Movie Review: Super Size Me



Super-Sized Meals Lead to Super-Sized Health Problems


I went with great anticipation to see, shortly after it opened in May 2004, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s movie Super Size Me, a documentary that follows Spurlock as he eats three meals a day at McDonald’s restaurants for a month. This was because the movie fell into a confluence of two important career points in my own life. Also, the trailers promoting the film hinted at Spurlock’s considerable talents as an entertainer.
Spurlock’s own experience after a month of McDonald’s breakfasts, lunches and dinners provides sobering evidence about the hazards – aesthetic and health-related – of convenience eating. Anyone concerned about his or her appearance from hair loss needs to see this film.

Almost everyone eats fast food

My personal connection to the film’s topic goes back two decades, to when I worked in McDonald’s Corporation’s public relations firm (1986-1990). I subsequently wrote a book on nutrition that was published in March 2004, just months prior to the movie’s opening. My book, A Guy’s Gotta Eat: The Regular Guy’s Guide to Eating Smart (with Deanna Conte, MS RD LD, Marlowe/DaCapo Press), was directed at single men aged 18-39. Appropriately, Spurlock was single and in his early 30s, although he lived with girlfriend, a vegetarian chef. He seemed like the prototype for whom I wrote my book.
The film did not disappoint me. What the filmmaker observed, that the restaurant chain’s employees are well trained to “upsell” the supersized meal package (sandwich, fries and a soda for a price lower than if those items were purchased individually), is testament to the uniform training and smart marketing of the fast-food purveyor. I knew that and always respected McDonald’s for its operational efficiency. Spurlock’s physiological results – weight gain, spiked cholesterol levels, worrisome liver indicators, decreased sex drive – correlated well with facts presented in my own book, that poor dietary habits can result in some very unsexy outcomes.

But you still might be supersizing, even at home

The film had worldwide box-office revenues in excess of $20 million, which is not bad when compared with its $65,000 production budget. And McDonald’s responded by eliminating supersized offerings, promoting salads and other healthier fare instead.
Having worked there and in other food companies since, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Given the choice, people are going to eat what tastes best to them, and in quantities beyond what they need, when it’s available. McDonald’s salads are not going to solve the obesity crisis. They probably will not generate profit for the company either.
And, supersized, high-calorie, high-fat, low-fiber meals are sold everywhere – at other fast-food restaurants, submarine sandwich chains and “family” and fine-dining establishments, as well as on your grocer’s shelves. Take a look at the Nutrition Facts on the last frozen, prepared meal you reheated at home – you may find it differs very little from your most recent burger meal.
This is because most commercially prepared food items won’t sell if they’re not rich in fat, salt or sugar. Food companies have tried – even those restaurants providing salads know that the amount of dressing, cheese and croutons people put on them often adds as much or more fat, sugar and salt as in the meat-and-potatoes meal.
The solution: Make your own meals as much as possible. And for times when you simply won’t be home for hours and you’re hungry, order a simple hamburger. The protein and fat in that burger will digest more slowly than a sugary snack, enough to tide you over. When you get home, make a great, plant-centric meal (idea: microwaved frozen vegetables with a can of beans, a little oil and some spices can be complete and satisfying).
Morgan Spurlock, his vegetarian girlfriend (Alexandra Jamieson, author of The Great American Detox Diet) and I would applaud you if you do.