When I first saw the trailer for the documentary "Fed Up," which was just released on DVD in September 2014, I was intrigued. We recently had the chance to kick back and enjoy some family movie time (which doesn't happen enough around here), and “Fed Up” was part of the line-up. If we weren't already passionate about REAL food, I really believe this would have made us stop and think. And, several things really hit home with me throughout this film.
Fed Up dives into some of the evolution of where we are today when it comes to food, fitness, and our health. Katie Couric, the narrative journalist in this movie, questions "We get new solutions every day, everything in the grocery store is made with less fat and fewer calories and yet we keep getting bigger and sicker. It makes no sense. What if the solutions weren't really solutions at all? What if they were actually making things worse? What if our whole approach to this epidemic has been dead wrong?" OK, that got my attention...
Fed Up is well done and I encourage you to see it. I will try to sum up a few of the highlights, which I have categorized based on some key themes. I know it may seem long, but I think this is useful info -- and, I have included a few of my own thoughts where I couldn’t help myself!
- Fed Up documents several families, specifically focusing on teenagers struggling with obesity. Culture was a consistent theme: children eating the way their parents eat, children eating the way their friends eat, and junk food in the checkout area everywhere (not just at grocery and convenience stores).
- Advertising shapes the way kids (and adults) think about food. Between 2008 and 2010, TV and online food advertising increased by 60%, so it is more prominent than ever. This creates confusion about how to eat healthy…the result is often choices we think are healthier, but may be just as bad – or worse – than previous food choices.
- Despite new standards, school lunch programs still focus on processed and fast foods. More than half of the U.S. school districts serve fast food -- after all, fries and pizza still count as vegetables! A great question is asked…if we expect our schools to provide our children with safe water and safe air, why don’t we have the same expectation when it comes to food?
- Individuals are highly influenced by, and vulnerable to, how others around them are eating. In one case, the family of a 14 year old boy said they had no control over what their son ate so they gave up, resorting to bariatric surgery…for a 14 year old!
- Each of us needs to do something to help fix the problem. We have to make it easier for parents to do what they want to do, which is feed their children healthier foods.
- We have heard the statistics so much now that most of us probably have begun to tune them out…heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer. But when I hear about 8 year olds having strokes and 20 year olds having heart attacks, it forces me to stop and think...what is happening here?!
- Eating habits are causing chronic health problems. “Disease doesn’t happen with 1 meal, but happens with 1,000.”
- Disease doesn’t just apply to people who LOOK overweight…and thin doesn’t equal healthy. Many people are “TOFI” (yes, they have a name for it) – thin on the outside, but fat on the inside. Thin people can be unhealthy…some of these people may even be pre-diabetic, but don’t know it.
- While genetics plays a role, “genetics is not what this is about.”
- Dr. Robert Lustig summarizes a major change in sugar intake. While there is a safe level of sugar consumption, from 1977 to 2000, Americans have literally doubled their added sugar intake. And added sugar is a chronic, dose dependent, liver toxin (because sugar and fructose can only be processed in the liver). I like their simple explanation of how sugar is processed in our bodies and why a calorie is not a calorie. If you eat 160 calories of almonds, the almonds would not be immediately absorbed in your body (because of the fiber), which means a lower blood sugar rise. Compare that to 160 calories from soda, which has no fiber, and your body absorbs the soda straight into your liver with an immediate sugar rush. Then, your body has no choice but to generate insulin to immediately turn the sugar into fat. Wonder why you don't feel full? Increased insulin blocks signals telling your brain you are full and then the vicious cycle continues! Although, when it comes to fruit, the natural sugars in fruit do not have the same effect because of the fiber in the fruit (so fruit is absorbed similar to the almonds).
- I wouldn’t say Fed Up blatantly bashes the food industry, but it does discuss how good the food industry is at protecting its ability to sell processed foods, make us think it's normal to eat these foods, and keep us coming back for more!
- One example is from the late 1970s, when the dietary guidelines were revised. After the food industry demanded a rewrite, the guidelines were revised to encourage people to buy leaner foods with less fat. The food companies were able to re-engineer their foods to be lower in fat...but how does food taste when you remove the fat? Bring on the sugar! This meant adding sugar to make up the lack of taste from removing the fats. Which is why we are faced with the excessive sugar consumption and health consequences we have today!
- More recently, the food companies were able to influence the effects of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Originally, “Let’s Move” was intended to get people to “move” to “take action” including eating REAL food and cooking more. The food industry was able to redirect the perception of “Let’s Move” to mean let’s exercise and re-engineer processed foods to reduce calories. A quote that stuck with me was “junk is still junk even if it is less junky.”
- A theme from the movie is, despite their best efforts and intentions, many people don’t know HOW to eat healthy. Many people have never been shown how to read ingredient labels and how to understand what they are reading. I guess not much has changed since the 1977 McGovern report which stated “we must acknowledge and recognize the public is confused about what to eat to maximize health.”
- Several of the families thought they were eating healthy, especially by looking at the health claims on their foods (such as lean hot pockets vs. regular hot pockets), but they really weren’t.
- Perception that healthy food is more expensive (NOT TRUE but is exactly what food companies want us to think) which prevented families from eating more REAL food.
- One boy actually saw his weight gain increase after he THOUGHT he was eating healthier. Then the kids and their families become really discouraged and want to give up. You hear things like “I’m overweight and feel like I always will be” and “I want to lose weight, but I don’t know how” and “I am eating less, but gaining more.”
- Sugar is a significant focus of Fed Up, especially added sugar found in processed foods. As we know, added sugar can hide behind lots of unrecognizable names in processed foods, but is all absorbed the same in our bodies...and too much added sugar in any form is dangerous. The recommended daily allowance of added sugar is 6-9 tsp, and most of us intake much more than that! If you were to have orange juice and a bowl of cereal (read the labels…I am not just talking about Fruit Loops!) for breakfast, chances are you have just hit your 6-9 tsp for the day! In Fed Up, a teenage girl had over 40 tsp of sugar in a day, and many of us would think what she ate was normal and decently healthy. She had OJ and cereal for breakfast, PB&J and soda for lunch, Nutella for a snack, spaghetti (enriched pasta and jarred sauce) and salad (with bottled dressing) and tea for dinner. Obviously, sugar can add up quickly, especially with processed foods. And, the government and food companies don’t make it easy on us. If you look at the nutritional labels, they don’t show the % daily recommendation for sugar -- there are percentages for fat, fiber, sodium and protein, but not sugar!
PERHAPS OUR CURRENT MESSAGE ISN'T THE RIGHT MESSAGE:
- A common message we hear is to simply eat less and exercise more. If you can’t lose weight, it must be because you don’t have enough will power or aren’t taking enough personal responsibility. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple!
- As early as the 1950s, researchers found that lack of exercise can lead to weight gain, so along came the exercise revolution – bring on Richard Simmons, Jane Fonda and leg warmers! But an interesting phenomenon was from 1980 to 2000, fitness memberships doubled, but obesity rose at the same time…what?!
- We cannot exercise our way out of this problem. Several of the teenagers in the movie spent several hours per week exercising, yet still continued to gain weight.
- We need to recognize that food addiction is a real thing. Studies show that sugar is highly addictive (they reference sugar being 8 times more addictive than cocaine). And, sugar is now everywhere…of the 600,000 food items on the market, 80% of them are processed foods with added sugar.
- Focusing on increasing exercise and balancing calories in and calories out (without focusing on the QUALITY of the calories) is not going to fix this problem.
- “We are all torturing ourselves and it is the wrong cure.”
COST AND ECONOMIC IMPACT:
- This isn’t someone else’s problem. Because of the way our medical system works, we all suffer financially as our medical costs continue to escalate.
- As early as the 1970s, the McGovern report predicted that poor diets were contributing to various diseases and that medical costs would significantly increase as a result.
- 75% of the U.S. healthcare costs are now used to treat metabolic syndrome.
- We spend significantly more money treating the diseases once they occur vs. making the right investments for prevention of these diseases. Doctors generally don’t issue prescriptions for cooking and eating REAL food…instead, they prescribe drugs.
- Government subsidies make the problem even worse. Government subsidies have driven down the cost of corn-based sweeteners and increased the prevalence of these sweeteners in our food supply, while the food guidelines tell us to eat less sugar! The USDA's responsibilities include promoting U.S. agriculture as well as issuing the healthy food guidelines -- there seems to be a conflict of interest here!
The solution has to be my favorite part of the movie…
The parting message is “IT’S TIME TO GET REAL ABOUT FOOD!”
- One of the featured families eliminated all processed foods for one week, then continued to do this because they felt great! After 6 months, the husband lost 37 pounds, the wife lost 60 pounds (and stopped her hypertension medicine) and the son lost 27 pounds! Perfect example of how the right solution can produce results! Unfortunately, the son’s brain was once again hijacked by his culture and environment and…well…you can probably guess the rest of the story.
I do have one criticism of the movie -- they placed some extremely valuable info in a DELETED SCENE!
- In this scene, one of my favorite REAL food advocates, Michael Pollan, says it best...“The most important thing you can do, and it's challenging for many people, is cook for your family. You can forget about nutrients, you don’t have to worry about fats, you don't have to worry about sugars, if you cook REAL food...your family will be eating much better.”
- Dr. Robert Lustig added, “If there is one thing that anyone, and everyone in America, can do to make a difference for themselves, for their families and for society, three words...EAT REAL FOOD.”
- I also loved what Dr. Mark Hyman said: “Find the time to cook simple meals. We don't need to be gourmet chefs and spend 4 hours in the kitchen, but you can make, in half an hour, a fabulous meal for your family and you are doing something REAL. Food is the best medicine…what you put at the end of your fork is more powerful than anything you will ever see in the bottom of a prescription bottle.” When a mom asked how much of this REAL food they could eat, Dr. Hyman said “When you eat food with a lot of nutrients and fiber...it's going to make you full before it will make you fat.” This is the family that lost a combined 124 pounds in 6 months!
- I definitely recommend Fed Up as a thought-provoking movie that might trigger some ideas on what you can do for yourself, your family or others. If you have children, especially young children, we need to remember as parents, we have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to teach our kids early before they have to make their own food choices.
- I whole-heartedly agree with the movie that it's all about priorities and we “typically make time for what we want to.” We can’t…and shouldn’t…rely on the government or the food companies to solve this problem for us. It is up to us as individuals, families and communities make this a priority and do our part!
It really is time to GET REAL about food!