By Vic Holtreman
The short version: You REALLY need to watch this movie before you go through another fast food drive-thru: It’ll cure you of “Mac Attacks”, guaranteed.
Super Size Me is the brainchild of Morgan Spurlock and it’s a heck of a concept: Eat nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days straight… breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If it ain’t on the menu, he won’t eat it. He sparked to this idea one Thanksgiving as he was lying on the sofa post-dinner and happened to see a news item about the two teenaged girls whose parents were suing McDonald’s for making them obese.
In light of today’s 60% obesity rate in the United States this is an extremely important documentary. It’s an eye opening and shocking look at the effects of fast food on the body.
Spurlock lays the groundwork for gathering some good empirical data: Before he starts his experiment, he visits not one, but three doctors (each practicing a different specialty) and has each of them conduct a battery of tests and get baseline measurements of his overall and specific health status. He also consults a dietician and a personal trainer.
He starts out as a healthy guy, actually above average. He is 6′ 2″ and weighs approximately 185 lbs. His cholesterol is well under 200, and his body fat is a well below average 11%. Each of the doctors he informs about his upcoming experiment predicts minor effects: Triglyceride levels will increase along with cholesterol.
Another thing he decides to do is emulate the exercise levels of the average American, which is to say that he won’t do any exercise.
Oh, I forgot to mention his girlfriend is a vegan chef.
On Day 1 he has a McDonald’s breakfast, followed by lunch in his car later in the day. He has established a few rules:
1. If McDonald’s doesn’t serve it, he can’t eat or drink it (this includes water).
2. He can only Super-Size his meal if asked.
3. He has to eat every item on the menu at least once during his 30 days.
During the aforementioned lunch, he ends up with a Super-Sized Double Quarter Pounder meal. He is shown at 5 minute intervals attempting to complete his meal, which includes a 44 ounce Coke. He’s having a hard time, and at minute 22, loses it and heaves through the window and onto the parking lot.
It was not a pretty sight.
We come back to him on Day 3, and he’s happy as a clam, apparently his body having adjusted to the high fat/high sugar food. He likens it to quitting smoking: “If you make it Day 3, you’re home free.”
The film tracks his progress over the 30 days, and he stops in for check-ups along the way… the nutritionist is stunned when he puts on about 10 lbs in one week. As time progresses he literally goes through ups and downs: Feeling depressed for no reason, until he has a McDonald’s meal and then feels fine mood-wise, displaying the signs of addiction.
At points during the film he feels palpitations, has trouble breathing, and feels constriction in his chest. By about Week 3, the doctors are getting alarmed as tests indicate side effects far beyond what they predicted: His liver is showing signs of toxicity similar to that of someone who goes on a drinking binge, and he is warned to look out for signs of gout, a heart attack, and other nasty things.
There are interviews scattered throughout with the representative of a large food lobbying group, a former Surgeon General, the lawyer who sued McDonald’s on behalf of the obese teenagers, and various “man on the street” interviews as well. Many (and I mean MANY) of the diseases related to obesity are listed, as well as the fact that the second leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. is obesity. I’m emphasizing that for all the folks out there who think that being obese doesn’t hurt anyone. Of course a side effect of this is also increased insurance rates for all of us due to the treatment of these preventable diseases.
By the end of the 30 days, Spurlock’s cholesterol has passed 200 by a wide margin, he’s put on almost 25 lbs, his body fat has increased from 11% to 18% and his liver is on red alert. In the closing credits it’s mentioned that it took him 8 weeks to get his liver back to normal and over one year to get down to his previous weight.
Coincidentally (not) shortly after Super Size Me was released, McDonald’s announced it was going to discontinue it’s Super Size menu. They of course denied it had anything to do with the film.
On the DVD, there are also some great extras including an interview with Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation“, who describes the history of fast food. His description of how that food is processed was enough to put me off from ever wanting to visit a fast food chain restaurant again. Another amazing extra was an experiment demonstrating what happened to different foods when they are left for weeks at a time in glass jars. What happens with the McDonald’s french fries will blow your mind.
The film doesn’t lay all the blame of obesity on fast food companies… at one point Spurlock interviews a lawyer who is made to look as if his only reason for suing is money and nothing else. People do have free choice, but the point he makes is that these companies go out of their way to make the food pretty much addictive through the use of sugar, fat, and caffeine and that they go out of their way to hide how unhealthy this stuff really is.
Another thing he spends quite a bit of time on is the connection between obesity, fast food, and children. Childhood obesity is one of my hot button subjects… it really makes me angry. Spurlock covers three different school lunch programs:
1. One where the meals come from a fast food-type supplier.
Here he indicates that the school staff’s logic is to turn a blind eye and hope for the best. When a students’ self-selected meal consists of nothing but candy and chips, the cafeteria worker rationalizes that the child also brought a bag lunch: wrong.
2. One where the meals come from a gov’t sponsored program.
We’re all familiar with this: Everything comes out of a box or can. Real healthy.
3. One school stumbled across a supplier (Natural Ovens) that actually delivers fresh, healthy food for about the same cost as the junk offered by the above two.
The third school above is actually a school for “troublemaker” kids. Once the school meals were switched from fat and sugar infested junk to the healthy, fresh food the dean stated that behavior problems went down to almost zero.
I consider myself pretty well educated when it comes to nutrition… I actually read the nutrition labels of food I buy, but I was really taken aback at the information in this documentary. I can imagine most people who don’t take the time to educate themselves would really be stunned if they realized what they are doing to their bodies over time by eating this food regularly.
In summary, I don’t recommend that you rent this movie, I highly recommend that you buy it and as a public service to the ones you love, you loan it out once you’ve watched it to everyone you know.