When Taco Bell removed the “Grilled Stuft Nacho” from its nationwide menu in 2015, Chris Sandberg was crushed.
The specialty item — a triangle-shaped tortilla filled with beef, crunchy red strips, sour cream and cheesy jalapeño sauce — was “the best thing I ever had at Taco Bell,” Sandberg said.
The day he discovered the dish, he liked it so much, “I had it every day for a week,” Sandberg said. “The following week, it was discontinued.”
After it was taken from the menu, he moved on and tried other items, but none measured up for him. It stayed fresh in his mind. And on Jan. 4, 2021, he decided to start a daily exercise challenge on TikTok, in the hope of getting Taco Bell’s attention.
Sandberg shared a video of himself, breathless in his bathroom mirror, saying, “Day one of exercising every day until Taco Bell brings back the Grilled Stuft Nacho.”
The seven-second clip went viral with hundreds of thousands of views. Sandberg doubled down on his unusual — and somewhat illogical — effort to apply pressure to the restaurant chain through physical activity. He posted another mid-workout video the following day, and every single day thereafter. In the roughly 470 days since he started chronicling his daily exercise routine on TikTok, Sandberg has shed more than 85 pounds.
“I’ve put in an unbelievable amount of physical work,” said Sandberg, who lives in San Francisco, is self-employed, and produces social media videos and short films. He emphasized that he does not work for Taco Bell and never has.
The goal of his workout antic is twofold: While his primary objective is to bring back his beloved Grilled Stuft Nacho, when he began his Taco Bell challenge more than one year ago, Sandberg — who weighed close to 300 pounds before the pandemic — was also seeking to lose weight. He decided to merge the two missions.
“I do understand the irony in exercising every day for a fast-food item,” he said. “It started as a joke that has clearly gone way too far, but I can’t stop now.”
Although Sandberg initially executed the idea in jest, he quickly realized “it resonates for people,” as losing weight can be a stressful struggle for many. He wanted to find a way to make his experience lighthearted.
Sandberg grew eager to get in shape after “I read that people who were overweight were more vulnerable to COVID, so that had been at the back of my head for a while,” he said, adding that he was 275 pounds when he started the exercise challenge, after losing 15 pounds over the preceding few months.
Sandberg thought that publicly sharing his weight-loss journey on social media might help hold him accountable while also potentially motivating others. He wanted something to set himself apart, a cause that might be comical enough to compel internet strangers to cheer him on.
“I didn’t want the journey to be about a number on a scale,” Sandberg said. “I wanted it to be fun. I wanted the goal to be something that had nothing to do with my weight.”
Enter the Grilled Stuft Nacho.
“Everyone loves Taco Bell,” Sandberg said in a bold culinary statement. “That’s just what came to me.”
Plus, he believed his efforts might actually work.
“Doja Cat wanted them to bring back the Mexican Pizza, and look what happened,” Sandberg said. “The Grilled Stuft Nacho is better than the Mexican Pizza, and the world needs to know that.”
According to the Taco Bell Fandom Wiki, the Grilled Stuft Nacho first appeared on the menu in 2013 but was discontinued in March 2014. It made a brief reappearance in 2015 before it was pulled for good. Some people were peeved, though probably no one as much as Sandberg.
“There is a common belief that everything at Taco Bell tastes the same, but the Grilled Stuft Nacho is the exception,” Sandberg said, explaining his appreciation for a specific sauce.
“I want to make this clear,” he said. “The cheesy jalapeño sauce is different than their creamy jalapeño sauce. Without the cheesy jalapeño sauce, it is just not the same.”
Sandberg found an online community that shared his taste in fast food. Someone started an online petition four years ago pleading with the chain to bring back the specialty item. The petition collected 792 signatures — including Sandberg’s. The appeal was not enough to revive the dish, so Sandberg decided to take matters into his own hands.
First, he began with at-home workouts, then incorporated weightlifting, high-intensity interval training and long-distance running into his regular fitness routine.
“There are days that you want to give up,” Sandberg said. “On the days that you do want to work out, that’s when you push yourself physically, but on the days that you don’t want to work out, that’s when you have to push yourself mentally.”
Sandberg, who said he ate fast food “all the time” before beginning the challenge, believes tending to his mental health as well as revamping his diet have been major contributors to his weight loss.
“I used to think it was just about counting calories, but it’s actually about making your calories count,” he said, adding that he consumes lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein and complex carbs.
Once a week, Sandberg allows himself to dine on whatever his heart desires.
“I have not had to give up anything I love, I just can’t eat it every day,” he said. “I feel the best I’ve ever felt.”
Along with support from his fiancee, family and friends, his TikTok followers are also “a huge motivator,” Sandberg said. “People have been very positive and encouraging.”
“I have found a lot of people that don’t want them to bring back the Grilled Stuft Nacho because they want me to keep exercising,” he added.
Over the past 16 months, Sandberg has not only amassed a following of fellow Grilled Stuft Nacho fans, but he has also created a community of individuals hoping to get healthier.
“A lot of people have reached out and told me that my videos have motivated them to start working out,” he said.
The most important thing is “forging the habit itself,” Sandberg, who currently weighs 188 pounds, tells people. “Make sure you stay consistent, even if it’s just walking for 30 minutes a day.”
Although he is thrilled with his weight-loss results, Sandberg’s goal of bringing back the Grilled Stuft Nacho has yet to be achieved. He did, however, earn the attention of Taco Bell, which reached out to him in February and offered to make him a few Grilled Stuft Nachos.
“We’ve been watching and cheering on Chris since day one. When we saw his one year approaching, we wanted to recognize him and all he’s accomplished. And what better way to do that than bring the Grilled Stuft Nacho back, just for him, just for one day,” said Nicole Weltman, Taco Bell’s head of social, in an emailed statement to The Washington Post.
“It was the best one I’d ever had,” said Sandberg, who coordinated with corporate headquarters to go to his local Taco Bell, where they made several special Grilled Stuft Nachos for him, as well as a jar of cheesy jalapeño sauce, which Sandberg is saving for the right occasion.
Weltman said “there are currently no plans for the return of Grilled Stuft Nacho, but just like all of our fan favorites, we never say never on what the future may hold.”
Sandberg is not giving up hope.
“I will feel very good if Taco Bell brings it back because I will feel like I did something for a lot of people,” he said, referencing the 792 people who signed the online petition, as well as other fans he has found on social media. “They want to eat it, and I want that for them.”
Sandberg is often asked whether he will continue to exercise daily if Taco Bell ultimately adds the Grilled Stuft Nacho back to its menu.
“I can’t think that far ahead,” he said. “The important thing is to take it one day at a time.”
Regardless of what the future holds in the taco department, though, “I never imagined that I would inspire so many others to want to live a healthier life,” Sandberg said. “That’s reason enough to keep going.”