Takeaway Torture Test Day 1: McDonald’s

Takeaway Torture Test Day 1: McDonald’s

Four days of non-stop fast-food: one chain per day. How will I cope? The adventure begins, inevitably, at McDonald’s.

About The Takeaway Torture Test

I travel a lot, and I frequently eat takeaway food from major chains when I do. It’s cheap, it’s convenient and it saves paying $20+ for a hotel breakfast. But that approach involves an element of choice, and I’m not doing it repeatedly. It’s an occasional treat, and one that I control.

Recently I found myself wondering: how would I feel if I had to eat from a single venue even three times in a row? There are people out there who have eaten almost nothing but Big Macs for years; a tiny part of me wants to find out what that’s like on a more modest scale. The Takeaway Torture Test is how I’m doing it, restricting myself to one chain a day over a four-day period and noting my reactions.

By my usual standards for obsessive and self-punishing behaviour, it’s a casual project. I’m not doing this for more than one day at each outlet, and I’m not doing an exhaustive assessment of nutrition or my health. Morgan Spurlock already covered a lot of that territory in his documentary Super Size Me, so I’m not sure there’s much to learn on that particular point. (I remember writing a story about that movie when it came out and the local McDonald’s chief dodging requests for an interview with the excuse that he was working at his daughter’s school canteen. Ahem.)

I’m also not fully tracking nutritional goals (as I did with Lifehacker’s Mastercheap project). I’m going to eat what I feel tempted by while on the road and muse on the consequences.

So Day 1 found me in Melbourne, staying with friends as I usually do. The feature event of the evening is a birthday party for a 10-year old, and McDonald’s is the party menu of choice. So today will be a Maccas day. And that means dropping the kids to school and then heading to the nearest branch for breakfast. Annoyingly, this already sucks.

Breakfast: A Late Start

Not because I mind the breakfast, but because it means that I’m not eating breakfast until nearly 0930. I’m an early riser; at this point, I’ve been working for the better part of four hours. It’s all I can do to hold off long enough to photograph the meal.

My regular McBreakfast is the Bacon & Egg McMuffin Value meal, but I decided to indulge in the Barcelona Omelette, one of the special meals McDonald’s is running as part of its Olympics promotion. It was fine, but I probably wouldn’t deliberately choose it again. I should have also remembered to stick to the black coffee; everything else is a bit iffy. But I was hungry. I didn’t really care. One minor detail: the on-site Wi-Fi wasn’t working. Given how busy the staff were, I decided that complaining would be futile.


Lunch: I’ve Stacked It

Lunch involved heading to a different shopping centre (which had working Wi-Fi for what that’s worth) and choosing which path I wanted to go down. Chicken was out (I’ll be ODing on that tomorrow), and I’ve never thought the fish worth the trouble. Sticking with the Olympic theme, I decided to indulge in the Sydney Stack, which essentially adds pineapple and beetroot to a standard burger.

As a combination, it should be appealing, but there’s a structural challenge. The standard roll used on virtually all McDonald’s burgers, including this one, isn’t quite up to the task of holding all that extra vegetable heft. So it tastes good, but it falls apart fairly quickly. This doesn’t bother me too much in a food court, but the risk of accidentally staining yourself with beetroot juice seems high.

Two Olympic meals in, and my main objection isn’t one of content: it’s one of convenience. I’ve had to go out specially to pick up McDonald’s on both occasions. I’m away from my home town, and even if I wasn’t, I don’t drive. So convenience food is actually taking me a little more effort than just eating in. But I should stop complaining and recognise that the exercise is good for me.

Dinner: The Importance Of Being Specific

As I noted before, dinner was as part of a birthday event for my 10-year old honorary Melbourne nephew. If you want to see a lot of McDonald’s demolished very quickly, offer it to a gang of pre-teen boys who are just itching to get back to playing on an Xbox 360. The food will not last long, as you can see here.

I made a procedural mistake with this meal. I hadn’t asked my friends for a specific menu item, figuring that I’d end up with either a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder from one of those bulk deals McDonald’s often offer. But instead, they decided I wouldn’t just want a standard burger and so got me . . . a Sydney Stack. Still nice, still soggy, but not maximising the variety as much as might otherwise have been possible. Then again, if I’m trying to mimic the life of a burger addict, maybe that’s what I should be doing.

I don’t feel bloated, I don’t feel like I’ve overdosed on caffeine — but I’m glad I won’t be eating McDonald’s tomorrow. The qualifier? It’s going to be an all KFC day. That could get tricky, not least when it comes to breakfast . . .


  • I have done a pretty similar thing (over 3 weeks) recently and I found that my stomach is larger, I am out of breath quicker and I feel like I have a lining of grease/fat permanently in my mouth. Also with all this recent rain, I am exercising less and motivation to exercise is equal to or less than none. Going to be a challenge to turn this around. I am really interested to see if you have a similar experience.

  • It’s funny how you mention that the “convenience food” is taking more effort for you to get due to your choices of transport. The whole idea of it being convenient and fast is that you don’t need to go out of your way to get it, there are a lot of restaurants, (especially in urban areas), so if you need to eat and are close to one you can just stop in.
    You’ve personally chosen destroy its convenience factor by forcing yourself to eat at only one establishment rather than a more normal method of choosing what and where to eat based on the convenience regarding your movements for that particular day. (I’m not saying it’s “normal” to eat fast food every day, but pointing out the “normal” way most people choose to eat fast food). Oh, and also McDonalds staff and CEO’s have been quoted on numerous occasions saying their food should be enjoyed as a treat, not as the staples of a persons diet.

    Just thought it was funny commenting on it not being convenient when it’s clearly a pretty self imposed inconvenience.

  • So basically you’re reviewing four takeaway chains over four days? I must be missing something, but it hardly seems worth the bother of reading, let alone writing.

  • Many experiments have been done and you can read on lots of online blogs regarding this. If you eat your recommended calories and maintain the recommended nutrient ratio’s recommended by most nutritional experts, there is not difference if you are eating McDonalds or cooking a meal at home. Tomatoes from McDonalds are not from a different planet. McDonalds may give farmers pressure to reduce prices but still the same tomatoes.

    • I wonder how one can get the recommended amount of fibre if they eat exclusively at maccas. Do you have to eat the packaging the food comes in to get the roughage you need? 😉

  • So what exactly is going to be achieved here? Angus, you are going to feel a bit rubbish for day or two. You know it. We know it.

    Perhaps the intent is to reinforce the point that you should eat fast food as infrequently as possible? Perhaps I over estimate the Lifehacker demographic, but is that really necessary?

    • I imagine it’s pretty much just to see what happens. We all do it sometimes, it’s just that angus is sharing the experience via the site he happens to run.

      I once tried to live off ‘up and go’ for as long as possible, to see if it really was a meal replacement. I gave up after two days. I’ve also occasionally tried to live off ‘nothing but x’ for as long as possible with the following results (Those that I can remember still)
      Cake: 3 days
      kebabs: 4 days, stopped due to lack of money.
      Gingerbread: 3 days
      oreos: 1 day
      bread with cajun seasoning: 5 days
      microwave burgers: 1.5 days
      mi goreng: three weeks

  • What a joke. I’m sure I could eat nothing but McDonalds for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t have the slightest detrimental effect on my health. Its just food and how much you eat and at what times of the day are probably at least as important. Given Maccas varied menu, you could probably improve your health if you wanted to – I sure as hell don’t cook the variety of food at home that they offer in their restaurants.

    Morgan Spurlock ate the same thing every day and accepted the upsizing whenever it was offered. He deliberately chose to eat the worst possible food when better alternatives were available. A Sydney Stack, for example, contains three different vegetables plus fruit to balance the cured and fresh meat and sugary bun. Add in potatoes cooked in vegetable oil and a healthy drink instead of Coke and it is probably a decently balanced meal (although I’d stick with Coke).

    • “I’m sure I could eat nothing but McDonalds for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t have the slightest detrimental effect on my health. Its just food and how much you eat and at what times of the day are probably at least as important.”

      Are you serious?

      I just….can’t even.

      • OK then, tell us what is wrong with McDonalds. I’d be really interested to hear. They maintain very high standards for their ingredients and they make everything fresh when you order it. I don’t like the taste of their bread and I don’t like most of their burgers but I don’t see that it is any worse for me than anything I buy from the supermarket or grocery.

        • You saying that McDonalds offers a wider selection of food than that which you cook for yourself instantly kills my motivation for carrying this discussion any further, I’m sorry.

      • hehe. i like how you call them vegetables and think fries qualify as potato… grow your own and you’ll find a whole new (nutritious!) world

  • Not quite on target but you mention being hungry and late breakfast. In order to save money and be able to have an early breakfast I now pack muesli and powdered milk in a ziplock bag. Pour into cup, add water and eat with a teaspoon. Quick, cheap and reasonably satisfying.

  • Sounds a bit “Holier than thou” to me. Why label it torture? If it is “torture”, why do it? Leave it to someone who likes takeaway food. Analyse your own cooking for its content as a comparison. No doubt your usual diet would be obscene to another individual.

  • Now, full disclosure, I’m a McCafe barista, but the range of quality is pretty huge between different stores, especially between a quieter store and on more central, and It can even differ between two stores quite close together because they may have different licensee’s, different managers, and different crew trainers, which makes a difference, so basing judgement on the whole company based on 3 meals at a single store seems somewhat short-sighted.

    Also, cafe coffee is usually better then the machine coffee, especially if you have a competent barista (look for the different uniform and an “M” star on their name-badge. It means they’re fully cafe trained and passed all the internal cafe tests. Not a guarantee, but they’re not easy, so they at least know in theory how to make a reasonable coffee) .

    That said, if you can find a store local to you that has a good barista or two, and go back regularly enough, they’ll often remember you and put additional effort into making *your* coffee even better.

    Finally, we really don’t mind meeting your unusual requests if you’re polite and patient, especially when we’re busy. Almost regardless of what it is, we’ve seen weirder, probably that day (There is a button on some registers to put mango frappe mix in a small cappuccino. I don’t know why either (and yes, it tastes as weird as it sounds. Not particularly bad, but not exactly a normal flavor))

    • That’s the point: we’re not worried he’s going to die, we’re snarking that it’s a stupid ‘challenge’. The outcome will be that he feels mildly crap for a few days, less if he’s exercising during this time. And it will all turn around once he eats some leafy greens anyway.

  • Times when you should/can eat (reasonably high fat) Takeaway food for an extended period:
    1) If your skinnier than an anorexic.
    2) If you seek the role of a professional Sumo Wrestler.
    3) You no longer care about the continuation of your life thus Obesity is of little concern.
    4) You were a ferret in a previous life and have retained your metabolism despite reincarnation.

    4 day’s, hell even 2 weeks isn’t what I consider an extended period of time… just make sure you work it off.

    This is a stupid and pointless exercise, stop damaging those organs other people could use them.

  • I like most things on LH but this….whats the purpose? I don’t get it….

    Are you just going to tell us what you eat for 4 days? Am i missing something?

  • Whether or not you agree with Angus’ “experiment” or not, the end aim is to identify whether or not he can happily spend a few days on the road, eating pre-prepared food at the same location for a day or more. As he stated, he isn’t driving so it does enter the realm of possibility that someone could be staying at a location where the one chain is the most convenient overnight or for a day (outside home delivered) without hiring a taxi. And please take note, if you have already commented on the relevance of this idea, do yourself and others a favour and DON’T READ THE NEXT 3 DAYS OF THE SAME AND EXPECT ANY SYMPATHY OR JUSTIFICATION TO YOUR COMPLAINTS. These things do work on a “don’t like it, don’t read it” basis. Cheers for the barista tip above which, incidentally, this article prompted.

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