This is why America has no idea what to eat. This is why our collective relationship with food is so darn complicated. The following is akin to the constant stream of media articles that claim a food is horrible one week and a wonder food the next. (We all know how frustrating and confusing that is!)
Time ran an article about an Iowan science teacher, John Cisna, who ate nothing but McDonald's for three meals a day for 90 days and lost weight. It's also HERE entitled: "Man Loses Nearly 40lbs Eating Only McDonald's."
That's an extremely misleading title! While I can't blame the new sites for wanting catchy titles to reel in readers, the articles don't expound too much on Cisna's diet (or what the nutritional composition of those meals were) and they down play the plethora of other factors within his self-experiment.
A quick run-down on the facts expressed in the articles (in case you don't want to ready them). With the help of his class, John Cisna:
1. Constructed 3 meals based on a 2,000 calorie diet and the recommended intakes for protein, carbohydrates, and fat by the USDA (which I think are bunk, but that's a whole 'nother ball game).
2. Walked 45 minutes per day (when previously, he was doing no extra physical activity)
3. Resulted in a 37 lb weight loss and a drop in cholesterol from 249 (dangerously high) to 170 (decent level). His LDL dropped from 173 to 113. (also insanely high to an ok-level).
I'll state the glaringly obvious that, any a man who was quite overweight to begin with (280lbs) performing NO extra physical activity, and was probably over-eating anyway, WILL lose weight with calorie reduction and added physical activity. That's just physiology. At this point, ANYTHING he does towards reducing his calories and increasing his exercise will produce weight loss. Also, the cholesterol reduction is a result in the weight loss, not necessarily the food he ate. Can you start to see why this title is misleading?
To quote the man himself, "The point behind this documentary is, Hey, it's (a) choice. We all have choices. It's our choices that make us fat, not McDonald's." source
On one hand, I agree with Cisna; we are not victims of our environment, we do have the option to choose healthier foods when out to eat. No one forces us to purchase a Big Mac over a salad. It is imperative that we be wary consumers when fast food is involved (the food companies strive to make their food palatable, cheap, and addictive) and Cisna proved that when one digs a bit and is aware of the caloric values of food, that empowers us to make smarter food choices.
On the other hand, the real message is convoluted and lost amid that headline. It presents the situation as a justification for choosing McDonald's instead of a home cooked meal. Or instead of a meal composed of WHOLE, minimally-processed foods ('cause I guarantee that McDonald's has very few whole foods on the menu.). Conveniently, you can read along with this handy ingredient guide. You'll want to refer to this as we move on.
Cisna admitted to having double cheeseburgers and a Big Macs throughout the experiment. Hmmm... Big Macs have roughly 29 grams of fat (and not the good kind check out the "Big Mac sauce"), 46 g of carbohydrates (definitely not the minimally processed kinds, look at the guide under "regular bun"), and 25 g of protein (but, really, where does that meat COME FROM?)
"Yeah Kelsey," you say, " we already KNOW that's not a 'healthy' choice." Fair enough, let's take a gander, shall we, at the yogurt parfait he ate regularly:
2 g of fat, 30 g carbohydrates, and 4 g of protein. Once again, I question the quality of the source of the fat and protein (from the milk). I can't imagine that the milk used in that is really that great. However, that is overshadowed by that 30 grams of carbs, that is, SUGAR. Highly processed, sugar (though there's a smidge of natural sugar in the milk and fruits, but it's NOT 30 grams worth). Don't believe me? Look up yogurt and granola in that handy guide. Ick. Sugar has, time and time again, been shown to be a culprit in increasing inflammation in the body and creating insulin resistance (to keep the list short), both of which are risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. The same criticism rings true for the maple oatmeal he ate, except that little bugger has some light cream in it... yum!
At first glance, the Eggwhite Delights that Cisna consumed seem like a good idea, only 250 calories each, oh but wait, check out the "whole" grain muffin and egg white and margarine ingredients. Super appealing right?
I could continue in this vein for a while, but I'll cease my tirade and allow my point to actually surface: 240 calories of crap is still crap. The composition of food absolutely matters. The message, as it stands on the surface, is still, "reach for processed foods over whole foods." How much BETTER do you think Cisna would feel if he had chosen whole, minimally processed foods?
I applaud Cisna for sticking with his endeavor, to keep walking even when he didn't want to, and to making conscientious food choices. I'm so glad he lost weight, is healthier than before, and has learned the value in monitoring caloric intake. This is a great stepping stone on his path to a healthier lifestyle. I hope very much that he will be able to continue without the help of McDonald's.
I think the true message of this experiment is food quantity and quality matter, along with regular exercise. Unfortunately, the second half, food quality, is buried under the lie that choosing "healthy" options at McDonald's is a viable way to improve health. Again, crap is still crap. Don't let the media's sensationalism divert you from the truth of eating real foods.