Last week I wrote about Freshii, a healthy fast food chain. Now I get to talk about McD's, the fast food icon in an interesting position. Two weeks ago the emperor of fast food announced that it planned to close 900 of its restaurants worldwide after a $400 million loss in the first quarter this year. Increasing competition from new chain restaurants and a negative image of its "junk food" menu are likely contributors. With the rising costs of health insurance and out-of-pocket medical fees, consumers are proactively choosing prevention by eating better and losing weight. This has helped fuel the demand for fast food vegetarian and plant-based options while traditional fast food of hamburgers, French fries and soda loses ground.
Still I'll readily admit that I'm rooting for McDonald's. The golden arches are a familiar comforting sight whenever I'm on a road trip. I enjoy McD's low cost soft serve ice cream cones and oatmeal and allow my son a chicken nuggets/French fries meal a few times a month (and yes I do snitch a nugget and a few fries!). I hope they'll recognize the necessary trend of healthier fast food and continue to evolve their menu.
I attended McDonald's Open Door Tour last weekend with other Boston-area bloggers to get a behind the scenes glimpse of their food production and hear an inspiring talk by John Cisna, the now famous Iowa science teacher who lost over 50 pounds eating only McDonald's meals for three months. This event clearly showed me that McDonald's radar is on, as they highlighted their fresh produce, fruit smoothies, oatmeal with fresh diced apples and dried fruit, and use of fresh whole eggs in their Egg McMuffins. The highlight of this event for me, as a dietitian who sees a majority of patients who eat out more than twice a week, was John Cisna's talk.
If you don't know his story, Cisna is a high school biology teacher who challenged his sophomores to design a scientific research study. With no ties to McDonald's at the time, they created the hypothesis, "Is it possible for a person to become better off by eating nothing but McDonald's for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 90 days?" His students set daily nutrition goals for calories and 14 other nutrients based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances and USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They then researched the McDonald's menu, which discloses full nutrition information, to create a detailed menu for Cisna. This is a timely and relevant hypothesis, as McDonald's suffered a noxious blow with Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me documentary in 2004. If you don't recall the queasy details, Spurlock ate only McDonald's for 30 days and not only gained 25 pounds but increased his cholesterol, developed a fatty liver, and suffered "mood swings." Despite the fact that Spurlock was eating about 5000 calories daily, double the amount the average overweight American eats, viewers walked away with greater distrust for corporate McDonald's and the "poison" it was serving.
Cisna didn't know what his students' experiment would reveal, but he followed their menu strictly. Sure he ate plenty of salads, oatmeal, grilled chicken wraps and Egg White Delights, but he also enjoyed cheeseburgers, French fries and sausage burritos. As long as the meals fit the nutrition guidelines, he was allowed to eat it. The calorie goal was 2000, though certain days he dipped to 1700. Though his sodium and sugar intake exceeded government recommendations on certain days, overall those intakes were significantly lower than in his previous diet. He exercised moderately, walking for 45 minutes 4-5 days a week.
The results? ...and God bless him, I do have the exact results because he sent me the full Excel spreadsheet displaying all 90 days of each meal with 15 nutrients, his exercise routine, weight, body measurements, cholesterol and triglycerides. From 9-15-2013 to 12-15-2013:
- Weight dropped from 280 to 243 (37 pounds)
- Cholesterol dropped from 249 to 170
- Triglycerides dropped from 156 to 80
- Lost 4.5 inches from his chest, 6 inches from his stomach, and 4 inches from his hips
Cisna continued to lose weight after the experiment and by March 2014 he had lost a total of 60 pounds. The key factor is that he also kept it off. A self-proclaimed recovering foodaholic, he now believes that there is no such thing as bad food, and fast food is not the problem. Quantity is the problem. Though he still eats at McDonald's several times a week, he stresses that this was an experiment, not a "McDonald's diet," to show that choices matter. "It's ok to have a Big Mac some days but not all the time. If I eat a 700 calorie slice of cheesecake, I accomodate my meals the rest of the day to fit it in."
It's sound, real-world advice. When I counsel patients in the nutrition clinic, I heavily promote a plant-rich diet because I believe plant foods are healing for almost every chronic disease: obesity, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular, gallbladder, kidney stones, etc. etc. etc.! Many patients are ready for that, but many others aren't. They rely on take-out and fast food. For these folks, I help create sample menus that include take-out food and gradually introduce more plant foods. We research online restaurant menus for nutrition information and make better choices, similar to what Cisna did. And they lose weight and improve their bloodwork, as Cisna did. I agree with Cisna that it's about choices. You don't have to be a vegetarian and a Whole Foods devotee to be healthier, despite what a growing number of whole foods believers preach. I'm actually seeing more patients in the clinic who are gaining unwanted pounds eating too many high calorie foods with a health halo.
I applaud Cisna for going against popular opinion and reminding us about the importance of choices and moderation. Check out Cisna's video 540 Meals for more details about his experiment:
Disclosure: I received compensation from McDonald's in exchange for writing this review. Although this is a sponsored post, all opinions are honest and my own.