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The USA Is Making Us Fat – Our 5 Diet Mistakes | Don't Ever Look Back

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The USA Is Making Us Fat – Our 5 Diet Mistakes

The USA Is Making Us Fat – Our 5 Diet Mistakes

A recent National Health and Examination Survey revealed that approximately one-third of U.S. adults are obese and another third is overweight. After spending 60 days in the United States, we can see exactly why those numbers exist.

Recently both of us have discovered that we’ve been putting on weight due to our extremely poor diet over the past few weeks. At the beginning of this round-the-world trip our plan was to cook for ourselves as much as possible – however due to poor planning and circumstances, we’ve spent the majority of the last 6 weeks in hotels without any kind of cooking facilities.

Fortunately we’ve identified our problem early and it’s time for us to get healthy again before we hit Europe. If you’re planning on visiting the United States any time soon, we’ve made a list of our 5 biggest diet mistakes and hopefully you can avoid them on your visit!

Our Soda Intake

A Huge Soda

A 44oz soda in Los Angeles - how could anyone ever drink it all?!

Soda has easily been our biggest downfall so far. Prior to our journey, we were down to drinking maybe one or two cans each week but now we’re drinking it at least once a day if not more. Why? Not only is the price of soda in the U.S. ridiculously cheap (it’s often cheaper than bottled water!), if you’re eating at a restaurant it usually means unlimited refills which makes it impossible to control your intake.

Too Much Fast Food


Another Big Mac Meal in Santa Monica!

When you’re on a budget, fast food is usually the cheapest and easiest option when you’re unable to cook for yourself. Unfortunately we’ve gotten a little carried away. Consider these numbers – in 60 days, we’ve consumed McDonald’s 8 times and Panda Express 11 times. That’s over 10 percent of all of our meals and doesn’t include all of the other times we’ve eaten fast food!

Cheese… So Much Cheese!

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza - sooo cheesy!

Everything in the United States is absolutely drowned in cheese! Yes, we love cheese as much as everybody else but unfortunately there can be too much of a good thing and the increase in our cheese consumption has also resulted in an increase in calories and saturated fat into our diets.

Lack of Healthy Options

Healthy Stirfry

A healthy stir-fry we cooked up in Hawaii - we miss this food!

Again, this comes down to budget and a lack of cooking facilities. Sometimes all we want is protein and vegetables, but finding somewhere to eat that at an affordable price is often next to impossible. All we want is a kitchen so we can cook up a grilled steak or chicken and some fresh vegetables… mmmmm!

Irregular Meals

Experts recommend that you eat at least 3 regular meals each day, if not 5-6 smaller ones. Because of having to buy our food from restaurants, we’ve been limiting ourselves to 2 large meals on most days and often don’t eat the first one until after midday. It’s a habit that’s crept into our routine over the past couple of weeks and one that we need to eliminate as soon as possible.

Obviously it’s fine to treat yourself to fast food, soda and cheese-drowned meals in moderation but we’ve been doing it all too regularly and it’s having a negative effect on our weight, our energy levels, our quality of sleep and ultimately our overall mood. The time to fix that is now!

Have you struggled with diet/weight issues while traveling or made the same mistakes as we did? How did you overcome them? Let us know in the comments!


  1. Posted September 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    The diet mistake is to go to the US at all. 😉

    Also, may I correct one of your sentence?
    Instead of “Everything in the United States is absolutely drowned in cheese!” you should say “Everything in the United States is absolutely drowned in some strange and inedible milk byproduct full of unhealthy and unnatural things and inappropriately called cheese”!
    David recently posted..Dear comment spammers,

    • Posted September 25, 2011 at 2:32 am | Permalink

      That’s very true David! And it certainly hasn’t been cheese on a lot of the meals we’ve eaten.

  2. Posted September 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Gee. I think you read my mind! My husband and I have been steadily losing weight and have lost over 45kg between us. Reading one of your posts the other day I commented to him that you two were going to put on weight if u kept eating fast food!!! Great that you have caught it early and can make some adjustments. We will use this post as inspiration not to fall into the same trap next year!!
    Tracey recently posted..Travel for a year – 7 things I will not miss!

    • Posted September 25, 2011 at 2:34 am | Permalink

      Congratulations on losing so much weight between the two of you – I’m glad that you can hopefully learn from our mistakes and know what pitfalls to avoid. It’s not just the weight gain, we’re feeling terrible a lot of the time and just don’t have the energy to do what we want to do… being unhealthy sucks!

  3. Posted September 25, 2011 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    I gained weight even in 5 days only! But one of the things that contributed wasn’t that much fast food and soda (I actually don’t remember having fast food this january in NY!)… but the huge portions! I cut down to eat only twice a day because portions were just enormous!
    Katherina recently posted..Foodie Meets London – Big News!

    • Posted September 25, 2011 at 2:36 am | Permalink

      Yes – the portions are enormous here and it’s a mental battle to tell yourself that you need to stop when there’s still food in front of you. Most of the time we’re pretty good and share meals where we can, but it still becomes too much sometimes!

  4. Posted September 25, 2011 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    It’s the preservatives too. I’m a US citizen and I can tell you the US has major probs. when it comes to food/money. There is a lot of amazing, excellent, good for you food here but the issue comes from the availability of cheap, bad food. No one wants to pay a lot for the good food and as a result a lot of people live off food that I don’t even consider to be food. It’s just packaged preservatives. It’s sad, really sad and makes me so angry at our government. They have such a hand in the food we eat and they sanction the shit that makes everyone so sick. The other problem is that not a lot of people are actually aware of what is in their food and the low income communities are loaded with fast food shit which just continues to make more problems with illnesses such as diabetes. It’s a real shame. Every time I come back to the U.S. I gain like 20 lbs. It feels unavoidable and I mostly only eat whole foods and home cooked foods w/out a ton of cheese. It’s sad and it’s the one thing that really depresses me about the U.S. It starts young too w/ bad habits at school lunches, etc. Yes the portions are huge in most places – too big!
    Bethany recently posted..San Diego Sea World | The Instagram Session

    • Posted September 26, 2011 at 5:05 am | Permalink

      You make an excellent point about healthy food being too expensive (and when you’re new to a city, it’s near impossible to find!).

      The U.S. could certainly increase the tax on fast food and sodas – I remember reading that during the GFC, it was the one of the only types of businesses that increased their profits. That’s crazy that you still put on weight while eating relatively healthy!

      And it’s not just in the USA that there is an issue with bad habits in schools, childhood obesity is becoming a worldwide issue that just didn’t exist 15-20 years ago.

  5. Posted September 25, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Ooh, I’m planning on writing about this in a couple weeks, because I actually lost a ton of weight while traveling the U.S. on a budget. Best tip: Make the $5 footlong at Subway your friend.
    Scott – QuirkyTravel recently posted..Quirky Attraction: Edgar Allan Poe Mural

    • Posted September 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Yes! I did the same when I was in the US by living on $5 footlongs. You have to be careful which footlong you buy though, just because it’s from subway doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
      Pete recently posted..Motion Sickness Prevention

    • Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:26 am | Permalink

      We actually had the $5 footlong at Subway yesterday! I think it’s going to be a staple in our diet over the next few weeks.

      As Pete said, it’s not always healthy – the biggest trap in our eyes is the condiments! Ask for Mayonnaise and your sub gets absolutely covered in sauce (and the calories!)…

  6. Posted September 25, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I don’t think the US should be avoided altogether. There’s so much to see. Healthy options are available, they’re just not necessarily convenient or cheap. I know when I travel, anywhere not just in the US, I stick to what’s easiest, which is to blame for my poor diet. I don’t think we can blame the entire country, just as I wouldn’t blame England for the weight I gained eating sausages and mash and cottage pies.
    Caroline Eubanks recently posted..The East Coast Road Trip: Australian Edition

    • Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      We never said that the US should be avoided altogether! We’ve been here for over 2 months now and could easily stay a lot longer – but a stable lifestyle (as opposed to moving constantly) would make it easier to stay healthier that’s for sure.

      We’re taking full responsibility for our diet mistakes here, definitely not blaming the country at all. The purpose of this article was to outline some of the traps that you can fall into while in America – since you’re living in Australia, I’m sure you’ve noticed the difference in soda culture (it’s expensive in Oz and there is no such thing as free refills!) as well as less cheese on everything.

      We’re heading to England next month – must look out for those traditional meals and be sure not to eat too much of them!

  7. Posted September 25, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    It’s hard here. I always lose weight when I go overseas. Unlimited refills is a terrible idea, since we do it without even thinking about it. I wish eating healthy was my first option, but unfortunately, it’s not, especially if you are on the road an unable to shop for & cook your own food. Not to mention many of the things you have to try because you are there (California Garlic Fries, Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza, Philly Cheesesteaks, New England Clam Chowder, Southern PoBoys) are not exactly designed for the weight conscious.

    Not to mention, we drive EVEWRYWHERE, which is absurd.
    Erik recently posted..Northern California- Day One

    • Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      At first we thought unlimited refills were the greatest thing ever! But as time passes, you realize just what it’s doing to your body and your health.

      The biggest problem is not being able to cook for ourselves which is something we’re rectifying over the next few months. And yes! You definitely have to try each of those specialties when you’re in a country like the US.

      We forgot to mention that we’ve been fairly active for the most part which is even more concerning if we’re putting on weight. Would hate to think what we’d be like right now if we were driving everywhere!

  8. Posted September 25, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    So this only applies to fast foods?

    I would like to see another post from you about eating prepared foods from sit down restaraunts how that affects your weight/energy as compared to preparing your own foods?

    Yes I know you mentioned large portions, you can always save those as left overs and keep it chilled at hotel or hostel (I do this frequently)

    so my question to you is are you gaining any weight by eating out (sans fast foods) or do you gain weight but not nearly as much?
    Shannon recently posted..The Plans

    • Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:37 am | Permalink

      This could apply to anything – whether it’s fast food or eating out at restaurants. Personally we feel like we’ve been eating too much at fast food outlets mostly due to their price which is much cheaper than eating out.

      At the end of the day it all comes down to diet choices – if we ate out but were eating meals like Chicago Deep Dish Pizza then we’d probably still be putting on the weight.

  9. Posted September 25, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Where are you going in Europe? It can sometimes be difficult to find fresh vegies in Europe, at least ‘fresh’ like we are used to in Australia. Turkey is particularly difficult!
    Claire recently posted..You gotta love this city

    • Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:38 am | Permalink

      We’re going to Europe next month – we would love fresh veggies but fortunately they’ve got just as much goodness out of a tin can or the frozen section of a supermarket.

  10. Posted September 26, 2011 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    When eating out in the U.S., large portion sizes are our biggest downfall. We usually get around that by sharing one entree, or boxing leftovers and bringing them home to eat for lunch the next day (though obviously that second option doesn’t work if you don’t have access to a fridge).
    Technosyncratic recently posted..What IS the Cotswolds? And why is it so popular with travelers?

    • Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:39 am | Permalink

      We hear you! We haven’t been eating out all that often but have been pretty good with the sharing of meals when we do.

  11. Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    We can totally relate to this! First of all, you are so right about the super cheap soda & free re-fills… it’s just so tempting! We have been having soda here as well although we had stopped drinking it almost completely prior to our U.S. road trip. Especially on the road it is difficult to find anything but fast food chains lined up along the highways. We both gained weight here and have to start to work out to loose the pounds we piled on. But of course you want to try all the local specialties, such as Chicago deep dish pizza, fried pickles in the South, pretzels in Philly, New York bagels, Mac’n’cheese … no wonder we gained some weight 😉
    Globetrottergirls recently posted..Polaroid of the week: Little bronze girl at fountain | Asheville, North Carolina

    • Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:49 am | Permalink

      Yep, our willpower is going to be tested over the next month but we’ve been soda-free since we had dinner together! 🙂

      I think the hardest thing is arriving in a new city and not knowing where anything is, what it’s going to be like or the prices so you stick with something familiar. But now that we know where we’re going wrong, hopefully losing these couple of pounds will be just as easy as putting in on!

  12. Posted September 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    It’s definitely too easy to drink lots of soda when they’re giving you free refills. Try going to grocery stores that have a good deli counter and ordering sub sandwiches, should be able to get something reasonably healthy there for lunch, at least healthier than McDonalds. Personally I usually end up losing a couple pounds when I travel because I’m normally not a very active person, and traveling means lots of walking.
    Ali recently posted..Valencia in Photos

    • Posted September 27, 2011 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      That’s the scary thing – we’re way more active now than we ever were when we were working 9-5 jobs back home! We’re on our health kick now so hopefully we can kick those extra couple of pounds that have crept on.

  13. Posted September 27, 2011 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    Instead of hitting fastfood places all the time, may I suggest pre-packed meals from large, chain supermarkets? More variety, cheaper then fastfood and usually more healthy! (Depending on what you pick, of course:-))

    I am so glad I hate soda, just seeing everyone walk around with those cups make me want to hurl. The US is so gross sometimes. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to eat/drink it!
    Rebecca recently posted..It’s like Being In Outer Space, But I’m Under Water

    • Posted September 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      We’re avoiding fast food places now – the only problem is that in big cities, finding supermarkets is near impossible! Crazy, huh?

      Very lucky that you don’t like soda – we’ve been off it for 3 days and are feeling a lot better already. And we know that we don’t have to eat/drink it, but fell into the trap of sticking with the easiest, cheapest (and nastiest) food around.

  14. Posted September 28, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Oh wow yes I agree with ALL OF THE ABOVE… now that I have been on the road and see how others eat. SO my story goes like this… i lost about 20lbs during my 4 months in Central America & Mexico… I went home for my BFFs wedding for only 4 weeks and I gainged just about it all back… for all the reasons you list above. So fucking sad… & now Im still having a hard time to loose it.
    Jaime recently posted..Chefchaouen, a town with a million shades of blue “in photos”.

    • Posted September 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      We had no idea how bad it could get until we did it for a few weeks in a row – that’s crazy how you could put on all that weight in 4 weeks. If only it was easy to find healthy fast food that tasted good, the world would be a much better place!

      Good luck with losing that weight again, hopefully being on the road once more will help you get there!

  15. ElleX
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Google is a great way to find a supermarket, health food store or farmer’s market in the area that you are visiting. There are some supermarkets with great salad bars (that have meat on them) and deli counters. The big national chain health food stores that I know of are Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Earth Fare. All have an online presence (website, Facebook, and Twitter).

    When I travelled by car and ate meat, I used to take my crockpot, condiments and knifeset with me on vacation.

    Now when I travel by car, I have carry a insulated bag and just make sure I have plenty of organic fruits and veggies, tea and water!

    I have known of people who travel (internationally) with a 3 cup rice cooker/steamer.

    • Posted September 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      We definitely get straight onto Google Maps and Yelp once we arrive in a new city but without a car, the nearest supermarket always seems to be too far away. Fortunately in NYC, we’ll have cooking facilities and a Whole Foods right around the corner so we’ll be able to manage our diets a lot better!

      That’s great that you were so organized – we’ve got our own plastic cutlery now and bought some fruit today. Would love to take a rice cooker with us but don’t have the space in our packs – if only hotels had microwaves and we wouldn’t have a problem!

  16. shafiq from malaysia
    Posted September 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    why dont you come to malaysia? our lunch foods are always made fresh and there are lots of home-cooked food to choose from (all from fresh materials) like fish, chicken (not only fried as you guys see) and there’s always a healthier choice! im sure by your skills of loosing weight, no matter how much you eat here you’ll never be that fat, it’s all fresh from nature!

    • Posted October 2, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      We’re a long way from Malaysia at the moment Shafiq but have been a few times before and imagine it would be a lot harder to put on weight there than it is here. Although with so much good food, it would be difficult knowing when to stop right?

  17. Posted October 1, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I can definitely relate to four of the above five points. My six weeks in the US in 2009 saw me drinking far too much soda. 99 cents to refill a liter cup? You’ve got to be kidding me! We pay upwards of $3.00 for a 600ml bottle of Coke here. Highway robbery.

    I didn’t find it hard to eat out and eat healthy though, and I was on a very tight budget. Maybe the part of the US I was in (Oregon and Idaho) is just luckier in that respect?

    We did have access to cooking facilities from time to time though, and that certainly did help when we weren’t on the road.
    Chris recently posted..Guest Post: Waking Up in Belfast

    • Posted October 2, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Yep – the price of soda is ridiculous in Australia! I think we got caught up in how cheap it was here and trying to get our money’s worth, especially when we were used to paying so much.

      I think a lot of it depends where you are – bigger cities have all the options that we were familiar with so if a McDonald’s was close by, that’s where we went. We’re finally in an apartment with cooking facilities and love it!

  18. Jo
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Just because ‘experts’ recommend eating at least 3 meals a day does not mean it is right for you. Sometimes having 2 bigger meals is more realistic when you are traveling. It is could ‘intermittent fasting’ and it suits my lifestyle better, especially when I am traveling.

    • Posted November 4, 2011 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      We’ve heard of intermittent fasting but I think you need to be on a pretty good diet for it to work. You’re right though – sometimes it becomes impossible to have 3 meals in a day.

  19. Posted November 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    I fully admit that i’m a bit defensive when it comes to this topic–one of those “I can complain about it all I want because I’m from there, but I hate it when other people do.” My biggest issue is that you’re complaining about soda when the glorious thing about the States is that you get free iced tap water at any restaurant you go to–it’s definitely the cheapest, easiest and healthiest option at every restaurant, even fast food ones. I know that I’m probably a bit biased coming from California, but there are so many great, healthy options at restaurants at home–you certainly have to search a bit harder than just going to McD’s or Panda Express, but I’ve always been able to eat out fairly healthily–especially if you’re willing to take advantage of the large portion sizes and make them stretch for two meals (more economic as well!). I know that America has an obscenely high obesity rate–but so does Australia! I assure you that it is totally possible to be American and still eat healthily and not gain weight–even on a budget! Definitely easier if you have a kitchen, although Trader Joe’s offers a ton of easy, ready-to-eat options as well 🙂

    • Posted November 4, 2011 at 4:30 am | Permalink

      Yep – we learned about the free iced tap water at restaurants which is great. Our problem was that we got sucked in by the “bottomless sodas” novelty – not blaming anyone except ourselves for that one. Before the US, we rarely drank soda at all.

      As for healthier options, yes – they are available; we just needed to look a bit harder (again, this was our fault). After writing this post we ate 2 meals at TGI Friday’s (it was the only option near our hotel) and managed to keep them healthy which isn’t an easy feat! Prior to that though, we always went with the easy option which is what screwed us.

      Australia (and the rest of the world) is getting terrible with obesity issues and the spread of fast-food restaurants only seems to be getting quicker. Once we got to NYC with our own kitchen and a Whole Foods nearby, our diet instantly became better. The living out of a hotel room lifestyle was our biggest enemy but you learn from your mistakes and move on which is just what we’ve done. 🙂

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