Matt McClellan is putting his pizza where his mouth is.
The owner of St. Petersburg's cycling-themed Tour de Pizza has partnerships with three nearby gyms, where he occasionally passes out samples. But dough and cheese are the last thing exercisers want to see.
"I was doing this customer appreciation night. People wanted to cast stones. They're like, 'I can't eat that. Why would you bring pizza to a gym?' said McClellan, 33.
So starting Wednesday, the St. Petersburg man will eat pizza for every meal for a month to prove that it can be part of a healthy lifestyle. At 6-feet-1 1/2-tall and 203 pounds, McClellan is not overweight, but says, "I look healthier than I actually am." He normally skips breaks and subsists on his own pizza, Burger King, Taco Bell, Chipotle and sushi.
McClellan expects his health will improve because, according to nutritiondata.com, pizza packs a better nutritional punch than many fast foods. He sees his pizza binge as "substituting the bad diet I have now for a perceived bad diet."
To keep the experiment as safe as possible, McClellan consulted St. Petersburg experts C.J. Jackson and Andrea Preisler Crouch, who will monitor his progress.
"I thought it was an awesome idea," said Crouch, a nutrition and wellness consultant. "People don't need to have to live without pizza. They can live with it and enjoy it. Deprivation doesn't work. That's why diets don't work."
According to Crouch, indulging in one's favorite food can be good for the waistline. "You're going to get so sick of it that you're not going to want it anymore," she said.
Crouch and Jackson have designed a 2,700-calorie-a-day plan for McClellan that includes about five slices a day. They acknowledge that any food can lead to weight loss — "It's 2,700 calories a day, no matter how you slice it," Crouch quipped — but to keep McClellan well, they've prescribed a few tweaks: Instead of skipping the day's first meal, he'll eat breakfast pizza with crust, egg and toppings. He'll make sauce with sea salt to help prevent hypertension. Instead of a blend of skim- and whole-milk mozzarellas, he'll stick to the nonfat kind. Toppings will include good-for-you items like avocado organic roma tomatoes. His snacks will also be pizza-based: veggies on top of dough or a handful of heart-healthy pizza toppings.
Still, there are risks. McClellan's blood pressure and cholesterol are already high, so too much sodium is a concern. Also, eating too much dough could impact his colon, said Jackson, who holds a PhD in natural health. He suggested several supplemental pills.
McClellan keep the rest of his routine the same to make his experiment as pure as possible. He'll still drink two regular sodas and an energy drink every day, and he'll continue going to the gym four or five times a week for about an hour. He'll also keep a food journal and log his progress online.
McClellan notes a distinction between his pizza spree and other highly publicized extreme diets. Unlike Subway guy Jared Fogel or Super Size Me guinea pig Morgan Spurlock, whose health deteriorated as he ate nothing but McDonald's for a month, McClellan will eat food from his own restaurant. If his vital stats are worse a month from now, his health and business could be in jeopardy.
On the other hand, if all goes well, then McClellan and Tour de Pizza's bottom line will be in better shape.
"I want to be a walking billboard," he said.