The world is awash in calories. Truly, we've engineered calories (and, more often than not, sugar, salt and fat) into every event of our lives, no matter how small or insignificant. They're used to pacify, entertain and reward children, and for us adults, they're used to fundraise, congratulate and network.
The striking increase in the availability and the literal and social placement of cheap calories coupled with spontaneity in eating may well be playing a role in our struggles with our scales. Where eating may once have been something conducted on a three-square-meals-at-home schedule of sorts, that's no longer true.
Regularly skipping meals and spontaneously eating on the run took root in the early 1980s, according to a Frito-Lay executive named Dwight Riskey, quoted in Michael Moss' eye-opening "Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us." Riskey felt that it was this new practice of meal-skipping coupled with spontaneous eating that led to an unexpected rise in the sales of Frito-Lay's salty snacks line (they'd been predicted to fall as older palates tend to crave less salt). And given the ease with which hugely palatable food is available when we do get hungry, spontaneous eating has now become far easier than actually taking the time to prepare and plan meals and snacks.
The real problem inherent to spontaneous eating is that, as a generality, the foods you purchase outside of your home will, almost without fail, contain dramatically higher quantities of calories than the foods you might have put together yourself in your home – and likely, far less filling and nutritious calories at that.
Even those store-bought meals that are billed as healthful or nutritious, or meals that, from their ingredient list, strike you as great options may well be wolves in sheep's clothing; I've seen many a salad and fish dinner with more calories than a Big Mac combo with large fries.
Rely on these sugar-spiked collections of salty, refined carbohydrates, and not only will your spontaneously purchased meal hit you harder calorically than a home-cooked one, but it may well leave you hungrier sooner than if your meal had been more wholesome and inclusive of the fiber and protein more likely to come from a home-cooked meal.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The inconvenient truth of healthful living is that it does require effort. If weight's your concern, that effort is best spent brown-bagging lunches, preventing hunger, organizing eating and avoiding dietary spontaneity. The fact is, with our current torrential current of calories, simply going with the flow and embracing spontaneity in eating almost always leads to weight gains.
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Yoni Freedhoff, MD, i s an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he's the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute—dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and you can follow him on Twitter @YoniFreedhoff. Dr. Freedhoff's latest book, The Diet Fix: Why Everything You've Been Taught About Dieting is Wrong and the 10-Day Plan to Fix It, will be published by Random House's Crown/Harmony in 2014.