“Figures don’t lie, but liars will figure.”…Carroll D. Wright, 1889, U.S. Government Statistician
For martial artists, nutrition is part of the training circle. A healthy diet with proper exercise helps to ensure a better performance and quality of life during increased longevity. To this end, martial arts instructors are often asked about special diets, supplements, various fad diets, and nutritional requirements. Unfortunately, instructors and practitioners are often misled by pop-culture and various individuals with axes to grind or products to sell.
In the movie “Super Size Me“, much is made of the “star’s” decision to eat three meals a day at McDonald’s. Star and director of the film, Morgan Spurlock, claims a personal concern regarding the increase in obesity in the United States as the reason for the experiment. If one was to watch the film and accept the experiment and results as a legitimate scientific endeavor, one could be influenced to take up the anti fast-food banner without much more in the way of motivation. 5,000 calories per day for an adult male, high in fat and sugar, and no exercise caused Spurlock to gain an average of just less than 1 pound per day for a total of 24.5 pounds over a thirty day period, with the attendant increase in cholesterol and blood pressure and the development of heart palpitations, depression and sexual dysfunction.
These are obviously extreme results and should be enough to scare most rational persons into an austere lifestyle!
Unfortunately, the praise lavished on the movie has overshadowed the minimal criticism of the film. For martial artists, this should be important as a matter of course. Achieving balance, after all, is part of the lifestyle. However, it should matter to others as well.
Here are several observations regarding the film, its premise and its motivation that should help the viewer put it into a proper and realistic perspective:
- At the time of the movie’s release, Morgan Spurlock was a 33 year old playwright with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from NYU’s Tisch School of Fine Arts. He had no background in scientific investigation or nutrition, and appears to have developed the idea of the film as a result of various high profile attempts to sue fast-food restaurants for “intentionally” making customers fat. The now failed attempts were patterned after the successful suits against the tobacco industry.
- The protocol of Spurlock’s “experiment” appears to be designed to ensure dramatic results. The consumption of a 5,000 calorie per day diet, without exercise, regardless of the source of the calories, would ensure the weight gain and attendant health problems. Exacerbating the health problems was the imbalance between nutrition value and sugar/fat content of the food consumed. However, the clinic which monitored the nutrition Spurlock was receiving went out of business during the film’s production and no data was recorded.
- Spurlock may have been heavily influenced by his girlfriend (now his wife) who was a “vegan chef”. Proponents of meatless diets have been known to involve themselves in publicity stunts designed to scare people into giving up meat.
- Spurlock received a Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival for directing the film. The movie received an Academy Award nomination for “Best Documentary” that same year. Both organizations have a reputation for supporting what can be realistically referred to as “liberal causes” (i.e.; the Academy Award to Al Gore’s now discredited “An Inconvenient Truth”).
- Spurlock has refused to publish his “Super Size Me” food log, which negates any actual scientific analysis of the movie and its claims.
- Other independent film makers have also produced movies which document the results of 30 to 90 day McDonald’s diets. In two of these films, the subjects LOST weight. In these movies, the protocols included exercise and the food logs were published for review.
- Spurlock’s claim that he was imitating an “average” diet for a regular eater at McDonald’s is less than genuine. McDonald’s own estimates claim HEAVY users eat at McDonald’s one or two times per week and SUPER HEAVY users eat there three or more times per week. Spurlock did not make any claims, nor did he provide evidence of regular users eating three meals per day at McDonald’s.
- In the movie, the health care professionals selected to monitor Spurlock’s health predict “unwelcome” effects, but do not predict anything very drastic. “Drastic” was not defined, even though by any standard, a 25 pound weight gain in 30 days should be so considered and appears to be a predictable result of a 5,000 calorie per day diet without exercise.
Weight loss, weight gain, healthy diet, balanced meals, dietary supplements…. All of these require education and critical examination by the individual with the help of qualified health-care professionals. Relying on pop-culture to dictate personal health protocols or public policy is folly. While “Super Size Me” is entertaining, it should be viewed as “worst case scenario” results… much like the “Jackass” series of movies or the latest email video showing the village idiot trying to outrun a speeding bullet while jumping over a speeding train on a three-wheeled skateboard. The results of the “experiment” will be entertaining… predictable… but entertaining.