Incremental Design

Or How I Lost 50 Pounds on the Egg McMuffin Diet

According to a University of Scranton study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62% of Americans have made New Year’s resolutions. At the start of the year, people want to get organized, save money, enjoy life, quit smoking, help others, and fall in love–but most common of all is the desire to lose weight.

Whether your resolution this year is to lose weight or develop a website, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news: People who make resolutions are ten times more likely to meet their goals than those who don’t.

The bad news: Among those who make resolutions, only 8% report consistent success while 24% report consistent failure. The rest fall somewhere in between.

Groton Pixel can help you with your website and, as a bonus, I’ll share how our incremental approach can be applied to weight loss as well.

First Set a Goal

My 2014 resolution was to lose weight. I had little choice. In November 2013, my annual checkup showed an elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, elevated blood sugar, and liver dysfunction–the doctor explained that my liver was silently screaming as my internal organs were squeezed by too much visceral fat. I’d gotten used to being a little pudgy around the middle, but I was shocked to discover that the BMI chart regarded me as clinically obese.

That had to change. Especially with a new baby on the way, and my family counting on me to stick around for a good long time.

I was determined to lose the 50 pounds–not because the readout on a bathroom scale is meaningful in itself, but because that number would provide a quick and easy check on my progress toward my real goal: to make myself healthy again.

Then Work Toward That Goal

I believe that no website is ever complete. They are all in a constant state of construction, and the best sites are the ones that engage in small incremental changes that add up to a dramatic improvement over time. Similarly, I resolved to make small incremental changes to my diet and activity regimen as well.

My best example is breakfast.

McMuffin Diet Plan: Phase 1

I used to stop by Cosi on my way to work for a TBM Squagel and coffee. Cosi is one of those step-up-from-fast-food cafes that feature fresh, high-quality ingredients prepared by artisans.

Here’s how they describe their food:

At the center of Così is our hearth, an open-flame oven prominently displayed in each restaurant, reminiscent of a comfortable gathering place where people have met for centuries to enjoy good food and conversation. Our signature flatbread is based on a two millennia-old recipe, similar to the breads first produced by the Romans.

Così’s sandwiches are made to order with fresh ingredients and our own, distinctive sauces and spreads, nestled in our signature flatbread. Our salads are equally surprising, tossed to order. Rounding out our innovative menu are a variety of delicious soups, Squagels, our unique flatbread pizza, gourmet beverages and desserts. Something for everyone to enjoy any time of day.

The TBM Squagel is Cosi’s oversized bagel loaded with scrambled eggs, tomato, basil, and mozzarella.

A Squagel breakfast sandwich in its natural environment.

A Squagel breakfast sandwich in its natural environment.

That seems healthy enough, and it isn’t even the highest calorie item on Cosi’s breakfast menu, yet here are the stats from Cosi’s own website:

But...doesn't it count that it's made with fresh ingredients?

But…doesn’t it count that it’s made with fresh ingredients?

627 calories. 26 grams of fat. 13 grams of saturated fat. 751 mg of sodium. An entire day’s worth of cholesterol.

Now pair it with a coffee. They have very good coffee at Cosi:

Starting out as the marriage between a gourmet espresso bar and a sophisticated, eclectic café, coffee is in Così DNA. Our coffee buyers seek the freshest, most provocative flavors from around the world and our baristas are trained to make the perfect cup of coffee, every time.

From straight espressos to café lattes to a great cup of coffee to go, Così is a delightful surprise for even the most demanding coffee aficionados.

On a cold November morning, it’s not outrageous to order a large pumpkin latte, which is not even the highest calorie item on the coffee menu.

The drink that eats like a meal.

The drink that eats like a meal.

Breakfast sandwich plus coffee equals 1227 calories–that’s more than halfway toward my recommended total for the day, and it’s not even 8AM.

And notice, next to the 94 grams of sugar, that there’s no recommended daily allowance? That’s because you don’t need any sugar in your diet.

So there was room for some small incremental improvement at breakfast time. Since the South Station Cosi is ten paces from the McDonald’s counter, I started by switching to an Egg McMuffin and regular coffee–because your standard McMuffin has 327 fewer calories than your standard BMT Squagel, half the fat, and about the same amount of sodium.

Next to the Squagel, a McMuffin is health food.


Phase 1 of the McMuffin Diet Plan is realizing that a McMuffin is actually better for you than what you’d been eating before.

McMuffin Diet Plan: Phase 2

Often, in food as in web design, a pretty big change comes quickly. But then you need to tinker and optimize.

McDonald’s offers a McMuffin variant called the Egg White Delight–using egg whites instead of the whole egg, a better slab of cheese-type substance, and a whole-grain muffin.

Health food!

Health food!

Order it without the bacon and pat of margarine, and you’ll be down to 210 calories–30% fewer calories than the standard McMuffin, and a whopping 65% fewer calories than a BMT Squagel.


Just by swapping my Squagel and latte for a McMuffin and coffee, I’d saved over 500 calories per day. Which is over 3500 calories in a week. Which is over a pound of weight loss from just one change at breakfast.

Without having to make any other lifestyle changes, I was eating a McMuffin every morning and consistently losing weight.

Phase 2 of the McMuffin Diet Plan comes from tinkering to make a better version of the McMuffin.

McMuffin Diet Plan: Phase 3

In web design, content is king, and not all content is equal. Some sites strive for a level of content that’s more reliable, better sourced, more regularly scheduled, more useful, or more entertaining.

In food, not all calories are equal. Some come with baggage–sodium, additives, and junk–while others are packed with vitamins and natural goodness.

In the modified Egg White Delight, 130 of its 210 calories are in the muffin. That seems excessive, especially compared to the nutritional value that muffin brings to the table.

For about the same number of calories, you can drop the muffin, add another egg, throw in some mushrooms and onion, and make an omelette. You just might have to do this at home, as most McDonald’s restaurants aren’t quite that accommodating.

You can switch out McDonald’s eggs:

Ingredients: Egg Whites.
Prepared with Liquid Margarine: Liquid Soybean Oil and Hydrogenated Cottonseed and Soybean Oils, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Mono-and Diglycerides, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives), Artificial Flavor, Citric Acid, Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta Carotene (Color).

For some of these:

Ingredients: Eggs. From the farm. Which are easy enough to get, here in Groton.

And switch out McDonald’s cheese:

Ingredients: Milk, Water, Cheese Culture, Cream, Sodium Citrate, Contains 2% or less of: Salt, Citric Acid, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), May Contain One or More of: Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Pyrophosphate, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Enzymes, Acetic Acid, Soy Lecithin (Added for Slice Separation).

For some of this:

Ingredients: Cheese. Possibly cheddar, mozzarella, feta, Swiss, blue, or any number of others. Including some that come from goats.

I call this a do-it-yourself McMuffin, and there’s so much potential for variety! Some mornings, your McMuffin can be a hard-boiled egg and a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese on the run. Some mornings, your McMuffin can be a poached egg on a bed of sauteed spinach. Often, my McMuffin is splashed with Sriracha sauce. Whatever you want. Whatever you like. As long as you’re swapping out iffy ingredients for healthier choices, you’ll end up with a less-iffy and more-healthy McMuffin.

Phase 3 of the McMuffin Diet Plan involves remaking the McMuffin with your own ingredients, in your own style, in your own kitchen, and having fun with it.

McMuffin Diet Plan: Phase 4

Now do the same with lunch.

Now do the same with dinner.

Now do the same with snacks.

Now do the same with beverages.

Now do the same with exercise.

McMuffin Diet Plan: Phase 5

I went back to the doctor in November 2014, down 50 pounds with normalized numbers across the board. Even the cholesterol, despite the fact that I’m eating eggs most every morning. I’ve lost eight inches from my waistline. I’m wearing mediums instead of XLs and XXLs. My liver is no longer shouting at me. And I have extra energy to spare.

So…mission accomplished?

Just last month, someone asked me whether I was still on my program. That confused me because I was never on a program. My plan was never to do something, lose weight, and then stop doing the thing that led to my weight loss. To me, that’s just crazy–and yet, that’s what many of the major diet programs advocate, which is why they tend to fail in the long run.

My plan was to gradually change my bad habits into better habits that I could keep for the rest of my life.

That’s the difference between the McMuffin Diet Plan and most other diet plans: the McMuffin Diet Plan never ends. By design.

If I find that my weight is starting to climb back upward, it will be because I’ve let a couple good habits go slack, and it just takes a little adjustment to get back on track.

Anyway, in case you’re interested, that’s also how I approach web design. If it’s done right, it never ends–by design.

If you set up a site and then ignore it, the content will become stale and increasingly outdated, the software will become increasingly obsolete and insecure, and the user experience will become degraded–but a regular review and update program will keep that site in tip-tip shape.

You are the McMuffin. Your website is the McMuffin. And the McMuffin just keeps getting better and better all the time.

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