Pizza is a health food

My name is Matt McClellan, and in July 2009, I created a pizza-only diet to prove that pizza is the healthiest fast food on the market. My approach was simple: Take one large pizza, eat one slice every three hours (changing toppings accordingly) and exercise regularly. As a result, I lost 24 pounds, my cholesterol dropped 86 points, I lowered my blood pressure to 118/80 and I lost 5” from my waist in 30 days. (Why 30 days? Because it is reported, on average, that it takes 21 to 30 days to create a new habit, good or bad.) If you’re shocked by my results, I know how you feel—I shocked myself! Unlike other fast-food diets, I don’t want to go on a promotional expedition to tell people to eat only pizza and get healthy like me. Instead, I want to educate and inspire people to change their lives. 

How was the pizza diet created? As a new pizzeria owner in the worst economy since the Depression, I was trying to promote my business in any way possible. Gold’s Gym contacted me and asked if I would donate pizza samples for their customers on the last Monday of every month. I thought this would be a great way for people to sample my product, and for me to pass out menus and become a face in the community. But as the months rolled by, the last Monday of the month turned into a slaughter session—three hours of verbal assault, eye rolling and complaints. Things got so bad that the gym’s manager was asked to bring in another vendor that offers organic “healthy” foods. In defense of pizza, I aimed to protect the industry with the best argument I had: Pizza is baked, not fried, and can be covered with healthy toppings. Tomatoes are packed with health benefits that can improve liver function, reduce blood cholesterol and even help your complexion. You can eat pizza in moderation and exercise regularly and be quite healthy. However, I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. Like so many Americans, I was working long hours, eating at odd times and grabbing the most convenient source of food around.

Here are some key points of my pizza diet: Start and end your day with a cheese slice. A cheese slice has about 30 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of fat, which will be converted into energy for your workout. A cheese slice at the end of the day is the least amount of food for your body to digest overnight. When your body runs out of gas (nutrients), it burns muscle to keep going (not fat). This is why it’s important to have nutrients in your system while you sleep.

After a great workout, your body is able to absorb the most amount of protein. I always ate my meat slices after a big workout and most days had two slices. This is optional and may vary from person to person. For your midday slices, choose from a variety of vegetables and fruits as toppings.

Exercise tip: You have to change your mind-set about working out. The best advice I can give is, treat your workout like a job. When you clock in at the gym, turn off your cell phone. There is no time for handing out business cards and socializing during your workout. This the one hour of the day to be completely selfish, and you need to stay focused, because working out requires mental discipline and execution.

Lifestyle tip: Most of the pizzeria owners I know work an insane amount of hours to provide a comfortable lifestyle for their families. What we do not think about daily: If we get sick, are hospitalized or pass away, who is going to take care of our family? It’s never too soon to make a lifestyle change. Before embarking on any major change in diet or exercise, consult your physician. I was not foolish enough to think I knew anything about health and exercise when I began the diet and, yes, I had a nutritionist and medical doctor observe me to ensure I was not taking any serious health risk.

Want to be a success story? After your medical clearance, send PMQ your before and after photos, and they may publish your story! Want to contact me? E-mail me through tourdepizza.com.

Matt McClellan is a pizza industry spokesman and owner of Tour de Pizza in St. Petersburg, Florida.