Last May, fast food chain Chick-fil-A celebrated its 70th birthday. With more than 2,000 locations, it serves pressure-cooked chicken to hungry Americans every single day... except Sundays. One such American who has to make alternative arrangements on Sundays is Texas man Alton Ward.
I wouldn't go as far as to say that Alton is Chick-fil-A's best customer - I imagine there's a formidable army of contenders - but Alton loves chicken. In fact, he loves chicken so much that he chose to make a drastic dietary decision.
Alton, who currently lives in Denver, Colorado, struggled with weight problems from a young age. The link between his love of Chick-Fil-A and his childhood weight issues is difficult to define, but at very least they developed in parallel - and when he was just 17 he weighed 355 pounds.
"All my life I knew I was big, and I always wanted to lose weight," he told Business Insider. "I tried all the diets," he continues. "Jenny Craig, Atkins, no carbs ... juice diets, the lose ten pounds in five days, all the different things, and none of it worked for me."
When he was 18, Alton left home and headed to Texas A&M University. I wouldn't suggest that anyone so articulate would choose their university based on how easy it would be to acquire their favourite foods, but there was a certain pressure-cooked chicken joint right there on campus.
When you consider his starting weight, the freshman 15 (the 15 or so pounds that freshmen tend to gain in their first semester) would probably be "the freshman 50" for Alton. He decided that now was the time to take control. So he stormed into Chick-fil-A and ordered a chicken sandwich.
"When I got to college, I said, 'okay. I love Chick-fil-A, I already like Chick-fil-A, let's see if they have healthy options.'" The familiar sights, sounds, smells and, of course, tastes of Chick-fil-A served as a base from which to build a healthier man.
Alton ate at Chick-fil-A several times a week. For breakfast, Alton would have two boiled eggs with oatmeal. If it was cold outside, he'd have soup. If not, he might pop into his favourite eatery and have a grilled chicken wrap or a salad with a small amount of ranch dressing. Some days he'd eat there for lunch and dinner - to get his fill of delicious Chick-fil-A.
Paired with an exercise regime, Alton was able to lose 140 pounds in 11 and a half months. "I wouldn't say all of it is Chick-fil-A, because I have to make my own decisions," he stated, but expressed that Chick-fil-A has "tasty, healthy options that worked for me and...my palate."
"People are always looking for the short term solution," said Alton, now 25. "Chick-fil-A just helped me to take a step back and understand that I have to make a long term life change and find food that works for me and exercise that works for me and make it fun."
While I wouldn't suggest you start making daily trips to McDonald's if you want to lose weight, Alton isn't the only one who has used fast food to shed some pounds. If you've heard of the Subway diet, you'll know that the universe's most famous sandwich shop claims you can lose weight by eating there regularly (a claim which a recently-thinner friend of mine will back up).
"Fast food doesn't have to be, you know, greasy burgers and..artery clogging," Alton said. "I think that's a misconception or a stereotype. Pretty much every restaurant, of course Chick-fil-A, will have healthy options, they're just a little more expensive."
Fast food franchises are often seen as uncaring or evil, meaning they have to work even harder to market themselves to the public. These anonymous conglomerates and faceless corporations spend billions creating character - and positioning themselves as warm and familiar in a world which is increasingly chaotic and unknowable.
In Alton's case, he arrived at university and was greeted by a face which he recognised. It was the face of a cartoon chicken, on a sign above a fast food joint, but it was one which he recognised nonetheless. Furthermore, he was able to buck the trend and lose weight not through punishing himself, but by being more mindful of what he was putting in his mouth.