Iowa science teacher John Cisna became a weight loss celebrity this week, after his “before and after” photos went viral online. It’s not that the pictures are anything special, the story behind them is. You see, Mr. Cisna lost 37 pounds over the course of 90 days, while eating exclusively at McDonald’s!
If this seems counter-intuitive to you, you are not alone. Cisna wanted to teach his students that it is not McDonald’s that is making people fat, it’s people’s choices. Together with his students and McDonald’s website – Full Menu Explorer – he planned his meals for 3 months worth of fine dining at a local franchise.
Weight loss can be achieved eating any food, as long there is a calorie deficit at the end of the day. Cisna consumed fewer calories than he exerted and therefore he lost the weight. The 54-year old teacher started out at 280 pounds, leading a sedentary life. He reduced calorie intake and added a dollop of exercise to drop his daily calories.
Just how much you ask?
To lose one pound of weight you need to create a deficit of 3500 calories. To lose one pound a week, you need to consume 500 calories less than usual per day, for 7 days straight. Or, you can burn 500 calories by walking briskly for 45-60 minutes.
To lose 37 pounds, Cisna had to reduce 129,500 calories from his diet!
That’s almost 1,500 calories less per day. At Cisna’s age and weight, the default caloric intake to maintain weight is 3,280 calories. To lose weight, he needed to subtract 1500. This means he would only be allowed to consume 1780 calories per day, basically halving his calorie intake.
Fortunately for Cisna, he exercised by walking 45 minutes 4 times a week, which created a 450-calorie deficit each time. Averaged out over 7 days, that works out to minus 250 daily calories. Cisna could eat approximately 1780+250 calories of McDonald’s fare each day, just about 2000 calories.
As you can see, on the days he walked, Cisna was slightly under his calorie budget.
But what was the quality of the food he ate?
Here is the breakdown:
As you can see, the calories may have been in line with weight loss, but the food quality was not, which makes it even more surprising that Cisna also dramatically improved his blood cholesterol levels down from 240 to 179. High blood cholesterol levels increase the chances of heart disease.
A few thoughts:
1. First of all, kudos to John Cisna for losing weight and improving his cholesterol count. We’d also like to congratulate him for trying to teach his students about choices.
2. We would love to see Cisna’s blood pressure and other health parameters. You see, his meals exceeded daily sodium intake requirements by 100%!
3. Eating healthy and losing weight are not necessarily the same thing. The food at McDonald’s is ultra processed. Even with the healthiest choices, Cisna ingested artificial sweeteners, fillers and additives. The long-term heath effects of such foods are not good, even if no immediate symptoms are evident.
4. Eating and healthy and losing weight are about making the right choices. McDonald’s does offer a few healthy options, but if you look at the majority of their sales, they don’t come from apple slices and small fries. McDonald’s advertising, both in store and in the media, focuses on burgers, fries, and other unhealthy fare, which means the majority of people are not making a healthy choice. We are no weaker willed than previous generations were, but we are nudged by McDonald’s and other fast food companies to make the bad choices much more often than the good ones.
What’s your take on this experiment?