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Has McDonald's Found Its Jared?

Devoted Customer Loses 86 Lbs., but 'Starvation' Menu Isn't for Everyone

By Published on . 3

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- How's this for turning an old fast-food story on its head: Man eats only McDonald's for six months and loses weight. Chris Coleson, a Richmond, Va., businessman, ate salads, wraps, apple-walnut salads and the occasional cheeseburger since last December and lost 86 pounds.
Chris Coleson started at 281 pounds (as seen here in a 'before' photo) and is now just 10 pounds from his goal of 185.
Chris Coleson started at 281 pounds (as seen here in a 'before' photo) and is now just 10 pounds from his goal of 185.

Yet before you peg him for the next Jared Fogle, consider that a number of dietitians -- and McDonald's itself -- are moving to mitigate enthusiasm about Mr. Coleson's success. Yes, the same Mickey D's that has weathered onslaughts of obesity-related press in recent years, including the book "Fast Food Nation" in 2001, the film "Super Size Me" in 2004 and the film version of "Fast Food Nation" in 2006. Same-store sales have generally remained positive over this period, however.

Muted praise
Far from signing him as its next spokesman, McDonald's avoided attaching importance to Mr. Coleson's accomplishment. "There have been numerous success stories like this one, where consumers elected to follow a responsible diet with adequate exercise and incorporated McDonald's food in a very positive way," said McDonald's USA spokeswoman Danya Proud. "We continue to work on helping people understand how to strike the right balance between diet and physical activity."

Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, called Mr. Coleson's plan of 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day a "starvation diet."

"Almost anyone with decreased calories and increased exercise can lose weight," she said. "Keeping it off is what it's all about. And if you don't learn lifestyle habits that you're going to be able to maintain long-term, you won't be able to keep it off."

Personal victory
For Mr. Coleson, who started at 281 pounds and is now just 10 pounds from his goal of 185, the real reward is being able to play with his small children. And with his 10th wedding anniversary this week, he's able to wear his ring for the first time in seven years.

He said he's healthier by the numbers, too. Dietitians have warned him that he's likely lost muscle mass and needs more variety in his diet. But Mr. Coleson's cholesterol, which has not been below 250 since 1993, is down to 239 today from 277 in December. To calm his critics, however, he plans to add tuna and some lean steaks to his salads moving forward, but to keep using the chain's portions as a guide.

Mr. Coleson has not spoken with the fast feeder but said that people on the street ask him if he was inspired by Subway pitchman Mr. Fogle. (He's become something of a local celebrity after a couple of newspaper articles, including a front-page profile in the Richmond-Times Dispatch.) He said the idea was born out of his wife's skepticism at his ability to lose weight.

"I told her I could lose weight eating anywhere," he said. "I told her I could do it eating at McDonald's."

Determined to prove his point, Mr. Coleson started eating two meals a day at the Golden Arches (he doesn't eat breakfast) and saved his receipts in a journal. He saved most of his salad containers, too. In another nod to the McDonald's diet, Mr. Coleson changed his license plate from "OLDNFAT" to "MCFIT."

Cathy Kapica, former global nutrition director at McDonald's, said Mr. Coleson's story "simply proves it's not where you eat, but what you eat and most importantly how much you eat." She also hopes he'll start eating breakfast.

Empathy for the disabled
Mr. Coleson will appear on "Good Morning America" later this week to talk about his weight loss. He said he's not interested in a job as a McDonald's spokesperson, but would love to get their involvement in building playgrounds where parents with disabilities can play with their children.

"I wasn't disabled when I weighed 300 pounds, but it made me think about parents who are," said Mr. Coleson, who works closely with his local YMCA and the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides services to disabled veterans.
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