Seriously? McDonalds for Weight Loss? Not so fast.

McDonald’s for weight loss. Stop the presses!! Can this really be true? Sounds like a miracle for some people.

It’s so bothersome, really, that this story got so much press, including coverage on The Today Show, when, in reality, there was nothing newsworthy about it. And, quite the opposite, it could actually be spreading false information to people desperate for the next best thing in weight loss.

Let’s look at the “news”: man loses 37 lbs. and reduces his cholesterol by eating only at McDonald’s for 90 days.

Let’s look at the facts (as reported) and the related questions/comments:

FACT: Teacher John Cisna ate 2,000 calories a day at McDonald’s – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and lost 37 pounds.

QUESTION: How many calories a day was Mr. Cisna eating prior to this experiment? If he ate, for example, 2,500 or 3,000 calories per day, than the reduction in calories is naturally going to lead to weight loss. Reducing calories for weight loss is not news. A chart on shows a calorie range of 2000-2400 calories for men who are not physically active, depending on age.

FACT: Mr. Cisna reduced his cholesterol, from 249 to 170, including a 34 percent decrease in his LDL or “bad cholesterol.”

COMMENT: In addition to the McDonald’s diet (limited to 2,000 calories per day), Mr. Cisna began exercising. He walked 45 minutes a day during this experiment. Cholesterol reduction as a result of consuming fewer calories and exercise is not news. As Registered dietician and TODAY contributor Joy Bauer noted, “If you lose weight and you’re overweight to begin with, normally your cholesterol, your blood sugar, your triglycerides, they will come down, too.”

And consider this from the University of Maryland Medical Center:

Calorie restriction has been the cornerstone of weight-loss programs. Restricting calories also appears to have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels, including reducing LDL and triglycerides and increasing HDL levels.

Further, Dr. Fuhrman notes on his website: “Regular aerobic exercise increases the heart’s pumping efficiency, reduces resting heart rate and blood pressure, decreases total and LDL cholesterol, decreases triglycerides, and reduces stress.”

A page on the WebMD site explains why lowering cholesterol, including LDL, can be attributed to exercise:

First, exercise stimulates enzymes that help move LDL from the blood (and blood-vessel walls) to the liver. From there, the cholesterol is converted into bile (for digestion) or excreted. So the more you exercise, the more LDL your body expels.

Second, exercise increases the size of the protein particles that carry cholesterol through the blood. (The combination of protein particles and cholesterol are called “lipoproteins;” it’s the LDLs that have been linked to heart disease). Some of those particles are small and dense; some are big and fluffy. “The small, dense particles are more dangerous than the big, fluffy ones because the smaller ones can squeeze into the [linings of the heart and blood vessels] and set up shop there,” says Amit Khera, MD, director of the University of Texas, Southwestern, Medical Center’s Program in Preventive Cardiology. “But now it appears that exercise increases the size of the protein particles that carry both good and bad lipoproteins.”

So you see, it is not news that someone who reduced their calories lowered their cholesterol levels.

What’s really disturbing is that Mr. Cisna called Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, “Super Size Me,” “irresponsible journalism” because it didn’t teach kids choice. I don’t believe Mr. Spurlock wanted to teach kids about choice. His purpose was to explore the effects of eating “fast food,” and boy did he do that!

Consider the choices Mr. Cisna made…the following are links to the menu items he ate on a given day:

Breakfast  (Cisna drank a large size soda.)


Dinner  (Cisna drank a large size soda.)

I would argue it is highly irresponsible of Mr. Cisna to promote ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and trans fats (let’s not forget about the aspartame in the diet coke!!) as beneficial choices to his students and the larger population of young adults. There’s no shortage of information on the dangers of these elements. Even the Food and Drug Administration has said that a major source of trans fats — partially hydrogenated oils — is no longer “generally recognized as safe.”  The egg white delight sandwich contains partially hydrogenated oil!

Yes, losing weight and maintaining safe cholesterol levels are vital to our long-term well-being. And, yes, the food and lifestyle choices we make are the foundation of our health.  Overall, does McDonald’s offer healthier choices than it did when “Super Size Me” was produced? Perhaps. Is a Premium Southwest Salad a healthier option than a Big Mac? Well, actually, the salad itself is OK, but the dressings offered have a lot of fat and sodium.

One of my concerns with heralding McDonald’s as the new best thing in weight loss and a good way to lower cholesterol is that this experiment tracked Mr. Cisna for three months. Dr. Mark Hyman, writing about the development of type 2 diabetes in his New York Times best-seller, The Blood Sugar Solution, states “This [cells becoming numb to the insulin produced by the body] is called insulin resistance and often precedes the onset of type 2 diabetes by years or decades.”

Ultimately, this news story is like the front of a box of processed food hyping no added sugar, no added MSG, the grams of fiber, etc. It’s promoting one side of a very serious matter (our health!) and treating it as if it is the whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth, be-all-and-end-all, magic formula to weight loss and lowering of cholesterol, without getting to the nitty-gritty (the individual ingredients) and without any concern for the long-term effects of such ingredients.

Heck, if eating McDonalds can lower cholesterol who needs statin drugs?



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