As one organic-foods devotee discovers, shakes, subs, and other fast food aren’t all bad. It just depends on how you order.

The 7-Day Fast Food Diet

When the nutrition director of Fitness called and asked me to eat nothing but fast food for a week, I thought maybe I was being filmed for an episode of Candid Camera. Or Survivor: The Drive-Through. I’ve never been a big fan of fast food. I’m more likely to be seen in the express checkout lane at Whole Foods Market than in the drive-through. Sure, like everyone, I enjoy the occasional pizza, but fast food for seven days? I saw what happened to that guy in the movie Super Size Me. I’ve read the research — eating fast food just twice a week can cause you to gain 10 pounds over 15 years, according to one recent study.

It could also up your risk of diabetes. So I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea. But as it turned out, my assignment was to lose weight. Now this intrigued me. Although I’m technically at a healthy weight, I’m always interested in dropping a few from my five-foot-four, 136-pound frame. Isn’t everyone? I signed on the dotted line.

With the help of Nelda Mercer, RD, a dietitian based near me in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I figured out that eating 1,500 calories a day would have me losing one to two pounds a week based on my level of activity, which consists of running and walking three days a week. Mercer and her assistant, Rebecca DeKeyser, then pored over menus to come up with a week’s worth of meals. After a lot of calculating, they gave me a plan that satisfied most of my nutritional requirements. Calcium and fiber were low, however, so Mercer suggested that I take a multivitamin.

Day 1: “I Feel Incredibly Full”

Breakfast: McDonald’s and Starbucks

First stop: McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin. I’d never tried one before. I usually start the day off with oatmeal or a high-fiber cereal like Kashi Good Friends. (If I’m feeling adventurous, I have a Kashi Go Lean waffle with cottage cheese.) After a few bites, I decide the egg sandwich tastes pretty good. I wash it down with a “venti” coffee from Starbucks and I’m stuffed. I usually have a midmorning snack, but instead I’m chugging water, thanks to the 850 milligrams of sodium in the McMuffin.

Lunch: Wendy’s

When I finally grab a Mandarin Chicken Salad from Wendy’s around 1:00, I’m still not that hungry. I use only half the dressing, saving myself an extra 125 calories, and I reserve the almonds for a post-workout snack.

Dinner: Subway and McDonald’s

I’m still full around 6:00 when I head to Subway for a tuna wrap with cheese and a Berry Lishus Fruizle (which I assume is another name for a smoothie). Subways in my area don’t sell Fruizles, so I go to McDonald’s for some Apple Dippers (peeled apple slices with low-fat caramel sauce), figuring them to be a decent substitute. In fact, fresh fruit is hard to find on most quick-serve restaurant menus. Typically, your only option is a smoothie, or, um, Fruizle, which is often sweetened with sugar syrup or sherbet. McDonald’s Apple Dippers and its Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait, which comes with granola, have almost double the calories — and less fiber — than a piece of whole fruit like an apple or an orange. The healthiest options, Mercer tells me later, are the Fruit and Walnut Premium Salad from McDonald’s and the fruit bowl from Wendy’s, which counts as two whole servings and comes with a yogurt dipping sauce.

What’s on most menus: animal protein and fat, which isn’t such a bad thing when you’re cutting back on calories. “Research shows that both can be more satisfying than carbohydrates,” says Mercer. By the end of the first day, I’m feeling incredibly full, even though I’ve consumed about 1,500 calories. The reason? I’m eating 47 percent more protein and 15 percent more fat than I really need.

Day 2: “I’m Bloated and Lethargic”

Breakfast/Lunch: Subway and Blimpie

The next day is pretty much the same. Although I’m glad to be eating fewer calories — weight loss, here I come — I can’t say it feels all that comfortable. I’m bloated and lethargic, and it’s only the second day on the plan! I shake off the negativity and put the pedal to the metal, as they say. Into the drive-through I go. A vegetable omelet from Subway holds me over well into the afternoon, when I travel to Blimpie for a soup-and-sub combo. To save calories, I reserve half of the sub for the next day.

Dinner: Burger King

As a late dinner, I order a cheeseburger, small fries, and 1 percent low-fat milk at Burger King, but the server tells me that the small fries aren’t available at this location — only medium. I take the medium and leave about a third in the container, but I learn an interesting lesson: When you’re trying to lose weight, you’re often forced to summon up your willpower and modify. Sometimes you have to choose an appetizer for an entree or leave a large amount of food behind on your plate.

Day 3: “I’m Actually Hungry!”

Breakfast: Burger King

On Wednesday morning, I breakfast on deep-fried French Toast Sticks from Burger King but skip the syrup and at first eat just half because I still feel bloated and full from the nearly 3,000 milligrams of sodium — double a day’s worth, according to some recommendations — I had the day before. As I make myself continue eating, I remember a statistic I dug up in preparation for this story: One-quarter of Americans eat fast food every single day. I marvel at their stamina — and the state of their arteries.

Research shows that too much dietary sodium can up your risk of hypertension and eventually put a strain on your heart. Avoiding it, however, is nearly impossible in fast-food restaurants. At many establishments, you can ask for no-salt fries, but the server has to cook you a fresh batch, which sort of negates the “fast” part. Unfortunately, the most effective way to cut down on your sodium consumption at the drive-through is not to order.

Lunch/Dinner: Wendy’s and Taco Bell

After a lunch consisting of the other half of Tuesday’s sub and more soup, I stop at Wendy’s for a fruit bowl. Amazingly, I’m actually hungry for dinner at Taco Bell, but my Fiesta Taco Salad turns out to be covered in beans — one food I absolutely can’t stand. When did I sign up for this? I have a few bites and decide they’re not going to kill me, and, in fact, they’re pretty tasty. “Trying new foods is one of the most important things a dieter can do — on any plan,” says Mercer. “It prevents boredom, so you’re better able to resist cravings. By varying your meals and trying new foods, you make sticking to your diet plan easier.” Thanks, Taco Bell!

Days 4-7: “I’ve Become a Regular”

By the time the weekend arrives, I’ve become a regular at the fast-food joints around town; the servers even begin to recognize me. But I’m tired of the bloating and the fullness. On Sunday, in between trips to Burger King and Subway, I compile a list of foods I can’t wait to eat starting Monday morning: My usual Kashi Good Friends cereal is followed by fruit and “any and all salad greens except for romaine and iceberg,” the primary lettuces in fast-food salads.

The next day, I wake up, weigh myself and am surprised to find that I did indeed drop a pound. I’m still bloated — a week of sodium-packed meals will do that to anybody — but I’m convinced that fast food itself isn’t enough to ruin a diet. If you pick and choose your menu items carefully, you don’t have to gain, and you might even lose a few pounds. Now, pass that cereal!

My Day-by-Day Calorie Consumption


Breakfast: McDonald’s Egg McMuffin (290 cal/11g fat)
Lunch: Wendy’s Mandarin Chicken
Salad (480 cal/23g fat)
Dinner: Subway Classic Tuna Wrap (440 cal/32g fat)
Snack: McDonald’s Apple Dippers (35 cal/0g fat)
Subway Berry Lishus Fruizle w/banana (140 cal/0g fat)
Wendy’s almonds (130 cal/11g fat)
Total: 1,515 cal/77g fat


Breakfast: Subway Vegetable & Egg Omelet (210 cal/14g fat)
Pineapple Delight Fruizle w/banana (160 cal/0g fat)
Lunch: Blimpie 6-inch turkey sub, half (212 cal/6g fat)
Cup of Garden Vegetable soup (80 cal/ 1g fat)
Dinner: Burger King Cheeseburger (350 cal/17g fat)
Small French fries (230 cal/11g fat)
1 percent low-fat milk (100 cal/3g fat)
Snack: McDonald’s Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait (160 cal/2g fat)
Total: 1,502 cal/54g fat


Breakfast: Burger King French Toast Sticks (390 cal/20g fat)
1 percent low-fat milk (100 cal/3g fat)
Lunch: Blimpie 6-inch turkey sub, half (212 cal/6g fat)
Subway cup of Minestrone (90 cal/ 4g fat)
Dinner: Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad without shell (500 cal/27g fat)
Snack: McDonald’s oatmeal raisin cookie (140 cal/5g fat)
1 percent low-fat milk (100 cal/3g fat)
Total: 1,532 cal/60g fat


Breakfast: McDonald’s Scrambled Eggs (180 cal/11g fat)
English Muffin (150 cal/2g fat)
Small orange juice (140 cal/0g fat)
Lunch: McDonald’s Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken (210 cal/6g fat)
Newman’s Own Low-Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette (40 cal/3g fat)
1 percent low-fat chocolate milk (170 cal/3g fat)
Oatmeal raisin cookie (140 cal/5 g fat)
Dinner: Subway 6-inch Veggie Delite Sandwich w/American cheese (270 cal/7g fat)
Snack: McDonald’s Apple Dippers, 2 packages (70 cal/0g fat)
Subway Berry Lishus Fruizle w/banana (140 cal/0 g fat)
Total: 1,510 cal/37g fat


Breakfast: McDonald’s Egg McMuffin (290 cal/11g fat)
1 percent low-fat milk (100 cal/3g fat)
Lunch: Arby’s Martha’s Vineyard salad w/Raspberry Vinaigrette (440 cal/22g fat)
Dinner: 10-ounce slice Sbarro Chicken Vegetable Pizza (530 cal/17g fat)
Snack: Wendy’s Fresh Fruit Bowl (130 cal/0g fat)
Arby’s sliced almonds (81 cal/7g fat)
Total: 1,571 cal/60g fat


Breakfast: Subway French Toast w/syrup (350 cal/8g fat)
Burger King 1 percent low-fat milk (100 cal/3g fat)
Lunch: Subway Grilled Chicken Breast & Baby Spinach salad (140 cal/3g fat)
Ranch dressing (200 cal/22g fat)
Dinner: Wendy’s Jr. Cheeseburger (320 cal/13g fat)
Side salad w/Reduced Fat Creamy Ranch Dressing (140 cal/9g fat)
2 percent reduced-fat milk (120 cal/5g fat)
Snack: Wendy’s Jr. Frosty (160 cal/4g fat)
Total: 1,530 cal/67g fat


Breakfast: Burger King Croissan’wich with Egg & Cheese (320 cal/19g fat)
Minute Maid orange juice (140 cal/0g fat)
Lunch: Subway cup of Vegetable Beef Soup (90 cal/1g fat)
Roast Beef Deli sandwich (220 cal/5g fat)
Burger King Mott’s Strawberry-Flavored Applesauce (90 cal/0g fat)
Dinner: KFC Tender Roast Filet Meal (360 cal/7g fat)
Burger King Mott’s Strawberry-Flavored Applesauce (90 cal/0g fat)
1 percent low-fat milk (100 cal/3g fat)
Snack: McDonald’s Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait (160 cal/2g fat)
Total: 1,570 cal/37g fat