Have you ever looked up to the starry heavens and wondered why it's simply not feasible to live out the rest of your life continually embracing that doe-eyed seductress that is pizza while still retaining the majority of your appendages?
Matt McClellan just might be the kind of impassioned and polarizing figure needed to remedy the bloated, distorted, and clearly unsustainable diets of most Americans.
And his particular brand of subtle contrarianism is fueled entirely on pizza.
That's right, the 40-year-old restaurateur-turned-cyclist and-diet-advocate not only lives the dream of owning and operating his own pizzerias (called Tour de Pizza), he has also built a diet around his lifestyle. And, much to the disbelief of many a professional, it seems to be working out more than pretty well for Matt. In fact, the Florida resident and father of two says he lost 24 pounds in one month—eating only pizza. He also cycled like a badass from his St. Petersburg home all the way to New York City, depending entirely for sustenance on local pizza joints.
We had the chance to speak with Matt as he prepped for service at his restaurants.
MUNCHIES: So, why did you cycle from Florida to New York, eating only pizza along the way? Matt McClellan: To deliver the message that pizza is not a junk food. I had the idea to get an RV and drive from Florida to New York City, the pizza capital. I would travel through 30 cities in 30 days, eating pizza and working out at local gyms. But then, I met a man who was 75-years-old who had cycled from Boston to Florida. So without hesitation, I decided, I'll ride my bicycle up there. Nothing but pizza along the way. I got a lot of worldwide press—a ton of exposure. But the thing that I really wanted to make evident is that, sure, my diet is a novelty and people think it's a novelty. But I'm different, in several ways, from a Jared from Subway. Other diets aren't sustainable. On the five-year anniversary of my diet, I stepped onto the bodybuilding stage and I won my first three natural bodybuilding competitions with a body built strictly on pizza.
Personally, I believe it all starts with health. I'm really trying to inspire people. I'm an average guy. If you want to eat pizza without guilt, you can.
How did the idea first strike you to combine your love of cycling and your love of pizza? Back in 2007, I moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, from Denver and I saw a ton of people cycling and having an active lifestyle. I thought: how can I combine a well-made pizza with a healthy lifestyle? I wasn't a cyclist when I opened the restaurant. I knew nothing about the sport. I started locally, doing some local triathlons and fell in love with it.
You own two pizza places in St. Petersburg, Florida. Where did you learn to make pizza? I learned in Brooklyn. I was living in Denver and I had a partner whose brother was in Brooklyn, so we went tand learned to make pizza there, in Bensonhurst.
Where and when did the pizza diet idea begin? I went back to Denver and began making pizzas. I had this obese customer, a guy eating two extra-large pizzas a day. And from an empathy point of view, I couldn't contribute to that. So I made a deal with him. I said, "come to the gym with me, you'll burn some calories off and I'll let you eat all the pizza you want." Three months later, he lost 50 pounds eating pizza. When I later took the challenge, I lost 10 percent of my body fat, lowered my cholesterol 86 points, and lost 24 pounds in a month.
Sure, low-carb, high-protein diets get phenomenal results, but they're not sustainable. The whole thing about the pizza diet is that it's helping people establish a healthy relationship with their favorite food. That's my message. Having people live a better life without guilt.
What type of diet did you maintain before you started this program? A typical restaurateur's diet. I picked all day long, I'd eat whenever I'd get a break, at random times. No consistency. I'd close at 10 and be out at 11 PM, so I'd be at Taco Bell or whatever was available that late at night. I've learned how to adapt to a better lifestyle for me.
You recommend people eat 6 slices of pizza a day for a total of 2,400 calories. This comes out to approximately 400 calories per slice. But the calories in pizza slices really vary—many slices sold in chains and independent pizza establishments have much more than 400 calories per slice. How do you suggest people ensure that they're not digging into a 600-calorie slice, for instance? I want to really stress that I did a pizza-only diet to illustrate a point—that even a guy who eats nothing but pizza, which is perceived to be a junk food, can get the same or better results as people who do a more traditional diet program. For me, 2,400 calories was a deficit when I started the diet because of my exercise goals. Eating pizza, I was tracking micronutrients and major food categories like fats and proteins. I do a variety of different crusts, sauces, and toppings to hit my goals.
Are any toppings completely forbidden for you? How about bacon and pepperoni? It seems like these would blow your 400-calorie limit pretty quickly. You know, it's actually kind of the opposite. Originally, I was trying to eat so clean—only vegetables—that my coach would make me try to eat sausage and pepperoni to increase fat. I didn't realize that fat is what controls your hormones. Fat is really essential to regulate hair growth and folic acid, and overall, it's a nice balance you're looking for. So, pizza really is a perfect food. [During my pizza-only days] I actually ate a lot of the foods I thought I'd have to eliminate from my diet. I ate them in moderation.
Are you making all the pizza yourself? Are you going out? I do both. Owning a pizzeria gave me complete control over what I was eating, and it gave me convenience. But during the bike ride from St. Pete to New York City, I ate at a pizzeria every single day. If they didn't have nutritional information available, I just tried to use different apps to get at what I was consuming from a nutritional standpoint.
Pizza—as authentic, great-tasting and comforting as it is—our industry will shrink and dwindle if people think it's a junk food. The mainstream media still characterizes us as junk food. So my mission is not about me or about Tour de Pizza, but to change the image of pizza worldwide from junk food to health food. I've dedicated my career to doing this. In July 2016, I'll step onstage as a master bodybuilder and If I win that competition, I'll be a pro athlete with a body built strictly on pizza. That's what I'm doing, man. It's way more than sitting around eating a bunch of pizza.
Thanks for speaking with us, Matt.