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McDonald’s diet downsizes teacher

John Cisna speaks to the Hendersonville Rotary Club about his experience losing 60 pounds on a diet of burgers, salads and other McDonald’s menu items. John Cisna speaks to the Hendersonville Rotary Club about his experience losing 60 pounds on a diet of burgers, salads and other McDonald’s menu items.

A self-described “heart attack waiting to happen,” John Cisna had high school students rolling their eyes when he suggested a science experiment.

Weighing 280 pounds, with a 51-inch waist and a closetful of size 48 pants, he posed this hypothesis: “Is it possible for a person to become better off eating nothing but McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 90 days?”

The teens’ first reaction? Their teacher had gone around the bend.
“Basically Mr. Cisna’s pretty much of an idiot,” one student said in a video the class made to document the project.
“This is a total waste of his and our time,” said another.
“Is this a trick question?” asked a third.
It wasn’t.
And after his six-month McDonald’s diet, Cisna and his students had their answer.
“McDonald’s is not the solution to our obesity problem in this country,” Cisna told the Hendersonville Rotary Club last week. “But I can tell you this with 100 percent certainty. This experiment coming out of little Colo, Iowa, proved without a doubt that McDonald’s isn’t the problem.”
Cisna’s story might be hard to swallow for the anti-fast food faction among health watchers. But in his new role as the hamburger chain’s brand ambassador and author of the book My McDonald’s Diet, he spends his days sharing the remarkable story of how he lost weight and greatly improved his health while eating 540 consecutive meals at McDonald’s over six months.

Counting calories

The undertaking started as a semester project for three of Cisna’s sophomore students who were interested in medical careers.
He instructed his students to plan meals for him carefully.
“There were two parameters I gave the kids that they had to go by,” he said. “Number one, they had to keep me on 2,000 calories. And number two, which is the thing that made this experiment gold and why it went viral worldwide, I made them track 15 different nutrients, and they had to track every item they fed me, and they had to try to keep those in line with the recommended daily allowances that the Food and Drug Administration had set up.”
“What are you eating today, Mr. Cisna?” his colleagues at school would ask him every day in disbelief.
Throughout the course of the experiment, Cisna ate a variety of McDonald’s foods, including some of the higher calorie items, but maintained a careful balance each day.
“I had the Big Macs, I had the quarter pounders with cheese . . . I had sundaes, I had ice cream cones,”
he said. On a typical day, he might have two Egg White Delights, an oatmeal and a bottle of 1% milk for breakfast, a salad for lunch and a value meal for dinner.
At each place setting at the Rotary meeting were guides showing examples of McDonald’s meals under 600 calories. McDonald’s posts all of its nutritional information online. A Big Mac has 530 calories. But when paired with a 15-calorie order of apple slices and a bottle of water, it makes the cut. A 240-calorie hamburger can go with a small order of fries (230 calories), apple slices and water.

‘Super Size Me’ rebuttal

Cisna ate the food, which the intrigued operators of his local McDonald’s provided free of charge, in conjunction with a modest exercise regimen of walking 45 minutes four or five days a week.
In the first three months, he lost 37 pounds and received such good results from the doctor that he had to call and double check that they had tested the right person’s blood. In the next three months, he worked with a personal trainer to increase his exercise until he had dropped a total of 60 pounds. He had to increase his caloric intake as his body entered “starvation mode.”
Chuck Edwards, a Rotarian who owns McDonald’s restaurants in Western North Carolina, invited him to speak.
“In analyzing the problem” of excessive weight gain and obesity, Edwards said, “there are lots of theories and lots of folks are looking, in a good-old fashioned American way, for places to blame or people to blame. Our restaurants are often the target of that blame, nationwide and right here locally.”
Cisna drew many comparisons between himself and Morgan Spurlock, the filmmaker behind the 2004 film Super Size Me, which opened up McDonald’s to a great deal of bad press.
Cisna’s documentary, 540 Meals, responds to Spurlock’s film. “I want to put 500,000 of those (videos) in every high school and junior high across the United States, not in place of Super Size Me, but right next to it,” he said.
“We all have choices. It’s our choices that make us fat, not McDonald’s,” Cisna said in a clip he showed from an early interview.
“This experiment wasn’t about McDonald’s,” he told the Hendersonville Rotarians. “This experiment wasn’t about John Cisna. This experiment was trying to teach kids and trying to teach people about making healthy choices and using critical thinking skills to do it.”
Although Cisna spends most of his time now traveling to promote McDonald’s and his message, he still works as a substitute teacher for the Des Moines public schools when he’s home. And he still chooses to eat at McDonald’s “almost every day.”