The miser versus the buffet

A most miserly fellow lives near an inexpensive American buffet. He plots, he schemes, he hatches a perfect plan to extract the most value out of this foolhardy business that dares open its doors in his presence.

Obviously he plans to walk to the place, to avoid driving expense. He plans to go early in the day, when the price is cheaper. He will take a few extra free napkins and perhaps do his business in the john, taking full advantage of free toilet paper and hand soap. As for the tip, who do you think we are talking about here?

But the main advantage is the all-you-can-eat concept. To extract maximum fiscal benefit, our miser wants to binge as infrequently as possible. Assume the food is varied, plentiful, nutritious, well prepared and delicious (so as to avoid boredom). How infrequently can our miser visit this establishment with no negative impact to his health? Assume the miser is an average male in good health.

A once daily buffet habit is easily accomplished. Every other day is probably do-able. Can someone binge once a week? Go too long between meals and your body is unable to take a huge number of calories in a sitting. What is the limit?

I suppose the miser might try to linger as long as possible to attempt to pack in 2 meals, but the restaurant will close at night and if management notices, they might kick him out after a few hours.

Oh, one last comment… the miser eats nothing else outside of the buffet and drinks only water.

To boil this question down, you are essentially asking how often people have to eat to maintain long-term health regardless of what it is they eat and how much when they gorge. I don’t know the whole answer but I have known several people that only eat one big meal a day and they didn’t look perfectly healthy but close enough. Going longer than that, you run into a problem with your GI tract. Your stomach can only handle so much food before it feels full even if you are very hungry and you will have a hard time digesting lots of food at once. If you spread the food intake over a couple of hours or more, you could probably eat enough to keep you alive if you only did it once every other day. It doesn’t take that many calories to support a person especially after you lose a lot of weight. 3000 well balanced calories every two days should be within reason to eat in a long sitting and keep you at a low sustainable weight. You could probably go a little longer as a stunt but it wouldn’t be pleasant. I don’t think anyone could sustain much more than that over the long term.

If Joey Chestnut can eat 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes, at 300 calories a pop, that’s over 20000 total calories. I don’t know how slowly he can digest it through his GI tract over time, but if he had more time to eat, I’m thinking that’s several days worth of nutrition there.

People evolved with uncertain food resources so I don’t think binging is necessarily going to kill you if done every so often, but IMO it will screw up your energy levels. Taking in massive amounts of food is metabolically exhausting. If the miser wants to effectively become a human boa constrictor and gorge himself on daily basis he’ going to need a long nap after each feeding.

“All you can eat” buffet food is mostly steam table crap and is usually high in fat and salt. Finding a delicious and nutritious buffet is going to be a challenge. Plus, you need to bear in mind that buffets are not typically “cheap”. A buffet meal will usually cost you as much a standard meal. The attraction is 'eat all you want". In this scenario I think you are overestimating the human capacity to gorge. A lot of people, even obese people, simply do have the physical capacity to gorge themselves. Most fat people get that way by eating small amounts constantly. While there are some outliers a lot of people simply can’t eat massive amounts of food at one sitting. The eyes being bigger than your stomach principle is how many buffets make money.

Assume the miser is no stranger to the salad bar and healthy cooked vegetables. He can and will eat a balanced diet, not just hot dogs and french fries exclusively.

As for how cheap a deal it is, many lunch buffets are only around $5 and if it last you a few days, that’s a buck or two a day. Eating for an entire year off a few hundred dollars is pretty damn cheap.

I thought he would be gorging once a day. If he’s only eating every few days I think that going to play hell with your metabolism and your regularity. I think you are getting into unhealthy territory at that point.

Competitive eaters stretch their stomachs through gorging or drink large volumes of water. Generally when you don’t eat for several days your stomach tends to tighten up. It can stretch again, but it will feel uncomfortable. He’s probably best off gorging every day or every other day, if he’s doing it at all. Since he’s primariily interested in screwing over the restaurant, he might as well bring some live mice in and set them loose on buffet.

Just stay there all day and get more than one meal.

That would be stupid: He’s a miser who has stumbled onto a good deal. He would want to keep it going as long as possible, simply so he can continue to play his little minimax game with them every time he eats instead of wasting valuable time looking for a new optimal solution every time he needs food.

This should have been rephrased into a straight-up health question about how well modern humans handle ‘ideal’ feast and famine conditions. (‘Ideal’ in that the human can always find a nutritionally perfect meal whenever one is needed, the question being how long can the person go between those meals without having problems related to the diet.) The economics stuff, which is ancillary and ultimately much less interesting, is eating up too much Doper attention.

Vegetables would be a very poor choice for binging, because they are so low-calorie. Your stomach can only hold so much at a time before it bursts (yes, people have actually died that way), so you want to go with calorie-dense foods if you are going to try to extend your fasting periods as long as possible.

Can he get it to go? Some are pay per the pound, others give you a container to fill. On the latter some are very generous.

One in particular gave a standard to go restaurant large clamshell container + a smaller one presumably for salad and a lager sealable soup cup (sort of like the Ben and Jerrys ice cream container. On a trip back in the day trying to save money I stopped there on the way and hyperfilled all 3 containers. The plastic bag (also provided) was visibly straining at the weight and I was hoping no one would notice. From that one purchase, for perhaps $7-$8 I ate for 3-4 days.

Yes, that’s why the OP said “Assume the food is varied, plentiful, nutritious, well prepared and delicious” (emphasis added). This means the actual existence or availability of such a buffet doesn’t enter into the argument.

Sticking just to the medical / physiology question, I’d bet that for super-calorie dense foods you could stretch it to 3 or maybe 4 days.

Couple a fairly sedentary office-worker lifestyle with eating 3 MREs at a long sitting & I bet our episodic eater could go without for the next 2 days & eat on the next. i.e. eat on a Monday & not again til Thursday.

Long term it wouldn’t be optimal health, but none of us eat for optimal health anyhow. IANA medical anybody but I doubt there’s any way to define the border where non-optimal eating slides into harmful eating, much less to know when any given diet crosses that very gray line.

Said another way, if you weren’t suffering overt bad effects after a month or two, it’s probably no worse for you long term than the typical American diet. Which isn’t all that healthy long term in an absolute sense, but is healthy enough that hundreds of millions of people willing eat it.

Obligatory Dilbert link

One question that comes to mind, does someone that eats a lot in one seating get the same calorie intake that you would get if you eat the same amount of food over a longer period of time.

It seems to me that if you overeat, your digestive system will be less efficient at processing the food and some calories will effectively go down the drain, which would defeat the purpose of binging in this context.

Gorging every other day and starving in-between has shown benefits in mice for increasing their longevity. As to how it applies to humans, there is data which indicates benefits, but it might be that there isn’t a broad consensus. Cecil mentioned this in passing in a column we worked on.

When I was young I worked in hotels and hotels would give you one free meal a day. And like most poor young kids, I made darn well sure I at as much as I could at that meal.

Now that I’m old, I still do this. I have coffee for breakfast, my big meal (about 75% of my caloric intake) and then at dinner, I eat a bit more.

It’s really a matter of what you get used to