McDiet Day 1: Proving People Rarely Check Calorie Counts

Day 1: When you tell people that you're going on a McDonald's-only diet, they're more than willing to offer advice, suggesting which items you should skip and which foods are a good choice. The problem is that a lot of it is misinformed.

Unsolicited advice that has been offered to me since I announced this diet plan:

  • You should skip the fries at all times.
  • You can't have any dressing on the salad.
  • You'll have to remove the buns and just eat the meat from the burgers.
  • You won't possibly feel full even after eating all that food.
  • You're going to feel extremely ill really quickly.

The reality is rather different.

What I Ate: Day 1

Here's my day 1 menu, complete with calorie count. (I'd normally favour using kilojoules, but the original US experiment used calories so I'm sticking with that.)

Food Calories
Breakfast: Bacon & Egg McMuffin 297
Hash Brown 153
Small orange juice 135
Lunch: Big Mac 493
Small Fries 255
Garden Salad 16
Italian dressing 12
Dinner: Crispy Noodle Grilled Chicken Salad 255
Total 1616

For many people, the big source of shock in this menu would be that I wasn't automatically heading for nothing but salads and water. I had a hash brown and a McMuffin at breakfast. I ate fries and a big Mac for lunch. I even had an orange juice. (Yes, I know, fruit juice isn't as good as fruit. But hey, vitamin C and variety.)

We're so used to the idea of fast food being loaded with calories that we constantly forget the key thing: it's the total that you consume each day that matters. You can indulge in more calorie-laden stuff as long as you strike a balance with other elements and keep track. With all those selections, I still only consumed 1616 calories — well below my target of 2000 for the day.

When I made the meal plan, I actually allowed for the possibility that I might want to eat something else — a cheeseburger, say — at my evening meal if I still felt hungry. But I didn't. That dinner-time salad filled me up entirely, even after my 45-minute exercise session for the day. (I did go for the lower-calorie grilled option, but I didn't skip the noodles. And again, I didn't need to.)

So Day 1 went fine, but I know it will get harder. There will be less novelty in the whole experience on Day 2, and quite a few of the same foods will recur. I'll take it as it comes.

Random observations from the first day:

Super-sizing is still a thing. When I ordered my breakfast, my server immediately asked: "Would you like to make that a large orange juice?" No thanks.

I need to allow time for lunch queues. Our office is in Circular Quay, it's school holidays, everyone is out enjoying the sunshine. So this was the lunchtime queue I encountered (and this is only half the counter area):

I'll try and get down there earlier today to avoid the hassle.

Hints? Thoughts? Food recommendations? Share them in the comments.


Comments

    Maccas sells a product with... Noodles? They look more like the packet of chips called French Fries.

    Last edited 14/01/14 8:42 am

    Just want to get in before people say this is irresponsible. It's not. With our obesity rate being what it is, the majority of people in Australia indulge in Maccas, probably more often than they would admit. This is just showing the importance of portion control and calories in vs calories out. It's that simple.

    And also I don't understand why people say it will make you ill. Yes it's very processed and has many additives but why would they design the food to make you sick? They want you coming back and that's exactly what you're not going to do if you get sick from eating their food.

      While I don't think it is irresponsible, I don't believe it is healthy. Your energy consumption/output will mean you are burning more energy than your intake, and will lose weight, but I think Angus that you should also be tracking fat, sodium and sugar intake. That will be the unhealthy part.

      Classical conditioning would suggest that it's fine from their perspective for you to feel sick (or bloated) from their food as long as the feeling sick part comes much much later on when you don't associate the feeling with the experience of eating their food or whilst in their restaurant.

    I don't disagree with you at all that as long as you take the number of calories/kilojoules into account, and watch portion size, then you can definitely eat McDonald's. BUT I'd like to see more information about what was in your daily intake - how much sodium? How much sugar? How much fibre?

    As mentioned Calorie in Vs Calorie out/portion control is the real key here. I am curious though, how about tracking your macros, micros etc. Fat/protien/carb etc? Is it a concern for this experiment? Very interesting stuff!

      I'm keeping an eye on those elements, and will discuss them in a later post -- but not the central issue for me.

      Agreed. Calories / KJ are just one aspect of food. The types of fat, salt content, etc are just as important.

        Because I was interested, I've gone and tabled some more stats. You energy intake is fine, however a large amount of it is made up of saturated fats. Sugar is much better than expected, and salt is just as bad as expected.

        Food | Protien(g) | Saturated Fat(g) | Sugar(g) | Salt(mg)
        Breakfast:
        Bacon & Egg McMuffin | 16.4 | 6.2 | 2.1 | 673
        Hash Brown | 1.6 | 1.1 | 0.2 | 352
        Small orange juice | 2.4 | 0.0 | 23.7 | 26
        Lunch:
        Big Mac | 25.2 | 10.7 | 5.9 | 859
        Small Fries | 2.7 | 1.6 | 0.0 | 245
        Garden Salad | 1.4 | 0.0 | 1.2 | 18
        Italian dressing | 0.2 | 0.1 | 3.6 | 176
        Dinner:
        Crispy Noodle Grilled Chicken Salad | 22.9 | 7.6 | 7.1 | 452

        Total | 72.8g | 27.3g | 20.1g | 2801mg
        Recommended | 75-125g | <16g | <50g | 1600mg

        (Apologies for the layout, I can't get the formatting to play nicely.)

          A Small Orange Juice has 2.4g Protein? Not disputing it, it just seems a bit surprising.

            hahah, no idea!

          Thanks for that! Recommended sodium is more like 2300mg so it's not as bad. Definitely too much fat, but surprisingly decent.

            2300mg isn't the recommended amount of salt, it's the recommended upper limit.

    This is awesome Angus. Goodluck and keep the stats coming. I went through a stage of having a Big Mac Meal most days for lunch at work but was sceptical of how unhealthy it was. I started to swap out the medium fries for salad on occasions as it's no extra cost and does cut the calories/kj's a fair bit. Oh and not sure if this is nationwide but atm Small BigMac Meals are only $4.95.. lunch for a fiver! =D

    Also need to show grams of fat against each item.

      Grams of fat don't really matter, it is all about the kj's, but the sodium, sugar and fibre do matter as they will affect your health very badly if they are out of balance.

      The main problem with the maccas diet as you have laid it out, is (apart from the sodium) that I think you will be very, very hungry. Those portions are relatively high in calories vs their bulk, so you will be feeling pretty empty. Mind you, those foods make me feel very queasy, so maybe you won't be hungry, just sick :)

    Just wondering Angus, this year I have started eating healthy again cutting out the fast food altogether. But my two main reasons for doing so was health and financial reasons, the money adds up indulging in fast food chains. Just wondering if you could give daily details for money spent. If this is a viable diet it would be good to know if it is affordable as well. Keep up the good work, very interested to find further results.

    My concern would be relying on McDonald's own analysis of their food. You need go no further than your own Takeaway Truth to see the variability in the construction, food quantity and food quality of take away food. Both from order to order and reality versus "ideal". Surely this effects the actual number of calories in each item and meal?
    Don't get me started on the ethics of using the number of calories in a takeaway meal as a marketing tool....

    A suggestion, instead of the Big Mac you could have a Grilled Chicken & wrap. The nutritional info is as follows;

    Energy (kJ) 2230
    Energy (Cal) 534
    Protein (g) 27.9
    Fat, total (g) 28.7
    Saturated (g) 5.2
    Carbohydrate (g) 39.5
    Sugars (g) 5.5
    Sodium (mg) 811

    A little bit more in the way of calories, but over two times less in the ways of saturated fats. Further, one of these bad boys should fill you up. Probably wouldn't need anything additional on top of this, other than maybe a glass of water?

      I'm sure he will try that option. It's Day 1.

    Use the kJ pleeeeeease!
    All our items are in kJ and not Calories...

      Just multiply what he says by 4 and round up. You'll be off most by 5% of actual figure. 1616 kcals = 6500Kj or there abouts!

        4.2 will get you even closer. I too realise that kilojoules are the metric measurement, but hey, I just happen to find counting to 2000 easier than counting to 8750.

          Not trying to be rude, but i think you meant to type 4.02
          :)

            No Kristy, that wasn't a typo. 1000kj ~ 239calories. If you divide 1000 by 4.2 you get 238.1, rounded to 1 dec pl.

            Going the other way, 1000 calories ~4184kj, so multiplying by 4.2 will get you to 4200kj.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calorie

    Angus before you get too far into this would it be possible for you to take your vitals before and after the month of Maccas. Weight and heart rate etc? Not every day, just pre and post diet. Maybe once in the middle? Gives your investigation some ground to stand on.

      +1 i'd also like to see observations about changes in weight and blood pressure

    I forget already Angus, do you have a weight loss goal in mind with this or aiming to maintain current weight?

    A lot of people forget that eating is perhaps not always about being full but rather not going hungry.

    Please do you experiment in Kilojoules not Calories. We use the metric system here and all food packaging lists Kilojoule values, so for the sake of making things easier for people to understand we should not use Calorie units in Australia.

      Another one....
      "Just multiply what he says by 4 and round up. You'll be off most by 5% of actual figure. 1616 kcals = 6500Kj or there abouts!"

        Thank you, that's a handy one to remember. But I still don't like Australian using calories out of principal. :)

    This has been done before by numerous people and the results are always the same - stupid is as stupid does.

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