COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - When you think of fast food, Big Macs and Whopper sandwiches may no longer be the first things that comes to mind.
The food chains once known for burgers and french fries are now selling salad, smoothies, and fruit parfaits.
In the last five years, healthier options at fast food restaurants have increased about seven percent.
This made us wonder, can you eat low calorie fast food everyday and lose weight and stay healthy? We decided to test it out.
Fast food is about as American as baseball and apple pie with over 25 percent of people eating it two or more times a week. If you're trying to lose weight and eat healthy, the common school of thought is to stay away from fast food. But so many restaurants are now adding healthier options like salads, fruits, and smoothies, so we put a call out for a volunteer to take part in our fast food diet.
Becky Dansby of Columbus agreed to give it a try. She is a 43-year-old mother of nine and thought it would be a lot of fun.
"Trying to attempt to do a diet on fast food, I don't know it sounds interesting," says Dansby.
Interesting, yes, but would it be healthy? Before sending Becky to the drive-through we sent her to the doctor for a health check.
With assistance from St. Francis Hospital we tested her heart rate, cholesterol, blood pressure, and more including her weight, BMI (Body Mass Index), body fat, and measurements to see if there would be any changes, good or bad, within a month. Becky started out weighing 175 lbs and had high hopes for this diet.
"I'm hoping to lose some weight," she says.
With that goal in mind, we began. Becky could only eat fast food, five days a week, with the choice of three restaurants - McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King. She was encouraged to order from their healthy menus, limiting her calories to 400-500 per meal or 1,200 to 1,500 per day.
With the help of McDonald's and Wendy's apps, Becky got the hang of it. At Wendy's, she saved calories by changing her pretzel club chicken sandwich from fried to grilled and taking off one slice of cheese.
As far as choices, Becky says McDonald's has the most to offer. She found their app to be especially helpful because it allows you to modify items and reduce calories.
One week in, Becky was doing great. We caught up with her and her family for lunch at McDonald's.
"It's not bad. The choices are pretty limited. You just can't just assume because it looks healthy that it is."
"The salads are very surprising. A lot of them are 700 to 800 calories without modifications."
Becky quickly learned that just because an item appears healthy doesn't mean it is low in calories, especially with add ons like cheese and dressing.
Two weeks into the 30 day fast food diet, we went back to St. Francis Hospital for more testing. Remember, she could eat only fast food for five days a week, and for the other two days she could eat whatever she wanted but was advised to try to eat in moderation.
Becky had lost almost an inch in her waist and hips, and lost almost a pound and a half. She's encouraged by the reductions but admits it gets harder to follow the diet. She's started adding in a burger Happy Meal on occasion for lunch just to mix it up, even though its not part of the healthy menu.
"You go through McDonalds and you smell those french fries two or three times a day and you're going 'Oh, I want some so I have and it stays within my calorie range and its reasonable," she says.
Dinners were probably the hardest for Becky because she would have to prepare one thing for her family while she ate her fast food meal. Her husband Bruce says he's proud of his wife's dedication but is looking forward to sharing a meal with her.
"She can join us for dinner and not have something different. I hate eating one thing and she's eating something different," he says.
At the end of the 30 day diet, it's time for the final weigh-in and health check. Becky kept a log of what she ate each day and says for the most part she stuck to the plan by eating mostly yogurt parfaits, chicken wraps, and salads. Did she lose any weight?
The doctor's report is in.
"Becky started at 175.9 pounds...in the end she lost 0.8 pounds," says Dr. Hubbuch.
A loss of a little less than a pound, her body fat also went down slightly and she lost an inch overall. Positive changes for sure, but not what she was hoping for.
"A lot disappointed. A lot disappointed cause what was it a pound?"
Cardiologist Dr. Sebastin Hubbuch says although Becky didn't see substantial weight loss, she should feel encouraged. Her triglycerides also dropped, reducing her chance of a heart attack or stroke.
"It helped her feel better in terms of hard numbers...but again if she's maintained this 24-7 and extended this beyond a month's time the numbers would be better," he says.
Becky says she learned a lot over the 30 days, mainly that you can make healthy choices at fast food restaurants.
But after eating mostly grilled chicken and salad, she says she's got something else on her mind.
"A Big Mac. I've been craving one."