Let me just go ahead and say this right off the bat: I don’t even understand why this is news. I don’t.
And, before someone jumps out to explain, don’t.
Here’s the story:
“I had the Big Macs, I had the Quarter Pounders with cheese, I had sundaes, I had ice cream cones,” John Cisna told KCCI.com.
Cisna and his students at Colo-Nesco School District decided to make their own version of the Morgan Spurlock documentary “Super Size Me.” His students used the nutrition facts posted on the McDonald’s website to outline breakfast, lunch and dinner for Cisna for the three-month period.
His results were drastically different from Spurlock’s, who had gained weight and increased his cholesterol levels. Cisna claims his cholesterol dropped from 249 to 170.
“The point behind this documentary is that, hey, it’s a choice,” said Cisna. “We all have choices. It’s our choices that make us fat, not McDonald’s.”
Cisna ate McDonald’s but put himself on a 2,000-calorie-a-day allowance and followed recommended nutrition guidelines for things such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins. He also started walking 45 minutes per day. [source]
It’s mildly insulting that “man eats McDonalds for 90 days and prospers” is news. And I’ve got five reasons why:
1) This keeps being painted as “Oh, he ate McDonalds and lost weight, all because he kept his calories low,” but I think it’s a little more complicated than that. I understand that it’s easy to say “Oh, it’s calories in vs calories out,” but he found it necessary to calculate his macronutrient – carbohydrates, proteins, and fast are macronturients – levels. Why? Because a calorie is not merely a calorie. A body that eats a diet that consists of 75% carbohydrates cannot be expected to produce the same results as a body that eats a diet comprised of 50% carbs, nor will it experience the same level of progress. (Ever heard of #IIFYM? THIS is that.)
2) He calculated his macronutrient values – macronutrients are your carbohydrates, your proteins, and your fats – and kept strict limits on them as well as his cholesterol levels. When he spoke on the contents of his meals, he said the following:
this isn’t something where you say ‘well he went to McDonalds and he only had the salads. No, I had the Big Macs, the quarter pounders with cheese. I had sundaes, I had ice cream cones,”
Notice what he didn’t say: the french fries, the pop, the McFlurries, the shakes – all things that many people enjoy on a regular basis. (The last documentary I viewed, I’m pretty sure one of its participants talked about skipping school and spending the day in her car eating McFlurries, because she was so ashamed of how people looked at and talked to her regarding her size.)
In one interview I saw of Cisna, he said “This experiment proves that it’s not McDonalds that makes us fat – it’s our choices that make us fat.” I’d actually posit that this experiment doesn’t show us that at all – the only way Cisna was able to successfully accomplish his goals is with a team of three and a strict and consistent exercise regimen. If anything, his experiment proves that it takes a Herculean effort on the part of a small community to successfully achieve this kind of weight loss while eating this way.
3) It is unhelpful to tell me that he ate McDonalds for 90 days and lost weight, but tell me nothing about what he was eating before. Eating McDonalds on a restricted calorie intake might be a step up from how he was eating before, which could’ve easily been a diet of unrestricted who-knows-what. If I were living on a strict diet of Doritos and Fanta, then actually getting the minor semblance of protein available in a Big Mac is actually a step up from my old diet. Knowing nothing about what he ate before, of course it sounds awesome – I have nothing to compare it to in the past.
4) It should be stated that this kind of “experiment” is not new. In fact, the documentary Fathead set out to discredit the decade-old documentary Supersize Me – where Morgan Spurlock ate McDonalds for 30 days and documented the negative health effects on video – by not only implying that Spurlock falsified his records for dramatic effect, but also proving that a controlled diet of McDonalds couldn’t possibly have the effects Spurlock claimed. I think the key word, here, is “controlled.” There’s an implied availability of control here, with no respect to satiety. If I recall correctly, Spurlock didn’t eat a diet with caloric limitations – he ate until he was full. If anything, both Cisna and Naughton – the maker of Fathead – produce results that show what could be with adequate change; Spurlock shows a clearer idea of what is happening today.
Furthermore, Neither Fathead’s study nor Cisna’s included the consumption of the healthiest [and, most fibrous, and most filling by extension, for that matter] items on the menu – the salads – so the question remains, are these men positing that people should be alloted a caloric budget of 2,000 full of food that doesn’t actually leave them satiated at the end of the day?
5) This point, to a person like me, feels like the most important one. Oftentimes, when people do experiments like this, they lack praxis – a real and genuine connection to how the issue plays out in everyday life. It’s unrealistic to presume that the average person sits around and eats McDonalds for three meals a day and nothing more (though, without judgment, I’m sure there are a few out there.) It’s also unrealistic to presume that the average person who sits down to eat at McDonalds on a regular basis, or is a frequent fast food connoisseur at all, is controlling their caloric and macronutrient intake to this degree.
McDonalds meals are sweet. The amount of sugar hidden in rather innocuous places – the bun, the sauces, the pickles, the patty seasoning – is mind-boggling. The amount of salt is staggering. The amount of fat is laughable. Look for yourself. The meals pack on high quantities of all three, which compels you to want more of it… which falls neatly in line with the fact that it is rare that a person is ever satiated by a single “normal”-sized meal. (In other words, something more along the lines of a small, not a medium, and certainly not a large.)
People rarely shop at McDonalds as a part of a long-term, well-thought-out, mindful plan, and that’s where this entire experiment becomes unrealistic for me – the purpose of fast food is for the entire exchange to happen as quickly as possible. You hardly have to get out of your car anymore – you drive in a lane, talk to a box, come around the corner, swipe your card, take your bag, and bounce. The process is supposed to happen quickly, oftentimes because it’s supposed to help you make up for the fact that you didn’t/don’t have the time to cook at home for yourself. It’s a great business model. It is. However, like I’ve said before, when you let someone else prepare your food for you, you’re essentially at their mercy when it comes to what goes in your food. This includes sugar. It includes fat. And, obviously, salt.
I’ve admitted my experiences as a recovering emotional eater often color my approach to fast food – when the ingredients are hyperprocessed, it makes me feel as if I’m susceptible to whatever sugary, fatty, salty foolishness they’ve snuck in there. Companies exist, out there, specifically to help a corporation like McDonalds create a bun that is not only pleasantly sweet, but also that helps it slide neatly down the threat, leaving no traces of food behind in your mouth or teeth. That’s not cooking. It’s engineering, and it manipulates people like me daily. Knowing that has helped me polish my ability to stay away from them entirely.
The question I have, here, is this: how many other people out there are exactly like me, and don’t know it? How many people in this country still turn their nose up at the thought of food addiction being real (You have no idea how many times I’ve heard “WTF? Aren’t we ALL addicted to food? No, you were just fat.”) but still find it hard to control themselves in the drive-thru lane, barely making it out of the lot before they’ve unwrapped their sandwich or dug around in the bag for a fry and taken their first bite? How many people struggle with “will power” and “self-control,” to the degree to which a McDonalds diet would cause them to fail miserably? If Cisna, himself lost 37lbs on his diet even though he was metaphorically starving the entire time or if he, too, is a sufferer of food addiction (or if he develops one as a result of this diet), I’d imagine that the premise of a book deal might be enough incentive to adhere to the plan rigidly enough to produce positive results.
I wound up writing more about this than I originally deigned to do, because as much as I crap on processed food, I’m at the point now where it feels more helpful to teach people how to work better with fresh, minimally-processed ingredients instead of dissing on processed food and leaving everyone wondering, “Well wtf am I supposed to eat instead?”
But when something feels so poised to be mis-marketed as some kind of proof of “fatty failure,” I have to sharped my nails, grab my cup of coffee, and go in. Hope y’all still love me, after like 6 1,500+ word essays back to back. <3