Before embarking on an experimental McDonald’s diet that would ultimately leave him 60 pounds lighter, substitute biology teacher John Cisna hardly ever ate fast food.
Instead, the 56-year-old says he was a big fan of meat and potatoes. As head baseball coach at Colo-NESCO Junior-Senior High School in Colo, Iowa, he would eat a large breakfast, then come home in the evenings, consume 3,000 calories and go to bed.
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Photo courtesy of Healthy New Albany
John Cisna visited the Philip Heit Center for Healthy New Albany at the end of June while he was in town for a Columbus presentation.
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A former Iowa State University baseball player, Cisna experienced weight gain gradually and describes himself as a recovering food-aholic. His friends used to call him Snack Bar. Since he’s lost his weight, his new nickname is Snack Bar Jr.
“Every day is still a challenge, but I’m on top of it,” he says.
Cisna’s six-month McDonald’s diet, coupled with exercise, taught him the impact choice can have on wellness.
“It’s not the food that makes you fat. It’s the amount of it that makes you fat,” he says.
The diet came about when Cisna was searching for a class experiment for his sophomore biology students at Colo-NESCO. After meeting an owner of several McDonald’s franchises, an idea came to him. What if he tried to get healthy by eating nothing but McDonald’s?
As Cisna and his students set to work in September 2013, they used McDonald’s online
menu builder to track 15 different nutrients and gave the teacher a 2,000 calorie diet. They didn’t stick to salads, either. His students were able to assemble 56 different meal plans.
The students decided that it was more important to meet guidelines for daily nutritional value allowances than caloric intake. A meal plan that included a 600-calorie Bacon & Cheese Quarter Pounder, for example, had a total caloric value of 1,530.
Cisna also measured his bloodwork at different points during the experiment. His beginning test exhibited numbers that put him at risk for heart disease. His cholesterol and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) levels were high, and his triglycerides number was borderline high.
He was so surprised about his results 45 days into his trial that he called the lab to make sure the blood was his. His cholesterol and triglycerides were in the desirable range, LDL was near ideal, and glucose, while a little higher than it was before the experiment, was still in the desirable range.
“It was incredible,” he says.
His total cholesterol went from 249 mg/dL on Sept. 16 to 189 mg/dL on Nov. 1. LDL went from 170 to 129, and triglycerides from 156 to 94. By Dec. 14, his total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides dropped even further, to 170, 113 and 80 mg/dL, respectively.
It was impossible for Cisna to remain within the recommended daily salt allowance while on his fast food diet. Still, when he checked his electrolyte levels, all three ions were within normal range. This shows, he says, that the body can get rid of excess salt. He also drank at least a gallon of water per day, which helped flush out the mineral.
Still, Cisna stresses that a diet of solely fast food is not viable, feasible or cost-effective.
“This was nothing more than an experiment,” he says.
Cisna also paid attention to keeping a regular eating schedule during his experiment. On his way to school, he would eat breakfast at 7 a.m. Lunch was at 11:30 a.m., and supper followed at 6 p.m.
“It was steady the whole way through,” he says.
Before the experiment, Cisna almost never exercised. For the first 90 days of the experiment, he walked 45 minutes per day, 4-5 days per week, to burn roughly 240-250 calories.
A week passed before he was able to walk for 45 minutes.
“I was psychologically beaten that day,” he says of his first attempt.
For the experiment’s second half, Cisna stepped up his physical activity, working with a trainer. After he lost his 50th pound, he found he couldn’t lose more.
“That needle didn’t move one ounce in two and a half weeks,” he says.
Cisna’s body was actually conserving fat to stay healthy, since he was still consuming around 2,000 calories per day while exercising more than he did before. After he stopped exercising entirely, he lost 4.5 pounds at the end of the week.
“You have to eat in order to lose weight,” Cisna says. “If you don’t, your body will recognize that and shut itself down.”
At the start of the experiment, Cisna was 280 pounds. After six months, he was down to 220 pounds.
Eighteen months have passed since the experiment concluded, and Cisna, at about 225 pounds, has kept his weight off. He still has McDonald’s for breakfast every morning, eating an Egg White Delight McMuffin and oatmeal.
For exercise, Cisna favors a recumbent bicycle, which he rides 3-4 times per week.
“I’ve been given a second chance at life with this experiment,” he says.
Sarah Sole is an editor. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.