SparkPeople guest blogger

John McGran has been a writer and editor for national diet/weight loss companies since January 2000. And yet, at age 51, the man known as "Mr. Bad Food" is still trying to master the art of eating sensibly and living a healthy lifestyle. Follow John's blog and you just might learn how to ward off the bad habits that derail many "diets."

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The 10 Worst Foods of 2011

Choosing the 10 worst foods of the year is like shooting beer-battered deep-fried fish in a barrel of boiling oil. Everywhere you aim, you’re bound to hit one.

This year, we scoped out a few fast food joints and a couple of America’s favorite sit-down restaurant chains.

A number of popular restaurants (Cheesecake Factory, anyone?)  do not post their nutritional values online. While most restaurants we researched do share info with consumer, not all are so open with the numbers. And that always raises a red flag for the diner looking to take control of his or her health.

Some of the following “worst 10” are special meals that are rolled out “for a limited time only”; others are standard menu fare at some of our most-visited eateries. Check out our list of the worst of the worst, then be sure to forward it to your friends!

Taco Bell Triple Steak Stack

690 calories
30g fat
13g saturated fat
1,950mg sodium

They say: “A warm, soft flatbread layered with a triple portion of 100% USDA Select marinated, grilled steak and a delicious, melted three-cheese blend.”

Mr. Bad Food says: Despite a cool TV campaign that had a guy who looked part-chef, part-ninja concoct one of these “sandwiches,” I wouldn’t stake my diet on this fast-food meal. I must say Taco Bell has done an amazing job using the same basic ingredients to construct “new” offerings – menu choices that traditionally run fatty and salty.  

The damage: A 155-pound person would have to spend 90 minutes of vigorous stationary rowing to sail away from the caloric damage. (Instead, try Food on the Run: Taco Bell.)

Posted 12/7/2011  2:00:00 PM By:   : 75 comments   137,936 views

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7 Things I Am Thankful for When Dieting

It’s the time of the year again here in America when we all take a few moments to reflect on the things that make us thankful. Rather than rehash the usual categories of family, friends and health, I’m going to take a quick look at the seven things I’m most thankful for when dieting.

I started my latest weight-loss plan about two months ago. During the first seven weeks, I dropped a nifty 27 pounds. But over the past 10 days or so I’ve kind of drifted and lost a lot of my resolve.

Perhaps by performing this seasonal exercise of thanks I’ll be reinvigorated and find the motivation I need to climb back up on my horse and ride on to a healthier weight – something that remains off in the distance!

So, here I go. When I am dieting, most thankful for…

Posted 11/23/2011  2:00:00 PM By:   : 5 comments   10,739 views

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4 Truths about Dieting

In my 12 years of writing about dieting, I have interviewed dozens of experts and have come away with a list of the four main truths that all dieters need to know before diving head over rolls into a new weight-loss program. (You might notice that these sound mighty similar to the advice touted by the experts here at SparkPeople!)

Diet Truth #1: A Diet isn't Something You Go On and Off

By one estimate, up to 95% of dieters will regain the weight they lose. And, in some cases, the dieter will yo-yo to a heavier weight than what they were when they started the diet.

For a diet to be effective, it has to involve a lifestyle change – one that you can stick with. (, ahem.)

A diet is not something you go on, then go off after you've dropped a few pounds. The definition of diet is simply “the usual food and drink of a person or animal.” So to lose weight and keep it off you need to consume food and drink that promotes health, not deprivation. (Need inspiration? Check out "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight.")

Pick a lifestyle you can see yourself still following and enjoying when you are 80.

Diet Truth #2: You Can Lose Weight Without Exercise BUT...

Posted 11/9/2011  10:00:00 AM By:   : 32 comments   18,694 views

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Drink In Some Facts about Alcohol and Your Health

For me, one of the hardest things about "dieting" is giving up my beloved beer. While I am trying to watch my calorie intake, a typical beer just isn't worth the investment.
This past weekend I tried the Bud Select 55 after hearing each can had just 55 calories. I should be drummed out of the beer drinkers association. This stuff tastes more like beer-flavored water than honest-to-goodness beer.
Michelob Ultra, at 95 calories, is slightly better tasting, but neither beer has proved satisfying for me.
I found some satisfaction in a vodka and diet tonic with lime. But booze doesn't make me feel very good the next day, so I guess I'll simply cut back altogether.

My research into the nutritional content of beers and booze got me wondering if there is any real benefit to drinking alcohol. (And are there any Diet-Friendly Alcohol Choices?) So belly up to the bar and take this little quiz prepared by my longtime friend, dietitian Susan Burke March. While you're at it, let me ask: How Many Calories Are You Drinking?

The answers to these 10 true-or-false statements may surprise you. Cheers!

Posted 10/12/2011  6:00:00 PM By:   : 20 comments   19,758 views

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No Fair! My Arteries Dodge a Bullet

I live in northeastern Pennsylvania where recent flooding has had a devastating effect. Many people in nearby towns were displaced; a large number of them lost their homes. Others have a long road ahead to fix up what Mother Nature tore down or muddied up.
My family and I came through unscathed. We can count our blessings for that. We really dodged a bullet, but seeing what others have gone through really puts things in perspective.
I am overweight. That's not a really big deal when others lost their lives or had their world turned upside down by record-high flood waters.
Life and family are what really matters. The rest is gravy.
And speaking of gravy…
The record floods had a side effect that probably saved me from gaining a few more pounds and raising my cholesterol level a few notches. I'm talking about the fact that the annual Bloomsburg Fair has been canceled.
The fairgrounds have been flooded many times in the past, but the fair has always managed to take place. Not this year.
I'm sad. I've been attending the fair since I was a young child. I now have young children of my own and they look forward to the attractions, the entertainment and the rigged games... and, of course, the smorgasbord of fair food.
There's something about the aroma of fair foods wafting through the air that really kicks your hunger into overdrive. We joke about eating our way through the fair. But it's no joke. It's a chip-load of fat, calories and cholesterol.
During a recent annual visit, I feasted on a savory sausage and peppers sandwich, two slices of pizza, a sauce-soaked gyro, caramel corn, a waffle and ice cream sandwich, a blue raspberry snow cone, and a large soft drink or two.
And then there were the deep-fried Oreos.
What is it about fairs and deep frying all things edible?

Posted 9/28/2011  10:00:00 AM By:   : 79 comments   13,638 views

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Getting Fat: What's Love Got to Do With It?

I love my wife. I also love food. A new study shows if I want to steer clear of gaining even more weight I better keep on loving my wife and do everything necessary to avoid divorce.
You've probably seen the research that shows men who get divorced tend to get fatter.
Interestingly enough, women who get married get fatter; women who get divorced tend to lose weight.
This isn't news to my wife. She has long sworn by the divorce diet. Not that she has a lot of failed marriages to use as data for a personal study, but she was married once before and it was after that union that she got into perhaps the best shape of her life.
And then I came along to ruin it.
So now we face a conundrum: We stay married, and she has the better odds of gaining weight. Or we get divorced and she slims down while I pork up.
I don't mean to joke about divorce. I know it's a serious subject. But I just can't help taking jabs at this recent study.
The first headline I saw was, “Weight gain hits women after marriage, men after divorce.”

Posted 9/7/2011  2:00:00 PM By:   : 52 comments   24,666 views

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Dealing with the Glut of Fast-Food Ads on TV

Lately, I've had a hankering for a Pizza Hut pizza. Nothing too surprising about that. But my hankering is for “a Pizza Hut any-size pizza for $10” pizza.
I've also been yearning to unlock the box and dive into a Taco Bell $5 “Big Box Remixed” meal deal  and maybe a couple of those adorable little BK burger minis at Burger King.
Mmmm... or maybe I want a Subway $5 foot-long sandwich... or, perhaps a Dunkin' Donuts frozen hot chocolate or a caramel and mocha iced coffee.
Sorry for my meanderings, but I tend to watch a bit of TV when I am not tied to my computer. And, if you recognized all those fast food menu items that I just mentioned, odds are, you too share a bit of your time with the telly.
Ads featuring the fast food items I mentioned have been running on the hour – if not more frequently. But maybe it's because I am a hopeless channel changer who happens to catch them on multiple stations back to back.
Or maybe not.
I surfed the Web for a bit and found these eye-opening and waist-widening stats; it's Chapter 9 of a government report titled “Food Advertising in the United States” by Anthony E. Gallo.
The meat of the chapter notes: Food manufacturers spent $7 billion in advertising in 1997 – and television was the favorite medium with over 75% of that $7 billion spent on TV ads. To add sauce to injury: fast-food restaurants allocated over 95% of their budgets to television ads!
There's a term I learned a long time ago that really fits here. The term is “ad nauseum” which is  defined as “to a disgusting or ridiculous degree; to the point of nausea.” And surer than spit that's what this glut of fast food TV commercials has become.
Let's call it ad nausea... because I get sick to my stomach thinking about all that yummy-looking food that's calling out to me like the sirens did to the ancient mariners. Should I give in to their savory song my healthy eating will find itself on the rocks – and my resolve could end up broken beyond repair.

Posted 8/24/2011  10:00:00 AM By:   : 114 comments   22,032 views

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Avoiding Mirrors: A Poor Reflection of Me & My Weight

I've been living like a vampire lately--preferring the dark and avoiding mirrors at all costs because I know it would just kill me to see how far I've let myself go!
OK, so vampires supposedly have no reflection at all. What I see in the mirror is a poor reflection on me and my excess weight.
When I am not writing for a living, I earn a few extra bucks umpiring girls softball games and the occasional boys Little League game. This past Saturday, while dressing in my protective gear at the ball field I caught a quick glimpse of myself in my car window.
Man, let me tell you, I almost cried foul and threw myself out of the game!
I got fat... real fat, I'm ashamed to say. I know I shouldn't feel this way. Instead, I should get my head on straight, develop a plan of action for diet and fitness and start taking it one day at a time.
It seems that lately I've developed an appetite for destruction. In fact, I just gobbled the three remaining slices of a supreme-style pan pizza – and it's only 10 a.m. on a Tuesday!
I tell myself it's OK to eat heavy so early because I rise at 5 a.m. and don't eat breakfast. From 5:30 a.m. until 10 a.m. I fuel up on coffee while I write non-stop for a client.
By then, I am starving, of course. And when you're "starving" you tend to make poor food choices – well, at least I do!
So what is Mr. Bad Food gonna do? I have battled weight  for much of my adult life, but I've never been this heavy before.
I mean, it's so bad that I walk into my bathroom and do my best to not gaze into the mirror. Oh, I will look at my face while brushing teeth or shaving. But I simply cannot bear to catch a full-body glimpse before or after a shower.
It's time to own up to my situation – and to take the steps I know have worked for me in the past. Perhaps you care to join me. If so...

Posted 8/10/2011  10:00:00 AM By:   : 62 comments   31,326 views

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Cartin' Disaster at the Supermarket

I've been writing about weight loss since 2000. It's 2011. I'm older, but I wish I were a whole lot wiser.
I don't know how many times over the past 11 years that I've gone food shopping while hungry. I do know it's a stupid idea... but I do it anyway. Like just last week, for example.
The cupboards at home were fairly bare--that happens a lot with a teen son and his 11-year-old sister. So I collected up the kids and headed to the nearest supermarket to restock the homestead.
I made two mistakes.

  1. I did it without my wife
  2. I did it before I ate lunch.
Two hours and $200 later, I drove home with more junk in my trunk than Kim Kardashian. (Sorry, couldn't resist that one.)
Don't get me wrong. I have been known to shop wisely. Just not when I am hungry or accompanied by my carb-craving daughter and her brother, who takes advantage of dad's inability to just say no.
So we started out OK with the basic food staples--whole wheat bread, fat-free milk, fresh fruits and veggies. But then we began journeying down the aisles of no return--the snack section, soda spot, and that mile-long stretch of coolers that houses the frozen pizzas and overly processed and ready-to-heat-and-eat foods. And, of course, we didn't forget the ice cream freezer.
By the time I made my way to the check-out line, my cart runneth over with one fatty, high-cal food after another. I could have avoided much of the dietary damage--and the nasty stares I got from my wife when she returned home from work to find our pantry stocked floor-to-ceiling with cookies, crackers, chips and other assorted “treats.”
From experience, I know you don't go shopping without first drawing up a list. Rule 2: You stick to that list!

Posted 7/27/2011  10:00:00 AM By:   : 56 comments   21,287 views

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Take Me Out to the--Burp!--Ball Game...

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back... on my healthy eating regimen!!!
Last month, 99 of my closest friends and I boarded a couple of buses and headed to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia to see the home town Phillies play the Florida Marlins. This week, I am recounting--and regretting--how such a fun recreational outing morphed into a diet-busting melee!
Strike 1!
I packed my cooler with way more beer than water--and I tapped into it way too soon. Sure, beer can be part of a healthy diet. But only when you drink it now and then... and you exercise moderation when drinking it.
Strike 2!
I didn't bother taking healthy snacks on the bus. Then, what normally should have been a two-hour trip turned into a 3.5-hour adventure because of a run-in with a car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
With little to do to keep occupied while we waited for the police to finish their paperwork, I imbibed with the boys on the back of the bus--and I helped myself to some extra pizza brought aboard by a friend.

Posted 7/13/2011  6:00:00 PM By:   : 48 comments   18,635 views

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