popular restaurants in a different city each week. He talks with the owners, cooks, and patrons. He sees how the restaurants’ most famous foods are prepared and then eats a meal or two at the restaurant.

The “Man v. Food” part comes at the end of the show when Adam takes on a “food challenge” of one sort or another. Sometimes it is a challenge to eat an incredibly large serving of a restaurant’s famous food. Other times, it is to eat an incredible spicy food.

But what this show really does is demonstrate in no uncertain terms why so many Americans are overweight and unhealthy.

Incredibly Large Servings

The food challenge on the first episode of the show was to eat a 72 ounce steak, along with side dishes of a baked potato and a salad. The challenge came from a time many years before when a group of cowboys came into the restaurant. At the time, the restaurant served half-pound steaks. The owner said the food would be free for the cowboy who ate the most such steaks, plus the normal sides. The winner ate nine half pounds steaks. Since then, the restaurant has a standing challenge that anyone who can eat all that food also gets it free. Thousands have tried, but only a few hundred have succeeded.

Needless to say, eating 4-1/2 pounds of meat at one sitting is quite ridiculous. And no one would do that on a regular basis. But having such a challenge makes what are in fact incredibly large servings of food seem reasonable by comparison.

For instance, a common sized steak now served at that restaurant is one pound. 16 ounces as compared to 72 ounces seems rather small. However, a “normal” serving of steak is actually only 3-1/2 ounces (100 grams). That is the serving size of steak or any meat for that matter that will be found in a “food values” book or software diet program. This means a 16 ounce steak is actually equivalent to over 4-1/2 normal servings. That restaurant still also serves half pound steaks, and that seems much more reasonable. But again, in reality, it is 2-1/4 “normal” servings of meat.

If eating such a large serving of steak was just a very rare “treat” then it would not be problematic. But many people will go to such a restaurant and eat such incredibly large servings of meat on a regular basis. Even worse, after getting used to such large servings at a restaurant, people will then prepare themselves such large servings when they cook at home. A 3-1/2 serving of meat simply looks too small after being used to 8-16 ounce steaks.

In other words, the incredibly large servings of food served at restaurants skews people’s conceptions of what “normal” servings of food entail. I mention this in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book. But this TV shows pictures this phenomenon very well.

To put some numbers on these foods, a 3-1/2 ounce T-bone steak contains 205 calories, 10.1 grams of fat, 3.6 grams of saturated fat. But that is assuming you trim all of the fat. If not, then the numbers would be 309 calories, 23.3 grams of fat, and 9.1 grams of saturated fat. This shows how beneficial it is to trim all the outer fat, as discussed in my book. Unfortunately, most people do not do so.

If you bump that up to serving size up to 8 ounces and do not trim the fat, then the numbers would be about 700 calories, 52 grams of fat and over 20 grams of saturated fat. Double these numbers for a 16 ounce steak.

To put that in perspective, food “Nutrition Facts” labels are based on 2,000 calories, with the highest recommend amounts of fat being 65 grams and of saturated fat being 20 grams. That means, a “small” 8 ounce steak contains all of the saturated fat that is recommended for the entire day, while a 16 ounce steak contains about 2/3s of a days worth of calories. And that is not including any sides that are eaten. Altogether, that steak and potato meal can easily contain more calories than is recommended for the entire day.

As for that 72 ounce steak, try 6,300 calories, 468 grams of fat, and 180 grams of saturated fat. That’s over three days worth of food.

Another example from the show is when Adam was in his hometown, New York City. He visited a popular deli and tried their famous pastrami and corned beef sandwiches. The sandwiches are famous for weighing a full pound each. That includes 3/4s of a pound of very fatty meat, plus a slice of cheese, bread, and dressing. They also come with a mound of French fries.

Putting some numbers to one of these sandwiches, 2 ounces of corned beef has 120 calories, 7 grams of fat, 3 of them saturated. Multiply these numbers by six for 12 ounces, and that’s 720 calories, 42 grams of fat, 18 grams of saturated fat. Add two slices of rye bread, an ounce of Swiss cheese, and a large order of fries, and you end up with almost 1,400 calories, 73 grams of fat, 32 grams of saturated fat. Again, that’s 2/3s of a days worth of calories and over a day’s worth of fat and saturated fat, for just one meal.

At a Boston restaurant, the standard hamburger was eight ounces, that’s twice as large as a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. But that was not “big enough” for the mostly college student clientele, so the restaurant began stacking the burgers. One, two, three, four, all the way up to ten eight-ounce burgers.

The last one is five pounds of ground meat. Now that is for the “record” of who can eat the biggest burger at the restaurant. Adam attempted but was not able to finish it. But the students do regularly eat the two to four burger sandwiches. The show said that is because college students have rapacious appetites.

That is true, but it is also true that even college students are now becoming obese at an ever-increasing rate. I mean, four eight-ounce burgers are two pounds of ground meat or nine 3-1/2 ounce servings. Depending on how lean the meat is, that could be over 2,500 calories, not counting the bun, dressing, and French fries. That is a lot of food for one meal, even for a college student.

Unhealthy Foods

In addition to the ridiculous large amounts of food eaten at restaurants featured in the show is the type of foods. Fried foods would top the list of unhealthiness. The worse was probably a Boston restaurant that served an enormous platter of double-dipped fried seafood. Double-dipping the seafood ensures that extra grease is absorbed. The finished product is 1-1/2 pounds of fried clams, scallops, shrimp, and haddock.

The amount of calories and fat is such a platter in absurd. It’s hard to put numbers on it not knowing exactly how much grease is absorbed and the proportions of each kind of seafood. But 3 ounces of fried clams has 172 calories, 9.5 grams of fat, and 2.3 grams of saturated fat. If the patter was all clams, multiply that by eight for the 24 ounces and you have again, almost 1,400 calories, 76 grams of fat and over 18 grams of saturated fat. These numbers could be higher given the double-dipping.

A restaurant in Austin, Texas was famous for its breakfast burrito. That contained a whole sautéed potato, two eggs, bacon, and a large tortilla, smothered with shredded cheddar cheese. A round estimate would give that over 700 calories, not counting the large glass of orange juice or milk that is usually served with it. That is one large and fatty breakfast.

But the worst was probably a donut shop in Austin. Donuts by their very nature are one of the unhealthiest foods there is. Fat, white flour, and sugar. But to make matters much worse were this store’s gigantic donuts, 14” in diameter, weighing 2 pounds. That is the amount of dough in a dozen donuts. We’re talking over 2,400 calories and almost 130 grams of fat. That’s over full day’s of calories and two days’ worth of fat, in one desert item! But most of all, it is almost 95 grams of sugar. That is equivalent to over 24 teaspoons of sugar. Eating such a monstrosity would send your blood sugar soaring and give you one gigantic “sugar high.”

Pittsburgh Restaurants

The second episode of Man v. Food took Adam to Pittsburgh, which is where I live. I had heard of the restaurants he went to but have only eaten at one of them.

The first restaurant was famous for its breakfast foods, especially its pancakes. Make that pancake, as in one pancake. But that pancake is the size of a plate, about 10” in diameter.

Now, a “normal” size for a pancake is 4” diameter and contains about 100 calories. A normal serving of such pancakes would be two or three, making for 300 calories. Add in a quarter cup of maple syrup, which contains about 200 calories, and that’s a total of about 500 calories. That’s a large but not unreasonable breakfast. But a 10” pancake is a far different story.

Now don’t get confused about the math here. A 10” pancake is not only 2-1/2 times the size of a 4” pancake. A 10“ diameter circle actually contains 6-1/4 times the area of a 4” circle (area = pi x radius2). So that 10” pancake contains over 600 calories. Add in just a quarter cup of maple syrup, and that’s over 800 calories. But for a pancake that size, most people would probably use more like half a cup, bringing the total to over 1,000 calories.

But this breakfast does not stop there. What makes it unique is it is covered with a mound of whipped cream. That turns this breakfast more into desert. Exactly how much whipped cream is hard to say, but it looked like at least a cup, or about 200 calories, depending on the type of whipped cream used. Between the whipped cream and the maple syrup, you’re once again talking about the aforementioned blood sugar spike and high.

But this basic pancake breakfast is not the worst. The most famous is the pancake Adam just had to try. On the pancake is placed a scoop of ice cream, covered in chocolate sauce, then comes the mound of whipped cream. Even Adam commented that he wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be breakfast or desert. But people do eat this sugary concoction for breakfast. This effectively starts the day off with easily over 1500 calories, and a major sugar rush.

It should be noted that this is a very popular restaurant for breakfast. When Adam went to it, the line to get in was out the door and down the street. This means there’s a lot of Pittsburghers walking around with sugar highs.

The second Pittsburgh restaurant is famous for its sandwiches. What makes these sandwiches unique is they put the French fries and coleslaw right on the sandwich. As I was working on this article, they just happened to be discussing this restaurant on a local radio talk show. The host said the idea of putting the fries and slaw on the sandwich originated due to truckers. The truckers needed a meal that they could put on their laps and eat with one hand while driving.

In any case, I have eaten at this restaurant twice. The first was when I went to eat at it with a group of guys as a teenager. One of the guys thought the idea of the fries and slaw being on the sandwich was just so neat. I thought it was kind of stupid. It just seemed like a way to pack in as many calories into your mouth as quickly as possible. Personally, I like TO enjoy each food I eat; not shove them all at once into my mouth.

I don’t remember much from that first visit, but my second visit was much more memorable. This was on September 1, 2006. I know the date because I competed at the Pennsylvania State Powerlifting Championships for the American Powerlifting Federation the next day, held on the south side of Pittsburgh.

For that contest, weigh-ins started at 9:00 am the day before. To make weight, I lost 9.3 pounds in seven days. I lost that weight mainly by cutting out carbs, thus depleting glycogen stores. Once I weighed in, needless to say, it was time to eat.

I had initially planned on stopping at a Subway on my way home. I figured the large bun for their 12” subs would be a great way to replenish depleted glycogen stores. But then I passed by this particular sandwich shop. I remember how it seemed like a great way to pack in as many calories into your mouth as quickly as possible, which is what I needed, so I stopped there instead. Gigantic mistake.

Yes, those sandwiches are packed with calories. But it is not due to being high in carbs. The bread that is used is just two slices of normal-sized Italian bread. Where all of the calories come from is the sandwich being stacked high with a large serving of fatty meat, fatty cheese, the fatty French fries, and the fatty coleslaw. In other words, it is a load of fat. I would've been better off eating one of those party sized bags of potato chips, for the amount of fat that I ate.

On the aforementioned talk show, the host mentioned that after eating at this restaurant you feel like you have a bowling ball in your stomach. Or better, the host said, think of a Python who has just swallowed a raccoon. The snake will have a big bulge in the middle of its body and won’t be hungry again for a month. That is exactly how I felt.

I was left so bloated I wasn’t able to eat near as much as I had hoped the rest of that day to get my weight back up for the contest the next day. During that contest, I felt terrible and dragged through it. Part of the reason for that was I never fully replenished my glycogen stores due to the stupidity of eating at that sandwich shop.

For my next contest, I ate at Subway after weighing in. Those weigh-ins were not until 6:00 pm the evening before the contest. But even with much less time to eat I felt much better for the contest.

Conclusion

Man v. Food is an interesting show for seeing different eating habits across the USA. But as stated, it is also a good demonstration of why we have an obesity problem in this country. This can be seen in the show itself, given that Adam, most of the restaurant owners and cooks he interviews, and many of the patrons are all significantly overweight.

The eating challenges part of the show is not really the problem. Most people would never attempt any of the challenges. For those who do, they are probably a once in a lifetime thing. Where the problem comes in is with the “regular” food items served at all these different restaurants.

If eating at such restaurants were only an occasional thing, again, it would not be problematic. But for many people, restaurant food is their main food source, with many people eating at such restaurants several times a week, each and every week.

Even worse is that people’s conceptions are skewed by the enormous portions served at restaurants so even when they cook for themselves, they’re dishing out way more food that used to be considered “normal.” The types of foods are just as bad, with saturated fat and sugar being the main caloric sources.

Those enormous portions and very easy to be stored as body fat type of calories very quickly add up to added pounds on people’s waist, hips, and thighs. And those extra pounds and those unhealthy calories very quickly lead to various health problems.

This all is not to say you cannot find healthy foods at most restaurants. But given the popularity of the foods featured in Man v. Food, it seems those healthy choices are not what people are eating, and a “growing” population is what we have to show for it.

My God-given Foods Eating Plan book discusses what appropriate serving sizes for a variety of foods are. That information is as important as the types of foods that are eaten. What you eat and how much of it you eat are both important.

Bibliography:

Calorie, fat, and sugar values estimated using Pennington, Jean. A. T. Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. Lippicott Williams & Williams: Philadelphia, 1998.

Man v. Food: TV Show Review. Copyright © 2009 by Gary F. Zeolla.



The above article originally appeared in the free FitTips for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this Web site February 2, 2009.

General Health and Fitness     Text Search

Alphabetical List of Pages  Contact Information

Fitness for One and All Home Page

Books and eBooks by the Director