When Dan Janssen tells people about his pizza-only diet, he usually gets one of two reactions.
“They either want to kill me, or they think I’m a hero,” he told. Janssen, 38, claims that he has eaten pizza for nearly every meal over the past 25 years. He said he rarely eats breakfast, subsisting on mainly coffee in the morning, and then downs a whole pizza for lunch and another one for dinner, day after day.
“I think I’m an anomaly,” he said. “I don’t advocate this. I’ve been surprised at how polarizing this is.”
Janssen, the founder of artisanal woodshop Imperium Woodcraft in Ellicott City, Md., was raised on a meat-and-potatoes diet but became a vegetarian for ethical reasons when he was 14 years old. There was just one problem with that.
“I hate vegetables,” he said. “I tried for maybe a couple weeks, and then I realized the thing I really like is pizza, so I’m going to eat that.”
And while many who have heard of his diet are nothing short of jealous, some are worried about his well-being.
“Eating the same food day in and day out can limit a person’s ability to get a vast array of foods and nutrients he or she needs to optimize health and meet daily nutritional needs,” said Elisa Zied, a New York-based dietitian/nutritionist and the author of “Younger Next Week.” “While pizza tastes great and certainly has its virtues, subsisting on it and having little else in the diet is a recipe for an unhealthy, nutritionally-inadequate diet. Also, limiting foods/food groups can set you up for one boring diet.”
Janssen eats plain pizza, but mixes it up with everything from frozen pizza to local pizza places to making his own.
“I love the nuance of pizza, so I try to vary it in different ways,” he said. “Once a week to be healthy, I’ll eat a bowl of Raisin Bran, but other than that it’s just pizza.”
His freezer is crammed with frozen pizzas, and then the other part of the refrigerator includes ingredients from artisanal pizza shops. He went to one pizza place so much that he became friendly with the owners to the point where he started helping them with their marketing.
“I would say all the pizza shops around here know me by name,” Janssen said. “All the Domino’s places know I used to work there in college.”
He also considers his diet to be economical.
“I save a lot on food,” he said. “In today’s foodie culture with all the focus on organic and no preservatives and locally grown, you can go to the grocery store, spend $100 and only get two meals out of it. I can get pizza for a week on that.”
While it may be cheaper, Janssen’s diet often prompts questions about how it affects his health. He says he was diagnosed with diabetes, which runs in his family, before embarking on his pizza-only diet, but has not had any complications. He does not drink or smoke, and exercises regularly by riding his bike long distances.
“I understand that this is a disgusting diet,” he said. “You expect me to be overweight and have no energy, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Whenever I see a new doctor, I tell him, ‘I have a terrible diet, and I only eat pizza.’ With three different doctors, they have done bloodwork and my cholesterol levels and blood pressure are great, and I am fit and energetic.
“I’m sure when I’m 60 I’ll drop dead of a heart attack, but right now I am fine.”
Janssen says he’s heard varying reactions since his story first appeared on Vice.
“People are really angry about it, which I don’t understand,” he said. “When somebody says, ‘I’ve been a smoker for 20 years,’ most people say, ‘That’s your choice.’ I eat pizza for 20 years, and people want to kill me, or they think I’m a hero.”
While pizza is his first choice, he has subsisted on other foods when necessary. During a two-week trip to Germany, he ate only soft pretzels because German pizza was so bad.
“I’m good at pretending,” he said. “It’s not that I’ll die if I eat something new. I can fake it, like if I go to a wedding or something. My reputation precedes me where I live. I’ll get an invite, and it will say, ‘We’re having a party, but there’s not gonna be any pizza there.’ I’ll eat whatever if it’s a situation like that.”
Janssen, who is engaged, has seen a therapist about his eating habits but says that right now he is perfectly happy with his pizza-centric diet.
“My fiancée is trying to slowly get me to change,” he said. “I do want to change, but this is how I’m living, and I feel great.”