“Hey, are you still doing that diet blog?” Uncle Rick asked at Rowan’s graduation party over the weekend.
He wanted to report a major update since last year’s “Normal People” interview: How he’s dropped a pants size over the last three months despite continuing to hit McDonald’s drivethru twice a day.
It’s not like Rick, who at 6-feet tall has never weighed over 190, was loading up on fries. When we last discussed his dietary habits, he was breakfasting on an unadorned McDonald’s biscuit and lunching on a McChicken and small order of French fries. But after he watched Dr. Terry Wahls’ TED talk on how dietary changes supercharged her mitochondria to help control her multiple sclerosis, he decided to ramp up his fruit and veggie intake.
He still hits the Golden Arches for both breakfast and lunch. But now he orders two side salads (and his usual two large iced teas) for each meal.
Q. So how did you arrive at the idea of eating two side salads for breakfast?
A. “After I watched that video I was thinking, ‘What can I eat for breakfast?’ Food’s food whether you eat it for breakfast or lunch. … I went to other fast food places and tried their salads, but there was always something they’d have to leave off (an ingredient he didn’t like; if you read his first interview you know by now that he’s an incredibly picky eater).
“Some of those salads were $4 or $5. Then I realized that 2 side salads were enough to satisfy me for two bucks, and I liked them just the way they were.”
As for dressing, he splits one packet of French between each of his two salads.
Q. How did you get McDonald’s to deal with a salad order at breakfast?
A. Rick is famous for establishing rapport everywhere he goes — in part because he’s a friendly guy but also because he has a penchant for developing barter networks — and that includes the McDonald’s drivethru. When a guy comes through about the same time every day and places the same order, they notice.
When he changed his standing order it took them a while to get used to it, especially since salads aren’t ordinarily available at breakfast.
“At first they’d have me pull ahead while they made them up,” he said. “But after about 10 days or so they’d know what to expect and they’d have it ready for me.”
This leads me to joke about him “training” the staff at McDonald’s, but Rick would rather not characterize it that way.
“They’ve gone out of their way to accommodate me, and I appreciate it,” he said. “They’re helpful.”
Q. Do you like eating salad for breakfast, or is it something you tolerate in the pursuit of better health?
A. “I look forward to it. I enjoy it. I don’t miss the burgers or the chicken. If I’m really hungry, then I get an apple pie for dessert for lunch.”(He likes to think of that as a serving of “fruit.”)
Q. So have you lost any weight?
A. “No, but then that wasn’t my goal. I was just trying to eat healthier. I weighed 170 when I started, and I still weigh 170. But I went down a pants size, from 36 to 34.”
Q. When we went to a Memorial Day cookout at your place I never guessed you’d changed your diet because the menu was the same holiday cookout food you guys have served for years: burgers, homemade potato salad, brown sugar baked beans, and pie and other goodies for dessert. Did reverting to celebration food — and the ensuing leftovers — mess you up, or was that just a momentary blip in your new routine?
A. “No, because there is no goal or diet other than I just feel like eating healthier. So there was no reason to feel guilty.”
Q. So do you feel any better?
A. “I feel better than I have in a long time,” he says, though that may be partly due to the fact that he had successful neck surgery a few months ago. Still, he does think his dietary changes play some kind of role. “At McDonald’s, that other food, it makes you sluggish, it slows you down.
Q. What about your diabetes? (It’s so weird to think that a lifelong skinny dude like Rick could’ve developed diabetes that I forgot all about it in his first interview.) Have your blood sugar levels changed?
A. “My blood sugar swings aren’t as drastic now,” he says, though he hesitates to attribute this change to his diet because he’s not sure he’s been doing it long enough to have had much of an effect.
Q. I don’t think I asked you about your Death Row meal the first time around. What would you order for your last meal of your life, if you were no longer concerned about your future health?
A. “I don’t think I’d eat anything. I wouldn’t want to go out with a full stomach. I wouldn’t want to feel uncomfortable.”
Q. OK, so what’s your favorite special occasion meal?
A. “My birthday meal is meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas.” For dessert, he asks Aunt Jenny to make chocolate pudding pie.
Q. What’s your favorite restaurant meal?
A. “Probably the Victorian filet at Outback with a baked potato and salad. Jenny and I really like Cracker Barrel, too, but these days we tend to order either chicken over rice with baby carrots and green beans or the veggie platter with four vegetable sides.
“As we get older, we don’t eat as much. Sometimes we split a meal. I don’t like to pay for food I’m not going to eat.”