Eating your way to stardom
By Al Lewis
Denver Post Business Columnist
Call it a duel: Two filmmakers eat nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days.
One gains 25 pounds, gets gut-wrenching ill and goes on to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival. The other? Well, she's losing weight and claims she has never felt better.
The difference can be attributed to quantities ingested. One gorged, the other pecked. The point: I'm not sure. But Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's is one cinematically tortured burger chain.
Morgan Spurlock, a 33-year-old filmmaker reared in West Virginia, went on his fast-food odyssey after hearing that two teenage girls filed a lawsuit against McD's for allegedly making them fat. The suit was laughed out of court, but it was just one punch in a litigious assault, attempting to smack down Fast Food like Big Tobacco.
Spurlock binged on burgers, fries and shakes for 30 days, monitored by a cardiologist, gastroenterologist and internal specialist. Whenever the cashier asked him if he wanted to "Super Size," he did. The result: His cholesterol, blood sugars and fats surged. His liver began to resemble an alcoholic's. His belly sagged, his head ached, his mood darkened and his libido went limp.
In one scene, Spurlock pukes in the parking lot. Dinner and a movie will never be the same.
"What you are seeing in my film is a fast-forwarding," he told me. "You are seeing the effects on me very quickly that you could experience over an entire lifetime of overeating and under-exercising."
Spurlock's film, "Super Size Me," opens in theaters May 7. It takes a meat cleaver to fast-food culture and our widening waistbands, but Spurlock's appeal is his biting humor.
Filmmaker Soso Whaley, 49, doesn't find Spurlock so funny. She calls his film "junk science." She's making her own flick about her 30 days at McD's, only she's sticking to an 1,800 calorie a day diet. Her film is an attempt to show that people can eat sensibly, even at the drive-through window.
When I caught up with her on the phone last week, she was driving between New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., stopping at Golden Arches along the way, mainly for salads, parfaits and Diet Cokes. She said she was halfway through her journey and already down 7 pounds.
"The poison is in the dose," she said. Spurlock suffered ill effects simply because "he ate like a troglodyte."
Whaley is actually posting a sort of diary of her "eat nothing but McDonald's for 30 days" adventure. Some excerpts:
"You go girl!”, “the food will make you sick”, “How can you eat 3 meals a day there?”, “You’re Crazy!”—just a few of the responses from friends about my decision to eat only at McDonalds for 30 days. And what, you ask, would cause a person to engage in such behavior? Morgan Spurlock did it and documented his adventures in a new film called “Super Size Me”. Eating massive amounts of food Spurlock claimed to have “proven” that McDonalds food is bad for you and causes all sorts of medical problems. This anti-corporate, anti-fast food take on the “evil” McDonalds is nothing more than simple junk science and should be relegated to the comedy section at Blockbuster once it is distributed. To be honest, I’ve had it with all the doom and gloom, alarmist, anti-everything attitude of certain individuals and organizations who want to control my life, your life, everyone’s life with little regard for individual tastes, freedom of choice and personal responsibility.
Sure, I would have preferred that Mr. Spurlock had chosen some 5 Star restaurant but McDonalds will do. I grew up eating their food, and I cannot attribute any ill health effects to eating there over the last 49 years. Once praised and respected as a food producer that made cheap, decent food available to the masses at a low cost, the Golden Arches is now a major target of all sorts of groups from animal rights to environmental to anti-capitalists. I’m not surprised that this filmmaker chose one of the most maligned fast food operations in the world. Picking on this corporate giant is guaranteed to attract attention and continue a long history of the “little guy” going after the big, bad corporation to right some perceived wrong. Poppycock—Mr. Spurlock chose a topical story, performed the simple task of eating massive amounts of food, and now too many people actually believe that his film is actually some sort of landmark scientific discovery.
I, on the other hand, am motivated to eat at McDonalds for 30 days to show just how easy it is to skew results of any test to reflect your preconceived notions and come up with just exactly the results you want to see. In my case I’m going to use some of the same parameters Mr. Spurlock used but I would rather see results which show I can maintain a healthy lifestyle and actually lose weight at McDonalds, so I will not be scarfing down Double Quarter Pounders with cheese.
Day 5. I’ve lost 3 pounds!!!!! Now, let’s not get too excited, but I visited the doctor today for some more tests and, out of curiosity, stepped on the scale. Already, I am seeing positive changes! Yet, despite these early results, I caution my readers against severely restricting their diets; drastically limiting your food intake/choices for a long period of time is not a wise thing to do.
I’m surprised—but delighted—at these early results, as I am ignoring the fat and sodium contents of the foods and just counting calories. However, I must monitor how much beef and fried food I consume, because I’d like to lower my cholesterol during these 30 days (it came in at 232).
To be honest, I’m not bored with the menu yet, because I usually only eat certain items at McDonalds (as many people seem to do). However, while choosing a familiar favorite might be a safe choice, it does tend to keep one in a rut. For me, trying new items like the McGriddle Sandwich or the Yogurt Parfait has led to wonderful new taste discoveries—and new favorites. Go ahead be brave, try something new today at your favorite eatery.
For the most part, I am feeling energetic and alert. One problem I’ve encountered is ensuring that I maintain an accurate calorie count of the food I’m eating. I will use the McDonalds Web site’s nutritional information page for this test, but may have to locate some calorie counts elsewhere, as they are not provided by McDonalds for some individual items, such as 2 strips of bacon which I had this morning with the pancakes.
My eating patterns are still off, as I’m eating later in the morning and afternoon because I’m just not hungry. Perhaps this is because of the different foods I’ve been consuming. Today, I chose a Big ‘N Tasty with cheese for lunch and then had a hamburger for dinner—perhaps not the most nutritious of days. But, I can make wiser choices tomorrow. Meanwhile, I find it very stimulating to have to “think” about my food choices. Gives my brain something interesting to do
Day 6: Exhausted. After traveling to Orlando, FL, and spending the afternoon and evening at Universal Studios “riding the movies,” I’m certainly ready for bed. ....
I managed to pick up a yogurt parfait and a large Diet Coke on the way to the airport so I could have some breakfast on the plane. Surprisingly while going through the security check point I was asked to place my large drink in the bin with other items so it could be scanned, fortunately there was nothing dangerous found inside, so I continued to drink it.
The only problem I encountered yesterday was discovering there were no McDonalds onsite at Universal Studios Orlando. What a challenge it was to avoid buying some sort of meal or sweet treat especially with all the incredible smells wafting through the air. A trip through the Monsters Cafe was sheer agony especially when confronted with the dessert section with chocolate cake and other goodies, but I managed to prevail and walked away, a bottle of Dasani water eased those cravings very quickly. During my travels I will have to drink bottled spring water order to stay hydrated so that will be an added parameter to this 30 day test.
Day 8: Despite the claims of certain food nannies that McDonalds has a uniform menu throughout the country, I have found that this is quite far from the truth. It has caused, however, some problems in my calorie-counting efforts—especially during my recent trip to Florida. Although the McDonalds web site offers a wonderful tool to help people count calories and learn about the nutritional content of the standard food items, it only provides information on standard items, including McGriddle Sandwiches, fries, Big Macs, Yogurt Parfaits and shakes. However, McDonalds has many new offerings, some of which are found only in certain regions—very problematic.
The new items, such as the Chicken Flat Bread sandwiches and Key Lime Pie, are not represented on the web site, and I’m having problems finding calorie counts for these new menu items. A bit of research on the Internet turned up very little about the new fare except the observation that they were generally considered “healthier” than the standard menu offerings. Personally, I like variety, and that I cannot locate calorie counts does not mean I have to forego one of these tasty new offerings. I just have to think logically and choose wisely.
As I think on it more, we are still far better off than our ancestors, who faced great threats from food- borne pathogens and parasites, risking death literally every time they put food in their mouths.
Day 10: Put a little effort into finding your food, try new things. I had to go hunting for my food today. No, I wasn’t packing a gun or bow and arrow; I simply had to hunt down a McDonalds in order to eat today. Once again, I was on the road traveling back to New Hampshire from Florida and found the Orlando Airport was McDonald-less! I had entered Burger King Territory, no offense to said corporation, but just like a predator that only dines on certain species I find myself in a similar position so could not enjoy one of their tasty offerings this morning, though I have many times in the past. Fortunately, my cameraman had purchased a couple of Yogurt Parfaits the night before for the return flight and he graciously offered me one so I could have more than water while flying home.
This was an unexpected occurrence seeing as how I usually have no trouble finding the golden arches. But I wasn’t as traumatized as you might expect. My senses were a bit more heightened as I searched for the familiar signage but once I had located a site, I was able to control my urges and ordered only the new Crispy Chicken sandwich and an Oreo McFlurry. Because I was very hungry, I tried to concentrate on chewing each bite 15-20 times so I did not gorge my meal and found the food tasted better and I was satiated very quickly.
The visit to the McDonalds in Acton, MA actually resulted in a wonderful discovery. I believe I mentioned in a previous diary entry that I located some promotional pamphlets about McDonalds in one of the Orlando, FL stores and at that time suggested the stores also offer some sort of info board or flyers, which listed calorie count and nutritional information. Well stop the presses…….they are now available!!!!!! I grabbed a couple of the pamphlets leaving some for others but have not yet located any more in my travels.
Memo to Corporate McDonalds: Please make sure the pamphlet A Full Serving of Nutrition Facts is made available to all stores and encourage management to keep the displays of promotional materials well stocked with this handy and important tool for your patrons. Thank you.
[Actually, McDonald's has been printing A Full Serving of Nutrition Facts for a long time. I picked one up at the McDonald's in Franklin last year after losing the one I got about 5 years ago. However, the availability seems to come and go.--RAS]
Day 16: So how do you determine parameters to create a credible science experiment? It’s the midway point and I’ve almost completed my first task in this diet of consuming at least one of every item offered on the McDonalds individual items menu. Well that is, to the best of my ability. When I started this project, I set up some parameters for my little experiment, which I hoped would be realistic enough to carry me through the month. But have found that I needed to adjust these parameters. My original parameters were,
1. I have to eat each item offered on McDonald’s individual menu at least once during the 30 days. PROBLEM: Almost impossible to achieve, as there are regional offerings that are not readily available in my hometown area, but I do run across them in my travels. My base menu has become the flyer A Full Serving of Nutrition Facts that can be found at McDonalds, but I understand that they are currently revising this flyer. I hope they will be adding calorie counts for new items found on the revised menu.
2. I would only drink tap water outside of McDonalds. I quickly learned the impossibility of this when I was traveling in Florida and had to drink bottled spring water purchased in one of the theme parks to stay hydrated.
3. I would try to maintain an 1,800 calorie per day diet. PROBLEM: This has now become a goal each day and a little over or under the 1,800 calories has become acceptable, depending on the items I chose during any given day.
4. I did not have to finish my meals, I could stop when I was full.
5. My goal was to lose 10 pounds and show that a healthy diet can be achieved eating only at McDonalds.
I’m not very big on organized diets, though I do admit to using Slim Fast products in the past and did the diuretic driven Cabbage Soup diet a few times, actually losing 20 pounds during the first week I tried it, but never experienced the same results after that first time. Therefore, doing something as simple as counting calories has been a new experience for me, and one that I have found very interesting. The only problem I’ve had is obtaining calorie counts for certain items on the McDonalds menu such as the Key Lime Pie and the Flatbread sandwiches. Then I have to make my best guess about the wisest choices to round out the days calorie count.
So far, I believe I have achieved my goals and expect to feel the same way on April 30. I feel healthy and energetic; I’ve lost 5 pounds, and I am not bored with the menu. This has become a very fascinating project, because it has allowed me to explore my own food issues and heightened my awareness about intelligent consumption. That’s what personal responsibility is all about.