A 7-pound burrito. A burger packed with more calories than most people need in two days. A deep-fried banana split. These are among the unbelievably fattening foods that have captured the popular imagination.
Shows like Man v. Food on the Travel Channel have showcased the sport of extreme eating. A 72-ounce steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, and restaurants like the Heart Attack Grill in Dallas and Mel’s Country Café in Tomball, Texas, have become infamous for their enormous portions. Customers are lured by media attention, the idea of getting their name on a "wall of fame," free meals and T-shirts, or just bragging rights.
"Restaurant foods are getting worse," says Jayne Hurley, RD, senior nutritionist for the watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest. "They are going for broke, and I don’t think it is as bad as it is going to get."
"Fifteen years ago, when I first started evaluating restaurant food, I was blown away by the 1,500 calories in a serving of fettuccine Alfredo. But now it takes 2,000-3,000 calories to turn my head."
The 5 Most Fattening Foods
So what are some of the worst of these super-fattening foods? American Dietetic Association spokeswomen Marisa Moore and Lona Sandon helped WebMD calculate approximate calories of some of these supersized dishes to come up with a list of the five worst foods for your diet. (When reading this list, keep in mind that most adults need fewer than 2,000 calories each day.)
1. Mel’s Country Café in Texas sells the Mega Mel Burger with 1.5 pounds of ground beef, a pound of bacon, 1/4 pound of American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickle and bun. It weighs in at an estimated 4,556 calories.
2. Fifth Third, a minor-league baseball park in Comstock Park, Mich., offers the Fifth Third Burger, which totals an estimated 4,800 calories. The $20 burger features five beef patties, five slices of cheese, almost a cup of chili, lots of salsa, and corn chips piled on an 8-inch bun so colossal it was featured on the Food Network's popular show Unwrapped.
3. Jack n Grills in Denver tests the limits with their football-size, 7-pound burrito filled with eggs, ham, green chiles, potatoes, cheese, and onions, totaling an estimated 3,764 calories. Women who finish this colossal meal in one sitting without a bathroom break are rewarded with free meals for life.
4. One of the most popular items at the Shake Shack, a modern roadside burger stand in New York, is the Shack Stack, featuring a deep-friend Portobello mushroom, stuffed with cheese, sandwiched between two cheeseburgers on a bun. This colossal burger will set you back about 1,500 calories.
5. Among the deep-fried monstrosities to be found at state fairs is the Fried Banana Split, served across the country. For this over-the-top creation, banana and honey peanut butter are rolled into balls, then battered, deep-fried, and topped with powdered sugar, caramel and chocolate syrups, peanuts, whipped cream, banana split-flavored ice cream bites, and a cherry. The dietary damage? Approximately 2,000 calories and four days' worth of saturated fat.
How Bad Is Extreme Eating?
The reality is that most of us would indulge in such high-calorie monstrosities rarely, if ever. What harm can an occasional super-feast have if you otherwise eat healthy and get regular exercise?
Once or twice a year is probably fine, says University of Texas assistant professor of nutrition Lona Sandon -- but more than that is trouble.
Two out of three adults in the United States are already either overweight or obese. And because fat is more than twice as caloric as carbs or protein, eating high-fat foods is the easiest way to gain weight. It's also associated with heart disease and certain forms of cancer.
"Engage in eating colossal-calorie foods on a regular basis, and it will not only add lots of unwanted pounds but will also increase your risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke, certain forms of cancer and all the complications associated with these preventable diseases," says Hurley.
Tempted by the Worst Foods?
When you're tempted by an ultra-fattening food, your best bet is to go for a similar, but less caloric item, experts say.
If giant portions are what you want, go for a big green salad instead of monster-sized servings of french fries, bacon, cheese, or burgers.
When you're eyeing that monster burger on the menu, look a little further and "go for plain burger with a side salad" instead, recommends Sandon.
When you're at the ballpark, look for less caloric creations, says Moore. "Opt for the foods that are delicious with much fewer calories, such as crepes, or pita breads stuffed with veggies and grilled meats," she says. "And if you much indulge in the monster burger, at least share it with a few friends."
Instead of breakfasting on a mega-burrito - which is likely to wipe you out for the rest of the day - opt for a filling, but much more reasonable morning meal, says Moore. A more energizing way to start the day is with one egg, a slice of whole-grain toast, and some fruit.
If a frozen treat is calling your name, enjoy a scoop of ice cream in a dish -- and skip the syrups, nuts, whipped cream and deep-fried coating. "Ice cream is high enough in fat and calories," says Moore. "You don’t need to fry it or layer on the extras."
And what if it's the prospect of your name on the Wall of Fame (or Shame) that you find most tempting?
Keep in mind that when you engage in "extreme eating," you not only risk problems with your physical health, but can set yourself up for emotional distress, including an eating disorder, warns John Foreyt, PhD, director of behavioral medicine research center at Baylor College of Medicine.
"The best advice to tame the desire to get your name on the wall is to stay away from places that feature mega-eating," Foreyt says. "Don’t watch the television shows or go to the web sites."
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.