Since there were so many comments and questions about the anti Supersize Me movie that MD and I were interviewed for and that I posted about last week, I asked the filmmaker, Tom Naughton, if he would write up a brief of what he is trying to do with the movie. He agreed. Here is his overview of his film and his own weight loss efforts.
Well, it’s interesting to see how emotional people can become when you mention the word “McDonald’s.” For my next film I may tackle something less controversial, such as the Iraq war or school prayer.
Several posters asked what direction this film will take. Like “Super Size Me,” my film will be a humorous documentary. Spurlock’s film was definitely amusing and well-constructed. Unfortunately, I believe he gave the audience a lot of misleading information along with the laughs. I plan to give my audience good information along with the laughs. I believe some of the laughs will be Super-Sized.
This film will NOT portray McDonald’s food as health food. It isn’t. (I also ate at other fast-food restaurants during my month-long diet, but mostly McDonald’s.) But because of changes in the American lifestyle, people are going to eat at fast-food restaurants, like it or not. So part of my goal in this movie is to show how a person can eat fast food without getting fat and suffering other health consequences.
I haven’t made final decisions on exactly which scenes to include, but I can certainly describe the highlights, in no particular order:
1. My diet history. I tried vegetarianism, Fit for Life, Pritikin — all colossal failures. But I’ve had success with The Zone, Protein Power, Atkins — all low-carb diets to some degree.
2. My fast-food diet plan: based on my diet history, I aimed for about 2000 calories and reasonably low carbs (about 100 per day, as it turns out … not really low, but hardly high.)
3. Spurlock Nonsense. If he followed his own self-proclaimed “rules,” he could not have consumed 5,000 calories per day; I’ve done the math. He won’t release his food log, despite numerous requests from journalists, and I’m convinced it’s because that log would reveal him as a fraud. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recall that between weeks three and four, he actually lost a pound, then managed to gain tremendously in the final week. His food log would likely show that he stuffed himself mercilessly to ensure that his final weight gain would be impressive. He wanted the audience to believe that there’s something especially fattening about fast food, as opposed to any other sugary/starchy food. As someone who once got fat on Grape Nuts and whole-grain pasta, I disagree.
4. How fat are we, anyway? There is, as Dr. Eric Oliver from the University of Chicago explains, no real obesity “epidemic.” Since 1970, Americans have become an average of 9 pounds heavier — we’ve also become an average of 9 years older. During this same timespan, the CDC lowered the definition of “overweight,” and bingo, 50 million Americans became overweight or obese overnight. Do we have a problem? Definitely … just look at the increase in Type II diabetes. But it’s not an epidemic. You can’t catch obesity or diabetes from the guy next to you. Government agencies exaggerate (and flat-out lie at times) because it helps them get bigger funding.
5. It’s not being fat that kills you, it’s the behaviors that make you fat. Many “fat” people are quite healthy. As Dr. Eades can tell you, thin people become diabetic and die of heart attacks, too. Before my fast-food diet, my doctor said my cholesterol profile was very good, my triglycerides (70) were excellent, he complimented my strength and muscle tone, and was pleased to hear that I walk at least 15 miles per week in the hills near my home — but at a BMI of 31, I’m “obese” and automatically deemed unhealthy.
6. More Spurlock Nonsense. I was particularly annoyed by Spurlock’s obvious belief that people consume fast food because they’re addicted, ignorant, or both. For someone who declared himself addicted, he somehow managed to quit the stuff cold-turkey and go back to his girlfriend’s wacky vegan diet without much effort. After eating at McDonald’s every day for a month, I didn’t set foot in the place for three weeks. If this is an addiction, it’s sure easy to break.
The idea that people consume fast food because they’re ignorant is nothing more than class snobbery wearing a mask of concern. Contrary to what many people think, poor people are not ignorant about the nutritional quality of fast food. (Professor Oliver looked into that very topic, among others.) There is, however, much more social pressure to be thin among the upper classes; poor people are more likely to have an attitude of “I’m fat, and I don’t care.” And if you happen to value immediate pleasure more than long-term health, that’s your choice.
I’ve conducted street interviews with dozens of people about fast food, and guess
what? Every single one of them knows McDonald’s is selling fattening food. (And most of them eat it anyway.) Many of them could guess the calorie count of a Quarter Pounder, large fries and large Coke within 200 calories. Those who couldn’t usually guessed high, not low.
7. The saturated fat / cholesterol / heart disease myth. This is the subject that led me to Dr. Eades. If ignorance is a driving force behind our health problems, it’s ignorance that’s been promoted by the USDA and other federal agencies that harp on us to cut the fat and eat more grains. Thanks to them, women will buy a Weight Watchers “Smart Ones” dinner — only one gram of fat!! — and think it’s a good choice, despite the 40 or 50 carbohydrates. Before I knew better, I used to get pancakes for breakfast at McDonald’s and skip the butter — only two grams of fat in pancakes!! The USDA would’ve approved.
8. The Lowfat Religion. Brought to you largely by the McGovern committee, which cheerfully ignored the testimony it didn’t like and swallowed the advice of the low-fat advocates. McGovern was on the Pritikin diet at the time — but couldn’t stay on it. (Being a true politician, he nonetheless told the rest of us to do what he says, not what he does.) Dr. Eades, Dr. Mary Dan Eades, and others will explain how the low-fat, high-carb diet is ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.
9. The Food Police. Once the Lowfat Religion took hold, the evangelists soon followed: groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest — almost always identified in news stories as a “consumer advocacy group.” A more accurate description would be “a vegetarian activist group posing as scientists.” Their self-righteousness would be annoying even if their advice had merit, but it doesn’t: They have played a large role in pushing natural animal fats out of the diet. They declared trans fats to be safe and harassed McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants into switching to trans fats from beef tallow and palm oil. (Now, of course, they’re suing restaurants for using trans fats.)
10. Exercise. One of the reasons I was impressed with Dr. Eades’ books is that he doesn’t offer any pie-in-the-sky (or sausage-in-the-sky) promises that you can eat like a maniac, sit on your butt all day, and still lose weight; in fact, he states specifically that to lose weight, you must create a deficit between calories burned and calories consumed. That deficit is largely missing from American society today. We have engineered effort out of our lives. At my local mall, I see people drive around for 15 minutes until they can score a parking spot near the door. In addition to misinformed food choices, that’s why we’re getting fatter.
11. My results. When my doctor saw that I had consumed an average of 120 grams of fat per day (49 saturated), he told me I’d been on a “widow-maker” diet. He said, “Well, let’s see what kind of damage you’ve done here.” Then he measured the results: I lost 12 pounds. My body-fat percentage dropped four points. Triglyerides stood at 83. Blood pressure stayed the same. Cholesterol, a slight dip from 230 to 220, although my HDL had gone down to 48 from 60 — but even the doctor admitted that could be because I had given up my evening glass of red wine during the diet. When he reviewed all the results, he said, “I don’t think I like what you’re proving here.”
12. My next diet. Because the saturated fat / cholesterol issue is so controversial, I spent another month on a no-starch, no-sugar diet that was essentially a saturated-fat pigout: lots of double-cheeseburgers without buns, polish sausages, bacon, eggs, butter, cheese, cream, marbled steaks, coconut oil, etc. The results? My total cholesterol dropped to 209, my HDL went back up to 64, LDL dropped to 130, and my triglycerides dropped to 75. I also lost a couple of pounds, despite the high calorie content, and my body fat dropped another point.
Those are the highlights. I realize my descriptions don’t sound funny, but trust me; in addition to my background in journalism, I’ve been a standup comic for over a decade, and there will be plenty of laughs in this film.
I know some of you reading this will be disappointed that I’m not out to beat up on McDonald’s, but in my view, their popularity is a result of our food choices, not the cause of them. Like Dr. Eades (and we didn’t discuss this previously), I don’t believe individual freedom and corporate responsibility are in opposition. McDonald’s doesn’t have any more of a “corporate responsibility” to sell me health food than Ben & Jerry’s does. If McDonald’s wants to spend their own money on ads that encourage me to eat starch and sugar, that doesn’t bother me — I can say no (and usually do). But when groups like CSPI want to use the tax code to force me to pay more for cheeseburgers so they can use the money to tell me to eat more whole grains, that definitely bothers me.
Ultimately, I’m responsible for making choices about my own health and my children’s health. I hope this film will give a few people the tools to make better choices of their own.