The other night I watched one of those movies that I felt I should watch but kept putting off – Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock. The premise is simple: against the advice of every doctor and loved one he has, a guy goes on a McDonald’s-only diet for 30 days to see what happens. He must eat three McDonald’s meals a day, try each item on the menu at least once, “super size” the meal if the cashier suggests it, and not eat anything that doesn’t come from there. He also reduces his activity level to the “average” level for an American.
Spurlock is monitored by three doctors, a dietitian, and a trainer throughout. At the beginning of the experiment, he weighs about 185 and is in excellent health by all measures. After 30 days of eating nothing but McDonald’s, Spurlock’s body goes significantly downhill:
- He gains 25 pounds, almost a pound per day (his average daily consumption is 5000 calories when he only needed 2500)
- His liver function drops significantly due to damage and fatty deposits, similar to the liver of a binge drinker.
- His cholesterol jumps 50-60 points.
- His sexual function decreases.
- He suffers from depression, headaches, chest pains, fatigue, and a general lousy feeling.
Obviously, few people except documentary filmmakers would ever go on such a diet, but many people eat out several times a week or even every day. Many of them experience some of the same symptoms that Spurlock did.
National Health Crisis
In between the updates on Spurlock’s 30-day journey, he shares a variety of information related to the obesity problem in America. You’ve probably heard some of the facts before, but they are worth repeating. America is now the fattest nation on earth. Texas is one of the fattest states in America. About two-thirds of all adults are overweight, according to the CDC. Childhood obesity is skyrocketing, as are many related diseases such as diabetes. Obesity is now the second-leading cause of preventable death behind smoking, and I suspect the two will trade places within a decade.
Obesity is a national health crisis that costs us billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives every year, and it’s time to start treating it that way.
What kills me is that so many overweight people don’t seem to care.
Sure, if you ask overweight people if they want to be fat, most will say no. They might tell you that they try to eat right or exercise sometimes, but it’s hard and doesn’t work. They might spend billions on pills, workout videos, gym memberships, surgery, and more but don’t see the results they want.
To be more precise, it’s not that they don’t care; it’s that they don’t seem to care enough to make the changes they need to make. And quite frankly, that apathy irritates and saddens me. I hope it does the same for you.
Most of us don’t start off as Ferraris genetically, but the vast majority of us get a fairly healthy, functional body that should last us many years with proper care. As a Christian, I view my body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and believe that I am created by God in his image. When I don’t take care of the body he gave me, it’s like being given a brand-new car and trashing it – leaving it out in hailstorms with the windows open, never changing the fluids, driving it through a patch of thorny bushes, and finally volunteering it for the local high school’s car bash fundraiser after 60,000 miles. What a waste of a beautiful gift!
Yes, I understand that there are medical conditions that contribute to the difficulty. Yes, I agree that it’s frustrating to be disciplined enough to eat well and exercise regularly. The Sourdough Jack at Jack-in-the-Box is one of my personal faves, and my family life and weird work schedule make it hard to work out consistently. Yes, the deck is stacked against us by a variety of external factors such as the companies who sell unhealthy food, the power of their lobbyists, and educational policy that favors standardized test scores over physical activity in schools. But I maintain that in most cases, the primary responsibility lies with the individual. We choose what to eat. We choose how active to be.
Stuff It, Skinny Boy
Some of you might be thinking, “Sure, Box, easy for you to say. You stay skinny without even trying!” Yes, it’s true that I’m fairly thin. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I try to run at least 10 miles a week and take walks during my break at work. I also eat a pretty healthy diet. My breakfast is almost always a bowl of high-fiber cereal, OJ, and coffee. My meal at work is usually a bagel, a banana, some yogurt, and maybe a cereal bar or low-fat popcorn. Dinner varies in healthiness. I rarely drink soda and try to avoid sweets except on special occasions, as dessert is my Kryptonite. I have to work to keep my body healthy just like anyone else.
Years of desk jobs, hormonal birth control, poor diet, stress, and having two children eighteen months apart had left my wife unhappy with her weight. A few months ago, she decided to make some changes. She joined a gym and started working out four to five days a week. She ditched her frequent soda habit and eliminated most sweets. She started limiting her portion sizes and improving the quality of her food. She isn’t doing anything magical, just making smart choices consistently. As a result, she’s already lost 20 pounds and counting. Her energy level is higher, she feels better overall, and she feels better about herself as well. I am very proud of her.
A man in Super Size Me made a really interesting point that stuck with me. As the anti-smoking movement grows in scope and power, it’s becoming more socially acceptable to encourage smokers to quit by harassing them, excluding them, taxing them, and making their lives difficult. We’re also passing new laws every year that restrict where people can smoke. Especially with friends who smoke, we can sometimes confront them directly through humor, facts, or other means to express your concern for their health and your own personal discomfort from their habit.
Imagine if we used the same approach to obesity. Imagine if we confronted each other about how fat we are, how poorly we eat, and how little we exercise. Imagine if we could demean a Double Big Gulp or a Big Mac as easily as we deride cigarettes as “cancer sticks”. Imagine if we could tell an overweight friend, “I’m tired of watching you slowly kill yourself” as easily as we could say it to a chain smoker. Imagine if we charged airline passengers by the pound or charged overweight people a higher copay or deductible for health care.
Would these interactions be awkward? Rude? Difficult? Painful? Absolutely. But our current approach doesn’t seem to be working, and the stakes are too high to maintain the present course.
So let me take this opportunity to start the conversation. If you are overweight, I am worried about your health. So are your doctor and (I hope) your family and friends. Even though it will be difficult, I want you to do what it takes to reach a healthy weight. Eat better. Be more active. You don’t have to become a marathon runner or competitive cyclist, but you do need to get off your butt and do something. Often.
If you’re currently overweight but trying to lose weight, as I know many of you are, I salute you. You are attempting a difficult task, one that many lack the will to pursue. You rock!
It’s not about having a good-looking body. Believe me, I’ve seen enough naked people to know that most of us don’t and can’t have a perfect body. I certainly don’t and never will. Besides, most of the “perfect” bodies you see in magazines are made perfect with PhotoShop.
It’s about having a healthy body, and an overweight body isn’t healthy. Do you want to be healthy? Are you willing to do what it takes to get there?