Super Size Me? Science Teacher Loses 37 Lbs. Eating at McDonald's

Last fall, John Cisna -- a science teacher from Des Moines, Iowa -- ate nothing but McDonald's for 90 days and wound up losing 37 pounds! Hold the mustard! How the heck can that be right?

This article originally appeared in the Newton blog on RealClearScience. You can read the original here


McDonald's slogan du jour is "I'm lovin' it." "It," of course, refers to the voluminous gut one grows by consistently dining at the iconic fast-food joint.

But "it" doesn't have to be like that. Last fall, John Cisna -- a science teacher from Des Moines, Iowa -- ate nothing but McDonald's for 90 days and wound up losing 37 pounds! Hold the mustard! How the heck can that be right?

Here's how: With the help of three of his students, Cisna simply planned and followed a diet that totaled no more than 2,000 calories each day and closely mirrored the reference daily intakes of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and cholesterol. Mind you, he didn't merely scarf a single meal to sate those requirements; he savored three square meals each day! A typical day's sustenance varied, but it would typically include two egg white delight McMuffins, a bowl of maple oatmeal, and a 1% milk for breakfast; a salad for lunch; and a value meal for dinner.

"So this isn't something where you say, 'well he went to McDonalds and he only had the salads.' No, I had the Big Macs, the quarter pounders with cheese. I had sundaes, I had ice cream cones," Cisna told KCCI.

Also included in Cisna's self-experiment were 45 minutes of daily walking. Moreover, the teacher dutifully tracked his meals and exercise in an Excel spreadsheet. By the end of the 90 days, he was 37 pounds slimmer, and his LDL (bad) cholesterol had plummeted by 60 points.

Cisna's experience provides a damning rebuttal to Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me and a sumptuous anecdote to what health researchers have been saying for years: eating a sensible diet and exercising daily leads to a healthier existence. Adopting such a lifestyle brings almostimmediate benefits. Conditions like osteoarthritis, diabetes, and hypertension may be reduced in severity or even eliminated altogether. One will also enjoy -- among many other advantages -- boosted energy levels, better sleep, reduced levels of depression, and a leaner physique.

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009 demonstrated that reduced calorie diets, regardless of their composition, engender significant and sustained weight loss. So who's to say that food from restaurants like McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, or Taco Bell can't constitute a significant portion of such a diet? The fact is, it can.

Still, it is hard for the average person to eat healthily when dining out. Fast food is often laden with fat and loaded with salt. Higher fat content makes food more calorie dense and concurrently spurs us to overeat, while excess salt intake is a key driver of high blood pressure. But with the help of nutrition guides, diners can navigate menu choices and select meals right for them -- some establishments make that easy, while others do not. Devilish combo meals are also a barrier to healthy eating. Often a better value than piecing a meal together a la carte, combos also make it very easy for customers to mindlessly slurp down calories via the ginormous soft drinks that accompany them. To overcome the allure, customers must exert self-control at the ordering counter. Choose the small. Get water instead of soda. Sadly, self-control isn't something that the vast majority of humans excel at.

As Cisna's example shows, it seems that one can exist -- even thrive -- on a diet of fast food. The food itself isn't the problem. How it's marketed, and how we consume it, is. Restaurants need to make it easier for customers to make good choices. But most importantly, customers must themselves make healthy decisions.

"We all have choices. It's our choices that make us fat, not McDonald's," Cisna told KCCI.

McDonald's publicists would be wise to contact Cisna right away and post his meal plans online. Thousands of Americans would undoubtedly jump at the opportunity to slim up by going on a McDiet. 

(Image: Shutterstock)

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The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity

Image: The Pudding
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  • Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
  • And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
  • If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist

Chicagoland is Obamaland

Image: The Pudding

Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.

Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).

The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.

The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.

How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."

‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'

Image: The Pudding

Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.

That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.

The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.

The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".

Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.

Royals and (other) mortals

Image: The Pudding

There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.

Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.

But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.

Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).

Freaks and angels

Image: Dorothy

The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.

It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.

Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...

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