Daily McDonald’s habit plays role in 120-pound weight loss

After I wrote about Uncle Rick losing a pants size despite eating at McDonald’s twice a day, I heard from a Fort Wayne man who said his wife had lost 120 pounds since they started going to McDonald’s for breakfast — and sometimes lunch as well — a little over two years ago.

“Fast food gets a bad rap,” he said. Neither he nor his wife has seen the movie “Super Size Me” — in which filmmaker Morgan Spurlock gains weight and wrecks his health by eating exclusively at McDonald’s for a month — but he thinks the problem isn’t so much about McDonald’s as it is about using common sense.

“Sure, if you order a large fries and a large chocolate shake, you’re going to gain weight,” he said. “But you can eat anyplace and eat too much.”

I met Lee and his wife Annette — she wants to use their middle names only in hopes of avoiding extra pressure as she tries to lose a bit more weight — at the McDonald’s on Goshen Road last week.

Most of the following responses are paraphrased from my conversation with Annette; Lee offered his perspective from time to time but kept getting up to refill his diet soda and talk to others.

Q. So what led you to start eating at McDonald’s everyday?

A. In April 2010, after years of hectic commuting to Warsaw and then Kendalville, Lee got downsized. With their kids now grown but still living at home, the two of them decided to go out for breakfast to start spending more time together.

McDonald’s was a natural choice because that’s where they met back in 1974, when Lee, who was in management at the time, was told to “hire the next 16-year-old who walked in the door.”

He did — and later wound up marrying her.

Though he now works from home, as a compliance officer for an employment agency, they still go to McDonald’s for breakfast just about everyday. They socialize with a crowd of regulars who hang out there, take along books to read, and on Sundays Annette clips coupons from the newspaper. Sometimes they wind up staying for lunch as well.

Q. So what do you eat for breakfast?

A. A sausage, egg and cheese McMuffin. They split a hash brown patty. (Lee says he would prefer to have his own, but she’d rather share one and he tries to be supportive. So far “being supportive” has helped him lose 45 pounds himself, though he thinks part of his weight loss comes from not being constantly subjected to the office treats a former co-worker used to bring in.)

Q. What about lunch?

A. A crispy chicken club sandwich. They split a small order of fries, which they order with no salt because they think McDonald’s fries are too salty.

Q. So were you trying to lose weight when you started eating at McDonald’s?

A. Not really. Annette was trying to cut back a little, pay more attention to when she was hungry vs. when she was just bored — little strategies from going to Weight Watchers when she was trying to get pregnant with their youngest child.

She suspects the regularity of her routine — and eating a sandwich she really likes that happens to be a significant source of protein — contributed to her appetite calming down. Other people started noticing that her clothes were getting loose before she did.

Even so, it wasn’t until she went to see a doctor about her aching knees about six months later that she got more determined to pay closer attention to her diet.

Q. So that was a bad experience?

A. Annette acknowledges that the surgeon was trying to make a valid point. He was trying to indicate that she was too heavy to be a good candidate for surgery.

“Except he said it in a way that was hurtful,” she said, still resentful. “What he said was, ‘I wouldn’t touch you at this weight for anything.”

That day she went to McDonald’s for lunch and had a salad and water. But she knew from her Weight Watchers days — when she successfully lost weight but then regained it after her pregnancy — that she needed to eat in a way that she could sustain, that didn’t make her feel deprived.

From then on, she began asking herself three questions before she ate:

1. Do I really want it?

2. Do I really need it?

3. Am I going to regret it?

Those three questions, she says, have made all the difference.

Q. What do you have for lunch if you eat at home?

A. Annette says that if she’s at home, she’ll have a sandwich on “brown bread” with a salad. Often she’ll have tuna on her sandwich; occasionally she’ll have a fried bologna sandwich or even fried Spam. She tries to steer clear of chips. But if she really wants some — like the night before we spoke, she let herself sample a couple of chips her daughter was eating. But that was enough to satisfy her, she said. After that, the answer to her three questions was a resounding “no.”

Q. What about dinner?

A. At dinner, she’ll have whatever the family dinner is — these days one of their three adult kids who live with them is more likely to be doing the cooking — but she’ll just have a modest portion and then not go back for seconds.

Q. Do you count calories or anything like that? Keep a food journal?

A. No. She just pays close attention to her three questions and tries to avoid “emotional eating” by telling people how she feels and then putting the ball in their court — something she used to really struggle with but feels more confident about doing since she lost weight.

Q. What about snacks?

A. “I don’t snack nearly as much as I used to,” she says, noting that it used to seem like nothing ever filled her up.

She thinks eating protein in the morning helps fill her up more. But she also thinks she was simply more stressed out. As the weight has come off, she feels better about herself and is more confident about her eating choices.

Now, if she wants to treat herself to a McDonald’s ice cream cone — or, very rarely, an apple pie topped with a cone for “apple pie ala mode” — she does so. The same with an occasional Three Musketeers bar, or a McDonald’s chocolate chip cookie.

She’s aware that these things are all treats that shouldn’t be consumed on a daily basis — and she doesn’t.

But it drives her nuts, she tells Lee, when he monitors what she’s eating.

“When you do that,” she tells him, “then it usually makes me want to eat more.”

Q. Do you exercise?

A. No. “But I’m much more active than I used to be,” she says. “It all builds on itself.”

Q. How much more weight would you like to lose?

A. She’s not sure. She’d like to continue losing for awhile — especially since she put about 20 of her 120-pound loss back on after a sister’s comments about whether her weight loss might be caused by cancer caused her to stress out for awhile.

“I wish I’d just gone to the doctor earlier and had it checked out, and then I wouldn’t have worried about it,” Annette said. “I basically sabotaged myself,” she says, explaining how she began to eat more to see if the weight loss continued. “Whatever you do, don’t let your family interfere with your weight loss!”

She’s now in the process of losing that 20 pounds all over again, and then she‘ll tackle some more after that, though she doesn‘t have a specific goal in mind.

In the meantime, she‘s thrilled to be wearing blue jeans again “for the first time since I was a teen-ager in high school.”

Q. Do you plan to go back to that surgeon to see about knee surgery?

A. That’s a tough one, Danny says, because of insurance costs. Annette says she would like to get her knees fixed, but she wouldn’t be thrilled to see that same doctor.

Their family doctor, however, Dr. Richard Tielker at Parkview First Care, has been very supportive, both say. Annette says he’s told her that eating protein in the morning is a great idea, as is the portion control.

“I just really like that sandwich,” she says. “It fills you up.”

Q. Any other tips?

A. At Easter and the holidays, she’ll put out a container of candy for the kids, but tries to make sure there’s only one kind that she really likes. That way she’ll occasionally have some of that one kind, but leave everything else alone.

Also, when Lee orders his giant buttery bucket of popcorn at the movies, she doesn’t just eat it by the handful from the bucket. She makes a little bowl from a napkin in her lap, then just fills that two or three times. That way she not only knows how much she’s having, but it helps blot some of the grease.

Finally, Annette says she’s a big proponent of drinking water. Occasionally she’ll have a diet soda, but she really prefers to drink water.

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