supersize me not

While driving the other day my ears perked up to a news story on the radio. It was about a man who ate nothing but McDonalds for 3 months, and didn’t drop dead of a heart attack. In fact, are you ready for this?… He actually lost weight.


Most of us have heard of Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me fame and his 30 day all-McDonalds diet. His results, while scary, were not unexpected. He gained nearly 25 lbs in 30 days, but worse still, his cholesterol shot up by 65 points.

Morgan literally went from being healthy to very sick in the span of a month.

So when I heard this 30 second news highlight about a man who ate McDonalds for 3 months and got healthy, I had to investigate.

What I learned blew me away. It was a mix of shock and disbelief.

John Cisna, a high school science teacher, lost 37 pounds (along with 7 inches off his waist!), but more importantly ended up with significant decreases in his cholesterol, HDL, LDL, Triglycerides, and Cholesterol to HDL ratio.

John literally went from being very sick to much healthier, in 90 days, on an all-McDonalds diet.



[Lifts chin off floor.]

I was flabbergasted. Dumbstruck. Stupefied.

How could this be?

I wondered if physical activity factored at all in to this experiment. And, it turns out that it did, but not as much as you’d think would be required to eat McDonalds every day and still lose weight.

John simply began a daily walking program. He walked at a brisk pace for 45 minutes each day. He touches on this at the 2:42 mark in the video below.

The video is a little campy, especially the end where he does the before and after summaries, but I do like elements of his message.

Specifically, he posits that we don’t get fat because of where we eat, rather, the choices we make. He made daily choices that saw him land in the 2,000 cal or less range each day, which fueled his weight loss.

As he points out, just limiting himself to 2,000 calories would result in weight loss even if he did nothing else, because of his previous caloric intake. When he added movement [exercise] into the mix, it drove even faster weight loss.

Still, I was skeptical as to how healthy his approach was. Sure he lost pounds and inches, but how could eating all that processed food not translate to unhealthy and unfavourable results with respect to his blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.?

I’m still scratching my head at his results.

But then again, maybe not.

If I revisit my own hypothesis from a year ago, perhaps this isn’t as bizarre as it appears.

I believed then that if an individual burned more calories than they consumed, on a regular basis, they would lose weight.

My year of sweat project was to prove that I didn’t need to deprive myself of the foods I loved (pasta, desserts, bread), providing I moved my body enough to neutralize those calories.

  • Burn more than you consume and you’ll lose weight.
  • Burn equal to what you consume and you’ll maintain weight.
  • Burn less than you consume and you’ll gain weight.

It’s really just simple math.

At the end of the day, while an all-McDonalds diet worked for John, I think general portion control +  sound nutritional choices combined with daily exercise is the simple but proven way to achieve better health in a sustainable fashion.

What do you think?

Keep moving,

xoox nancy

48 thoughts on “supersize me not

  1. I’m with you on this being crazy!

    and it makes me wonder how bad his diet was before to make mcdonalds an improvement (I cant watch the vid because I am at work)
    It is true mind you that as long as your calorific intake is less than the amount you burn, you will lose weight. I am surprised he could maintain a 2000 cal or less diet that incorporated mcdonalds and not be really blooming hungry mind you. I also think that this can only have health benefits at first, there has got to be a point where you need real food :-S

    mind you…I am in no position to comment on mcdonalds food as I haven’t eaten there in about 15 years…possibly more!

    • So I should have probably been clearer in my post. (He covers it in his 5 mins video.) John made a handful of his students actually plan his daily menu based on US nutritional guidelines (recommended protein, carb, fat daily intake) and to adhere to less than 2,000 calories per day. This meant that his breakfast and lunch choices were typically from their ‘healthy choices’ menu — things like egg white wrap, oatmeal for breakfast, and salads for lunch. He did do typical mcdonalds fare for dinner though, and often included a sundae or pie for dessert.

      I agree that he would eventually see a plateau on the blood/health side, even if he kept losing actual pounds. There would have to be a point where his cholesterol, etc. would stop dropping (simply due to sheer weight loss) and would even out to reflect all the processed food he was consuming. At least it makes sense to me that this would eventually happen.

      Net/net: Losing weight when you are that obese and unhealthy is never a bad decision – but eventually you’ve gotta move away from gimmicks and adopt lifestyle choices that let you live in the real world, with real food (and more choices!).

      p.s. Good on ya for eschewing McD’s for 15 years! I’ll confess to having it on occasion — usually while on a road trip.

      • that makes some sort of sense, if you choose the “healthy” options then it could work…but only if you plan and read everything to get the balance right!

        I agree though I am sure he would eventually plateau! It is not a sustainable lifestyle! and to me personally it does sound awful!

        I haven’t been in there since I was in barcelona, and that was only because the friend I went with worked at MDs at home and wanted to see what spanish MDs was like so we had lunch there one day.
        thinking about it, that was 2000 so I guess it is only 14 years!

      • I’ll say that their coffee is very, very good. So I will do oatmeal + coffee for breakfast if we’re on the highway /road trip and it’s a convenient quick stop.

        But their cursed fries are my undoing. What do they put in those things that make the perfect crispness and flavour. I read somewhere once that one of the most recognizable smells in the world is that of McD’s French fries. I believe it. 🙂

      • haha I can believe that too…

        I think it is acceptable if you are travelling 😀

        I also think they are different over here, I know lots of things are supposed to be standardised, but I don’t think they are really..

      • And truth be told, in all my trips to London I’ve never been inside one. I prefer to get my chips in a cone of paper, smothered in mayo, when I’m in your homeland. 🙂 Mmmmm

    • I’m not sure his project and my hypothesis necessarily align too closely — but I guess at an abstract level, yes. Move more than you chew, and you’ll lose.

      Where he and I part ways is that he’s limiting his food choices. So whether someone gives up carbs (or sugar, or meat), or they limit themselves to only McDonalds — deprivation is deprivation. And I’m against it.

      Unless an individual is prepared to live that way ad infinitum, then this is no different to a crash diet. And we all know what happens at the end of a crash diet… you gain everything you lost back, and then some.

      John seems to be saying that it’s portion control and limiting calorie intake to 2,000/day that are his big takeaways, so hopefully he will be able to apply those principles to his life once he starts incorporating real food back into his diet.

      • My wife has been watching her caloric intake for the last several months, and has found her energy levels up, and generally, has been feeling good, all around.

      • Extra energy, longer/sounder sleep, better mood… so many benefits that I’ve personally experienced too. I attributed those more to my daily exercise (endorphins, etc.) but I’m sure that those benefits are tied very closely to better daily caloric values and general weight loss.

        Glad to hear your wife is feeling so great. Good health is my most cherished gift right now, because it brings with it so many more great gifts.

    • Hey Kate, I hear you. I can’t think of a time I’ve gone into McDonalds and ordered salad. I don’t go their for salad. And frankly their salads look wilted and depressing. I think life is all about moderation. If you limit the ‘bad’ choices to once ever so often, that’s totally normal. If I want to surround myself with a variety of options that are good choices, I don’t go to a fast food place…

      And, most importantly, when I do make bad or decadent choices, I make sure that I get moving! 😉

      • My son and I have recently started running – he wants to make better life choices. (I lost 45 lbs last year, and most of that came from better food choices!) So, we are learning to move and that it takes less food than we think to fill us up!

      • That’s so awesome, Kate! I’m a big, big fan of exercise as the means to better health. I love good food, and I’m happy that I’ve FINALLY figured out that I can eat it, as long as I bust my ass to atone for my sins. 😉

        Good luck with the running! I find it to be the most humbling thing ever. A good reality check for those days when I’m feel pretty bad-ass. It takes me down a notch or two. 😉

  2. “At the end of the day, while an all-McDonalds diet worked for John, I think general portion control + sound nutritional choices combined with daily exercise is the simple but proven way to achieve better health in a sustainable fashion.”—That is EXACTLY the take-home message I’d suggest, too.

    I can’t imagine following a raw diet or a completely sugar-free diet or some other deprivation diet. I admire people who can stick to it, but I sure couldn’t. Everything in moderation with a dose of common sense is my motto. Most things we put in our mouth should be good for us. Ten to twenty percent doesn’t have to be as long as we’re watching portions. Life’s too short not to enjoy our food, both from a gustatory and social perspective.

    • Carrie, I agree 100%. Life is too short to deprive ourselves of foods we love. Portion control and actively burning those calories means, thankfully, we don’t have to.

      Thanks for weighing in with your sound insights.

  3. It does come down to the simplicity you state at the end. It matters what we eat but as long as we moderate and exercise we can get to a healthy weight even with sometimes unhealthy choices. I’d be concerned about the processed foods he consumed and the amount of money he spent when he could have made healthier and cheaper choices at home….maybe even learning a new joy in cooking. Good for him for getting healthy, but in my opinion, not the best way to go about it. Maybe it is just a jumpstart for him. I wonder if McD’s paid him 🙂

    • I agree Kerry. He got much healthier than we was, but he’s still overweight, and still has a ways to go. I don’t know that sticking to his all-McDonald’s program is the best way to do that. At a certain point his body’s got to stop responding favourably to the net weight lost and start reacting negatively to the poor quality nutrition.

  4. His transformation is pretty amazing and while I couldn’t imaging eating that much McDonalds I really like how he involved his class to plan healthy choices and really analyze what is in each meal. Your summary is perfect, well said!

    • It was completely fascinating to me, Lisa. And you’re right, I like that he involved the class, worked to a healthy choice menu and added the exercise component. I’m still a bit awed at his results.

  5. I would be happy if I have to eat anything from McDonalds for a week because I love junk foods but 3 months? Wow. I’d lose weight too because I’ll eating a little less each day. Hehehe
    But I agree, it all boils down to moderation and exercise (which I hardly do, sadly).

  6. I’ve always maintained that weight management was just a simple math equation — so its nice to have an actual experiment to back that up.

    I exercise like a fiend, both because it makes me happy and, also, because it means that I can consume pasta, wine, and dessert without guilt or worry. But, that said, I’ve noticed that my body just feels better when I consume certain things — veggies and water — and worse when I consume other things — sugar and grease — and that helps me keep my diet on the healthy side. To me, McD’s is totally unappealing because just the sight of it reminds me of the impending stomach ache and lethargic workout that will follow eating it.

    It’s all about what makes you feel good, inside and out!

    • Your comment makes perfect sense. Even though calories burned in excess of calories consumed means weight maintenance or weight kiss, doesn’t mean your body feels good or performs at it’s peak. You’re so right. I recall that clear headed, energetic feeling I got by day 4 of the detox, and then how bloated I started to feel when I started eating bread again. Definite correlation.

  7. This is really interesting, Nancy. I think it also shows me that McDonalds took the lead from the public’s demand for some healthier choices, and the menu has some better choices. My husband travels a lot and eats at McDonalds, but is one who chooses the oatmeal for breakfast and yogurt parfaits and salads, not Big Macs. So it can be done. We need to be reminded of his message. It’s not wear we eat, but what we choose to eat…and those portions, too. 🙂 I think it’s probably really significant that he did so much walking! Oh the role of exercise! I wish it were just food, but for most of us, we need to move!

    • I think you’re right, Debra. McD’s certainly seems to have responded to market demand and consumer awareness with their new healthier choice menu items.

      I think, at the end of the day, people make a conscious choice to pick the Big Mac over the salad. Or to supersize their meal. And don’t even get me started on all that soda!! And they also make the conscious choice to eat that food and then drive home in their cars and watch TV all night. Fine, do whatever you want to do, but then don’t complain when your obese and sick.

      Each choice comes with a price.

  8. I remember hearing/skimming over that headline and being like “hmm wait what?” but I suppose it really does come down to just caloric intake (though I know I want to throw myself off the roof about 5 minutes after I eat mcdonalds so I can’t imagine he felt all that great). This is a concept I’m trying to teach the boyfriend (who is skinnier than me probably) because he will be like “wait, are we allowed to eat that?” and I say “you can eat anything you want! it’s just math!” Of course I’m also really bad at math.

    • I’m the worst at math. When I first started this thing I bought one of those BodyMedia armbands like they wear on the biggest loser show. The watch that pairs with it gives you real-time calorie burn info. So you can actually see that you’ve only burned 1,200 calories for the day and might not want to have that ice cream sundae. 🙂

      Even though I wasn’t tracking/counting calories, I knew – in general – how much I would consume, so all I needed was a gadget to tell me (accurately) how much I’d burned. I let it do the math for me. 🙂

  9. Totally agree. I actually hated that super size documentary. Of cpyrse if you stuff your face with shit food you will get fat. I also get tired of the vilification of McDs. Fair enough if they were the only outlet selling shìt food but they are not. Bash 1 then bash them all I say. But that’s not what your post is about (so sorry about the rant). Your post is about the simple math of calories in and that and about that I agree whole heartedly.

    • Rach, I completely agree with your comments re vilification of McDs. Everyone claims they NEVER eat it. And yet…they don’t seem to be hurting for business. 😉
      I admit eating there on occasion, but I know it’s highly processed and not the best choice. Life is a series of choices. As long as we are aware that our choices have implications, we’re good. It’s the people who don’t seen to get the correlation between eating bad food all the time, not moving their asses and why they are fat — those are the ones that confound me. Seriously?? You really don’t understand why you’re fat and sick? Really?

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