Can you tell I like controversial titles? Anyway, two things have happened to make me want to write about the icon of all that is wrong with the American diet. The first is the story about the teacher who lost weight eating nothing but Mcdonalds, the second was a friend who claimed that McDonalds puts cotton in their burgers. I’m no friend of Micky D’s, but I aim to be ruthlessly fair and honest. I would never recommend eating there, but you can eat there and still eat healthy.
As to the claim that McDonalds puts cotton in their meat, while it is theoretically possible, the odds are against it. On their website they claim:
We don’t use any binding ingredients. Our burger patties are made from 100% pure beef, with no binders or fillers.
Could they be lying? Sure, but then how did the person who is spreading the idea of cotton find out, and no one else did? In this sue happy society, McDonalds is too savvy to risk everything lying about what is in their food. If they did and it was proved, they’d be sued to the ends of the earth.
Lets assume for the moment that what they say is in their food is really what’s in it.
Is it evil? Is McDonalds really what’s wrong with us?
Did you watch Supersize Me? I loved the movie, since it played into my favorite tropes, that we are responsible for our choices, and that they do matter. Do I think that it was a fair presentation? No, it wasn’t meant to be. Remember the ossified french fries? Fry some at home and see if the same thing happens. Morgan Spurlock was trying to show what people are doing to themselves, and made McDonalds his scapegoat. He purposefully overate at every meal, and cut his exercise in half or less.
The Iowa teacher who lost weight eating at McDonalds did the opposite, he counted the calories, and made the healthiest choices available. He did also eat all the “bad stuff”, but kept the calories around 2,000 by balancing those choices. Here is one link to an article on his diet.
Here’s a quote about the details:
His students planned three meals a day for 90 days with a 2,000 calorie daily limit in mind. They did their best to stick to the daily recommended allowances for carbohydrates, protein, fat, and cholesterol.
Cisna was allowed to eat anything on the menu — even Big Macs and French fries — as long as he balanced out more fattening foods with lighter ones at other meals.
His favorite meal plan consisted of two Egg White Delight McMuffins, a maple oatmeal bowl and 1 percent milk for breakfast, followed by a grilled chicken salad, fruit parfait and apples for lunch. For dinner, he enjoyed a grilled chicken wrap meal, complete with fries and a diet soda.
Cisna also added exercise to his routine, walking 45 minutes a day, four to five days a week.
“Not everybody can lift weights. Not everybody can jog, but everybody can walk,” he said.
Of course, I would argue that everyone can lift weights, but that’s another article. He made many choices that fall within all good recommendations: oatmeal, apples, salads, chicken. Most importantly, he counted calories. Since they post theirs, it does make it easy to do the math. They do have quite a number of reasonable choices. However, if you have a big mac, fries and a shake, you’ve used up 1/2-2/3 of your daily calories. And, he’s a big guy. He can lose weight on 2,000 calories. I couldn’t, I would gain weight on that. So it isn’t as simple as it looks, and this is why you need to figure things out for yourself.
That isn’t the point, is it? The point is, McDonalds isn’t making us fat, we are. Twinkies aren’t making us fat, we are. Remember the guy that lost weight on the Twinkie diet? I went out to dinner with several couples, and watched people get the salad bar, appetizers, bread and an entrée, plus drinks. Most of them easily consumed most or all their daily calories in one meal. We weren’t at a fast food joint, and they were eating relatively healthy. Except the appetizers, those were monstrosities of fat. It was just the quantities that were way out of line, and that counts.
I will say, over and over again, if losing weight is your goal, count calories, since calories count. Having said that, I’m convinced that for good health, what you eat is the most important. Dr. Katz, who wrote the article on the Twinkie diet makes a great point:
As for the changes seen in the lipid panel, these are likely by-products of weight loss per se. An excess of body fat is associated with increased inflammatory responses, and often, increased levels of insulin. Both inflammation and hormonal imbalances in turn affect cholesterol and other blood lipids. When body fat is lost, these effects are reversed — and improvements in blood lipids are likely.
The mistake is to think this means better health. For one thing, health is a composite of far more than BMI and LDL. For another, its relevant time horizon is far more distant than two months.
Severe illness of all kinds is associated with sudden drops in total cholesterol. Drug addiction, chemotherapy, cholera and advanced HIV are all associated with weight loss. Cancer rather predictably leads to declines in both weight and lipids as it advances. These associations are more than sufficient to show that health cannot be summed up by weight and lipids. An overwhelming body of research shows what dietary patterns do produce lasting good health — all emphasize wholesome, mostly plant foods direct from nature. None emphasizes Ho Hos.
Please take the time to read the whole article, all the points he makes are good. We want to see those markers change, but for the right reasons. We want to teach people to eat correctly, so they gain more than just weight control, they gain optimal health. By eating right, you are more likely to maintain a correct body weight, without having to count calories. I could lose weight by eating 1400 calories of straight chocolate a day, but that doesn’t mean I should do that.
I don’t think McDonalds is evil, and they do appear to be making real efforts to offer better choices, but it’s up to us to make those choices. They do offer a lot of really appalling choices, but so do every other restaurant, which is why I suggest not eating out if you want to lose weight. I live in Western New York, in a small town. We have two donut shops. We need two? What are you likely to pick at a donut shop? I don’t think it’s the egg white special. If you want to lose weight, you have to put effort into it. Plan you choices and stick to them.