I finally got around to seeing Supersize Me, the documentary film where the filmmaker ate three meals a day at McDonald’s for 30 days to see what would happen.I need to think more about what I saw. But here are some random thoughts that occur to me after seeing it.
The first thing that comes to mind is Rod Carew. Carew was the second-greatest hitter of his era (since I’m a Kansas City Royals fan, of course he can’t be as good as George Brett). Early in his career, Carew was slumping. He asked his hitting coach what was wrong. He happened to be eating ice cream. The coach ripped the container of ice cream from his hand, threw it in the nearest trash can, and told Carew to quit eating junk. He tried it. He quit eating junk food and quit drinking soda. He was 38 before his batting average dipped below .300 again.
I know I’ve read several times on John C. Dvorak’s blog the comment, “Someone wants us fat.”
When I worked in fast food, if we didn’t try to “suggestive sell”–that is, when someone ordered a soda, ask, “Is that a large?” or something similar, we could be reprimanded. I didn’t upsell unless the manager was in earshot. I was always in trouble. I know for a fact the reason I didn’t get fired was because they didn’t want me talking–I knew lots of things that company didn’t want getting out. (None of that matters now; the company folded in 1993.)
In the film, Morgan Spurlock visited a school of troublesome kids. The school served healthy lunches–fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that were prepared fresh, rather than out of a box. The behavior problems largely disappeared. Television and video games get a lot of the blame for the rash of ADD and ADHD. And maybe kids do watch more TV and play more video games than we did 20 years ago when I was a kid. But kids today do eat a lot less healthy than we did. We ate out a couple of times a month, generally. Kids today eat out a lot more than that, and there are a lot more convenience foods in the grocery stores now than there were then.
Spurlock experienced depression. Depression is almost an epidemic. All I have to do to get hits on my web site is write about depression. In college I became a hero when I wrote about depression in my weekly newspaper column–professors were asking me to lunch, asking me to guest-lecture classes, and students I didn’t know from Adam were stopping me and thanking me. I thought I was the only one who ever felt depressed. Turns out it was the people who didn’t ever get depressed who were weird! And every time I write about depression here, I get tons and tons of hits. People are desperate enough to solicit advice from some guy they never met who isn’t a doctor and hasn’t so much as taken a biology class since Gulf War I–me. Maybe the problem is what they eat.
But hey. There’s big, big money in depression. I did a quick Google search, and 90 tablets of the low dosage of Paxil (let’s see what ads that gets me) costs $189 in Canada. Of course, in the United States, we pay more. Assuming 90 tablets is three months’ worth, that’s $2.10 a day. I know what GlaxoSmithKline’s saying: ba-da-ba-ba-ba, I’m lovin’ it!
And of course the fast-food companies want us fat. When we’re fat, we order more. We eat larger portions more frequently. The less healthy we are, the more they benefit. And the more the drug companies benefit.
Another symptom Spurlock experienced was fatigue. That’s another common problem. And who benefits from that? Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Starbucks, mostly. Who can function anymore without that jolt of caffeine in the morning?
I’m not saying it’s a big conspiracy. I’m not real big on conspiracies. I’m perfectly willing to believe the fast-food phenomenon happened and the companies that sell drugs and caffeine were the lucky beneficieries.
I’ll tell you something: I gave up fast food at 25, when my dad’s cousin started having serious health problems. That was a reality check for me: my closest male relative died at just over twice my age, and then when another one of my closest male relatives reached that age, it was just a lucky break that he didn’t die also. I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, asked myself if I wanted my life to be half over, and started eating turkey sandwiches from Subway (with just veggies and mustard–hold the fatty crap) for lunch pretty much every day.
And a lot of times when things have started going wrong, I haven’t been eating as well. I know that’s true for me right now.
I’ve seen Dr. Mark Himan on TV a couple of times the past few months. The things he says make a lot of sense. My wife and I have one of his books and another one on order. I think it’s time for me to read the one we have. I’m 31 now, and sometimes I feel like I’m losing my edge. Maybe I should do what Rod Carew did, and see if I get it back.
I think you are on to something here. I know I am in much better shape, physically and mentally than I was 15 years ago. I am in my mid 40s. My wife and I eat pretty healthy (O.K., very healthy compared to the typical American diet, we tend to be hard on ourselves). We both exercise. I am lucky where I live in that there is a wonderful park a couple miles away with many miles of roads perfect for biking, lots of steep hills, etc. So, I bike as my minimum goal 4 times per week and I push myself all out on a bike with relatively fat tires that was less than $300 15 years ago (in other words, I put a lot more effort into doing my route than those people with the expensive bikes and fancy bike cloths). My route also takes about 50 minutes, so it is a good length for a work out. It has paid off. Sometimes I wonder how many of the "fancy bikers" I would beat on my route if I had their bike, as it is I frequently pass them (going up hill even!).
So, almost no junk food (mostly fresh and home made food), good aerobic exercise, (and a little red wine!) seem to have helped us a lot.
Sounds like you’ve got it down, Bruce. I started running consistently about a year ago – three to four times a week, light mileage (though I’ve been worse about it in recent months). I modified my diet only slightly at the same time – less ice cream and red meat, but nothing super-“healthy” by any means. A few months after starting, I had a checkup with my doctor. I’d lost weight, my bad cholesterol and blood pressure had dropped, and I had more energy. Now, if I’d coupled a high-veggie, low-fat diet with my exercise, the results would have been even better. That’s the common wisdom that SSM “proves”, by showing the inverse. It’s really pretty simple stuff, aside from the willpower.
The first reaction I had when I watched SSM was “yeah, and?” Anyone who eats all-McDonalds – or all-steakhouse – for 30 days is most likely going to see an effect. You’ll also remember that Spurlock remained sedentary for the duration of his experiment. Exercise plays a huge part in overall health. See The Amish, eaters of many things “bad” for you, yet somehow healthier than most of us. Genetics are also a factor, as is the case for the guy in the film who eats McD burgers daily and is skinny as a rail. But Spurlock modified the two variables he could to the extreme, reported an effect, and concluded that one variable was the cause. That’s one of the reasons I rank him right up there with Michael Moore as a “documentarian”. This site gives more detail about Spurlock’s “techniques”.
Are there people who will eat like he did and barely move for 30 days? Sure. Will most people? No, though many of us follow the pattern to some degree. If you don’t know that junk food is bad for you and exercise is good, then enjoy your cave paintings or that sand you’re breathing. The main problem is not knowledge – it’s gaining and maintaining good habits. That’s an issue of personal responsibility, which is lacking in a society obsessed with easy solutions (pop a pill or read Dr. Phil) and excuses. It’s not programming by McDonalds, as Spurlock would like to suggest.
I’ll also note that more than one person has tried the “experiment”, but they didn’t stop exercising nor did they push their caloric intake to the extremes Spurlock did. Eating McDonalds for every meal for 30 days, they lost weight and didn’t suffer the side effects.
Thanks Steve for the comments on my earlier post and also for the anti-Spurlock site. Will power, personal responsibility and self control are the primary answers. It, of course, helps if main stream society is sending messages predominately supportive of that, although it seems the opposite is true, and that contributes to the problem. One of many variables, and we all need to do our part, one step at a time.