Special Report: Drive-Thru Diet

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - In a world of fast food choices, Taco Bell claims its new Drive Thru Diet menu is a great choice for those looking to lose weight without giving up that fast food fix.  But it's what they're not telling you that may leave you hungry for more.

Christine Dougherty is the new face of Taco Bell.  The fast food chain spokesperson claims she lost 54 pounds in two years while eating at the Taco Bell drive thru five to eight times per week.

"I didn't have to give up eating fast food. I just was able to make better choices," Dougherty says in a Taco Bell commercial.

Those choices came from what Taco Bell calls its "Drive-Thru Diet" menu." 

In its Fresco items, the restaurant chain has replaced cheese and sour cream with extra tomatoes and cilantro.  Each taco and burrito has between 150 and 340 calories and four to eight grams of fat.

But if you read the fine print in Taco Bell's ad, you'll see these are not low calorie foods.  Registered dietician Megan Murphy says she is pleased that fast food restaurants are giving customers more options, but she is concerned they'll misinterpret Christine's weight loss story.

"They don't give us nearly enough information as far as promoting it as a complete lifestyle change," Murphy said.

You have to look closely at the fine print in the commercial to see that Christine cut her overall food intake to 1,250 calories a day.

"As a dietician I know that for people to achieve weight loss they need to lower their total calorie intake and exercise regularly," dietician Ruth Carey said in an interview provided by Taco Bell.

Taco Bell's concept is not unique.  At McDonald's, you can order a Grilled Chicken Ranch Snack Wrap and a side salad with low fat vinaigrette for a total of 330 calories and 14 grams of fat.

Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A's char-grilled chicken sandwich and a side salad with light Italian adds up to 385 calories and 8.5 grams of fat.

But Murphy says the best choice is still making your own meal.  For instance, she often makes her own on-the-go lunches that have more fiber and less fat.

"It's only about 360 milligrams of sodium, which is far fewer than just about any fast food lunch that you'll be able to find," she said.

Taco Bell says they aren't selling a diet - just a menu of better choices.  But their promotional website is DriveThruDiet.com.

So remember, if you just can't resist the drive-thru, a drive through diet isn't the magic solution to weight loss success.

Copyright 2010 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.