In today’s world of everything must be bigger to be better, documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock decided to make a point of consuming ONLY McDonald’s food for 30 days, in his now famous documentary project Super Size Me. The results confirmed that if you consume a diet of three square meals of high animal fat protein, sodium explosive french fries and super-sized, sugar-filled sodas you are going to gain weight and put your body at risk for a myriad of potentially deadly diseases. Are any of us surprised by this?
First, let’s discuss weight gain. Morgan’s weight gain was fast and significant. After visiting three different doctors and a nutrition expert we know that Morgan was at a healthy weight (185.5) for his height. He sported a healthy BMI rate, too. However, five days into his project and a second weigh-in visit we started to see the significant changes (8 pounds in five days!). His nutritionist determined that his daily calorie intake jumped to 2,000 calories per day. The fast and significant weight gain should have been predictable when the rules of his project determine three meals per day, consuming only what is on the McDonald’s menu AND those meals must be super-sized if the clerk suggests it.
Still, even the nutritionist is surprised by just how much he gained. How many times have any of us visited any fast food establishments where we are up-sold on our “regular” meals (though regular in the fast food industry is typically giant sized anyways)? At the end of Morgan’s project, at final weigh-in we see that he has jumped to a final weight of 210 pounds. A total weight gain of 24.5 pounds!
I don’t dispute the argument that fast food is unhealthy, however, I believe that you can find some healthier choices on a fast-food restaurant menu. According to Fitness Magazine if you must visit McDonald’s instead of super-sizing your order, get a Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken and low-fat balsamic vinaigrette plus a Fruit n’ Yogurt Parfait. This choice will set you back only 375 calories with 9.5 grams of fat (4g saturated).
Second, we are informed that obesity increases your risk for cardiovascular diseases (and myriad other potentially fatal diseases). Super-Size Me states that obesity is the second cause of deaths in America, second only to smoking. The cardiovascular disease risk rises when your LDL cholesterol levels lower, which is typical of someone who is obese. This alone increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and strokes.
Morgan’s initial visit to the doctor discusses his family history, which includes heart disease. Guilty by association, this puts Morgan at a higher risk for heart disease. Advice from his doctor at the start of the project seems to state the obvious: his cholesterol levels will increase and he will gain weight. Nearly at the end of his journey, on day 21, Morgan documents how he wakes up to difficulty breathing and he feels like he is having heart palpitations. A follow up visit to his doctor at this time informs him that he’s probably starting to damage his liver.
The doctor’s advice? Stop the project.
Finally, Morgan describes the mood swings that he encounters while consuming this diet. Five days into his project and he discusses the depression that he is feeling throughout the day, only seeming to disappear after consuming the loaded Big Mac, along with his super-sized french fries and super-large nothing but sugar soda. The happiness that he seems to be feeling as he is consuming the meal, quickly disappears after his last bite. So begins the cycle of happy highs and lonely lows.
Being a recovering fast-food addict I can remember those feelings. What is it about some of these fast-food establishments that make us want to eat, eat and eat MORE of their food, even when we know we’ve had enough? I used to refer to this as the Taco Bell syndrome. I can remember days when I would go through the Taco Bell drive-thru and have a difficult time picking just one thing off of the menu. On those days I would often times drive off with not ONE of their crunchy ground beef tacos but THREE and then adding a calorie-filled nachos supreme for good measure. Why? I was certain this would be the last time that I ate a fast food meal, so I justified to myself. I wonder if what Morgan and I were experiencing back then was food addictive behavior.
We are starting to read about how certain foods affect the brain, causing you to want them more and more, like a drug addict wants/needs his/her drug. According to Authority Nutrition, “Food addiction is a very serious problem and one of the main reasons some people just can’t control themselves around certain foods, no matter how hard they try.”
I agree with Morgan that America is obese and that it has reached epidemic proportions. Our children are some of the most obese in the world. And, we live in a fast nation. Everything that we do seems to run on the speed of light, so we tend to want our nutrition –or lack thereof — delivered in this manner too. As American adults we have the personal responsibility to decide what we are going to eat throughout the day. If we decide to frequent a fast food restaurant our responsibility to the health of our bodies shouldn’t remain outside the doors of the restaurant, it should come inside with us and help us to ensure that the choices we make our healthy, in spite of where we eat.