The McDonald’s Diet

John Cisna, a high school biology teacher from Iowa, seems to have turned many of our nutritional ideas upside down. Remember McDonald'sSuper Size Me, the 2004 documentary in which Morgan Spurlock ate exclusively at McDonald’s and experienced serious weight gain, along with increases in body mass and cholesterol?


Cisna recently duplicated Spurlock’s feat, with opposite results. In the course of his fast food regimen he lost 37 pounds; his total cholesterol dropped from 249 to 170, and his bad cholesterol decreased from 173 to 113. Nor did he live the life of a monk. Cisna typically began his day with several egg white delights and a bowl of maple walnut oatmeal. He had a salad for lunch, but in the evening he indulged in a Big Mac and occasionally topped it off with an ice cream sundae.


There were several key factors in Cisna’s accomplishment. He followed a daily 2,000-calorie diet devised for him by some of his students (prior to this experiment, he had never been particularly conscious about his calorie intake). He walked for 45 minutes each day, which undoubtedly contributed to the state of his health over the course of three months. It also appears that his McDonald’s experience might have been his first serious attempt at dieting, which tends to have a more significant impact on the system than repeated cycles of weight gain and loss.


Most importantly, he used will power. He didn’t consume large sodas, orders of fries, or any of the other temptations laden with useless calories. He also chose a fast food chain that at least offers alternatives for someone intent on leading a healthy lifestyle—his diet would have been impossible at Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC or Taco Bell.


“We all have choices,” said Cisna. “It’s our choices that make us fat, not McDonald’s.”


Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press; his second book, Moonshine Nation, is forthcoming from Lyons Press in June 2014. For more information, go to

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