If Science Definitively Proved Junk Food Was Worse Than Heroin Would You Give It Up?

Last night I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, a film about an overweight Australian, Joe Cross, going on a 60 day juice fast while traveling across America meeting fat people proclaiming their love of junk and fast food.  You can watch Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead right now on Hulu online, or its available for streaming at Netflix, iTunes and Amazon Prime.  Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead is about an obese man, with a rare disease, who had to take a lot of prescription drugs just to survive each day, and during the course of the documentary loses over 100 pounds, gets down to normal weight, and is able to give up all his pills, with doctor approval.

And the documentary goes beyond Joe’s success, because we see other people inspired by Joe.


When Joe first arrives in America, he sees Dr. Joel Fuhrman, of Eat to Live fame, who gives him a medical check up and approves his fast. During the course of his travels across the United States, Joe reports his vital statistics back to Dr. Fuhrman. It’s dramatic. Finally we see Joe back in Australia. reborn as a new man. I’m not giving anything away, because you need to watch the film for yourself to believe.

To me, even more moving than Joe’s story, is Phil’s story, a truck driver Joe meets on his journey across America.  They each have the same rare disease.  Joe gives Phil his number and tells him to call when he gets ready to save himself.  Eventually, Phil does call, and his story is the second half of the documentary.  Joe flies back to America to get Phil started.

Phil dramatically transforms himself losing over two hundred pounds and he also gets off all his meds.  Phil’s success is so striking that he inspires other obese people in his community , becoming a juice faster evangelist.  Even Phil’s brother Bear, who refused to try the diet, gives in after he has a heart attack.

Joe interviews dozens of Americans, mostly fat, but all addicted to fast food and junk food.  Many said they never ate any fruits and vegetables at all, and a number of them said they expected to die by the time they were 55.  We see Joe sitting in diners talking to monstrously big men shoveling down giant portions of artery clogging food.  Most are friendly, and are willing to talk to Joe about juice fasting, some even willing to try a taste of juiced veggies and politely say, “Not bad.”  But none volunteer to give up the junk food.  Phil doesn’t even call Joe, until after Joe has finished his fast and gone back to Australia.

Two sick fat men transformed into healthy go-getters don’t make scientific certainty, but it is very compelling evidence.  I’m working up my nerve to try juice fasting and Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live diet afterwards.  Like most of the people in the film, I just can’t imagine giving up all my fun foods, but like Joe and Phil, I’m overweight, not as much as they are, and I’m not feeling that good overall.  The idea of being more energetic and healthy is very appealing.  This documentary is very convincing.

The real question that this documentary asks indirectly:  If junk food is so poisonous, why do people keep eating it?  I’ve been reading a lot of medical news the past couple years and it’s pretty conclusive that a diet based mainly on fruits and vegetables is not only healthy, but cures many of our modern ailments like diabetes and heart disease.  We literally are poisoning ourselves to death.  Junk food probably is more dangerous than heroin or cigarettes.  We make fun of New Yorkers banning Big Gulps, but what if junk food should be banned?

I suppose we should all be free to kill ourselves any way we wanted, but should junk food come with warning labels like smokes?  What if fast food joints made you sign a waiver every time you ordered a meal?   Would you give it up?  How bad do we have to feel, how strung out on junk food do we have to get, before we really believe its poison?

I’ve known health food nuts all my life.  I’m going to feel very foolish if I start eating healthy at 61 and feel rejuvenated and remember I could have started back in the 1960s.  How much life do we have to waste before we learn what we’ve wasted?

[Thanks Annie for nagging me to watch Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.]

JWH – 3/20/13

4 thoughts on “If Science Definitively Proved Junk Food Was Worse Than Heroin Would You Give It Up?”

  1. The food companies have put a lot of money into making processed foods as addictive as possible. Have you read this article from the NYT Magazine? It’s adapted from the new book “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” by Michael Moss, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his “Pink Slime” series a couple of years ago.

    The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food


    1. Thanks for that article, it’s fantastic.

      I guess if everyone ate healthy all these giant food corporations would go out of business.

      I wonder if there’s enough fresh fruits and vegetables if everyone wanted to eat healthy?

  2. Hi James — I had lost track of your blog with its consistently fine writing, and am glad to reconnect. I’m 61, too, and my husband is 75. Some might describe us as health nuts. We don’t juice, and we’re not vegetarian, but we do eat 6-9 fruits/veggies a day, small amounts of protein, nuts, no junk food or fast food (same thing). Our mantra to the grandkids is to remember that the fast food places are run by corporations who create products to keep you coming back so they can make lots of money. (Nothing wrong with that, but You have to look out for You. They are not looking out for your best interests.) We exercise, too, but not crazy stuff — mostly daily walks and some free weights. We’re both running against our genetic tide and have low blood pressure, take no meds, work hard every day on our first novels, and generally have a blast. We’re only two people, a tiny cohort, but for us, I can’t imagine a better way to live.

    1. Beth, you and your husband are doing things perfectly. People don’t have to go to extremes to eat healthy. Just eating mostly fruits and vegetables with a moderate amount of other stuff is the commonly recommended diet by most researchers. The trouble is in our society, people have become hooked on junk food, and eat way too much of it. Corporations really have turned junk food into an addictive drug.

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