Juice Master —
A few weeks ago, dufmanno reviewed Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, a documentary about a fat man with a “rare” autoimmune disease* called chronic urticaria who begins a 60-day juice fast in an attempt to alleviate the symptoms of the disease and to lose weight.
First and foremost, I’m not going to judge the filmmaker, Joe Cross, for deciding to fast as a means of alleviating the symptoms of urticaria. If a person suffers from a debilitating disease (and the pain and discomfort of the hives caused by chronic urticaria, basically an out-of-control allergic reaction, would definitely qualify as debilitating), then I fully support their desire to research and follow the treatment that they believe is best for them.
However, what Joe does with this film crosses the line from self-care into self-promotion and pseudo-science, and these are the issues that I wish to address.
The film begins with Joe explaining how “out of control” his life had gotten, and how his eating habits and his weight have caused his urticaria.
But here are the facts: according to the International Chronic Urticaria Society (ICUS), certain foods and additives can promote histamine release, or can contain histamine, which exacerbates urticaria. Among the foods that are reported to induce urticaria are shellfish, fish, egg, nuts, chocolate, berries, tomatoes, cheese, milk, and wheat.
Now, here’s the interesting part: the ICUS-recommended histamine-restricted diet recommends avoiding oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, loganberries, apricots, pineapple, dates, raisins, prunes, currants, pickles, spinach, and tomatoes.
Yet, you see many of these ingredients going into Joe’s juices throughout the film, and on Joe’s juice-shucking site they give a recipe for “Joe’s Favorite Juice” that is made of watermelon, pineapple and ginger. Also, at one point, Joe exclaims how much he loves spinach. Had Joe actually researched his own disease before he began his fast, he would have found that many of the ingredients he lived on were bad for the very disease he was supposedly treating.
Furthermore, research on fasting as a treatment of chronic urticaria suggests that although symptoms are alleviated during the fast, they return once the fast ends.
So, my question is, if fasting isn’t a long-term solution to chronic urticaria, and if Joe isn’t even following the histamine-restricted diet recommended by the International Chronic Uticaria Society to treat his chronic uticaria, then what the fuck is he doing?
Shilling, my friends. Shilling.
And what is he shilling? Is it a cure for chronic urticaria? Nope. It’s the cure for obesity and migraines and whatever else ails ya.
Joe’s theory is that his chronic urticaria, along with everything else he complains about, is caused by “toxins” in his system. The toxins come from the unhealthy, processed foods that he has been living on for years.
Now, my mom buys into the whole “toxin” theory, and has jumped from toxin-cleansing fad to toxin-cleansing fad. For almost a decade, she lived as a staunch vegetarian, but suffered from gastrointestinal distress throughout, and recently decided to live more as a pescatarian. Currently, she’s doing some kind of candida cleanse, which will supposedly flush out the bad bacteria from her gut.
The idea of “toxin cleansing” is the cornerstone of many holistic, organic or alternative approaches to health. And while I support your right to believe that “cleansing” one’s body of “toxins” will lead to better health, I remain a skeptic.
The problem is that there is absolutely no evidence that any of these cleanses do anything but cleanse the toxin of money out of your pocket. I’m sure there are such things as environmental toxins, but they are so pervasive in our society that there is no amount of fasting that will inoculate a person from their influence. We’re in a toxic culture; get used to it.
But Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead spends 97 minutes attempting to persuade viewers that fasting to “reboot” your system and cleanse the toxins from your body will lead to a long and healthy life.
Fuhrman loves vegetables.
Fuhrman’s site promotes a dietary approach he calls “Nutritarian,” which is essentially a vegetarian diet, or as he describes it, “90% of the daily diet should be comprised of nutrient rich plant foods with health-promoting phytochemicals.” Clearly, he’s not merely a vegetarian with a book to sell. He’s totally different.
Of course, long ago I made a firm commitment never to take health advice from a guy who looks like Dr. Giggles.
So, Furhman’s totally on board for whatever juice Joe wants to pour down his gullet. Yet Fuhrman’s own research (a chart review, mind you, not a clinical trial) shows that the attrition rate for Nutritrarians is high at two years, when just 19 of 56, or one-third of the original patients, remained.
But Joe only relies on Fuhrman and Kennedy to provide some substantiation to his claims of authority. We quickly learn, however, that Joe wants us to see him as the expert on the juice fasting lifestyle, despite the rather thin mask of authority.
My favorite example of Joe’s “authority” comes from a segment in which Kennedy explains why fruits and vegetables are vital for good health:
The closer a food is to its natural state, the healthier it is. So it’s like, why are fruits and vegetables good for you? Micronutrients are essentially your vitamins and minerals. Where do we get these micronutrients? They are predominantly found in plant foods.
Okay, that makes sense, nutritionist lady. Plant foods have the micronutrients we needs. Got it.
Of course, then Joe has to chime in and fuck it all up:
I found out that food can be divided into two camps: micronutrient and macronutrient. Micronutrient foods are vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and beans. Macronutrient food is everything else.
No, Joe. Just stop.
Food cannot be divided into micronutrient foods and macronutrient foods, you idiot. Now, you can have micronutrient-rich foods, which are the fruits and vegetables, but there is no such thing as “micronutrient food,” let alone “macronutrient food.” You just made that shit up.
All foods are macronutrient foods, you dolt. Macronutrients are the three major categories of food: carbohydrates, fats and protein (and alcohol, if you want to get technical). If you can eat it, it is made of macronutrients.
Vegetables are mostly carbohydrates with a few protein exceptions, such as beans.
But Joe’s desperate attempt to categorize “good” micronutrient foods and “bad” macronutrient foods is exactly the kind of mindless pseudoscience he’s peddling.
And, sadly, his acolytes regurgitate this nonsense without question.
The “science” of juice fasting as a long-term solution to everything plays a minor role in this mockumentary (in this case, Joe is mocking actual science). The “heart” of the film belongs to the second half, when Joe meets Phil, and their relationship inspires Phil, a truck driver who also suffers from chronic urticaria, to begin juice fasting.
Ah, yes, nothing brings a film to life like the relationship between teacher and student, mentor and apprentice, master and padawan. We get a real glimpse into Joe’s compassion and humanity as he personally guides Phil through his own 60-day juice fast at a lakeside resort in Iowa.
Oh… wait… no, I forgot. Joe drops off Phil at the resort and then returns to Australia.
So much for the buddy film.
In the end, what we really see is that in exchange for two months at a resort with all of his food paid for, Phil, a truck driver, loses a significant amount of weight through juice fasting. He then goes home, quits his job, and continues dieting and exercising, eventually going from 429 pounds to 225 pounds.
That’s an impressive amount. I’m sure it’s a permanent change, right?
According to an interview Joe gave in August, Phil now weighs 250 pounds. Also in August, Phil went MIA from his Twitter account. Likewise, Phil’s brother, Bear, who also begins a juice fast in the film, has apparently abandoned Joe’s reboot as well.
The problem, in my opinion, is that Joe goes from one extreme to the other. At one point, he enters a pizzeria in New York and points to the pizzas on display. He says something like, “At one point, I would have eaten two of those. Not two slices, two whole pizzas.”
Now, I know some people who LOVE pizza, but I’ve never met ANYONE who can eat two whole pizzas in one sitting. If Joe seriously ate two large pizzas on a regular basis, then I think I can pinpoint the source of his health problems.
Likewise, Phil is a truck driver, which is a job that does not easily accommodate healthy lifestyles. Exercise is hard to come by and healthy, nutritious food even more so. In order to complete the 60 day fast, Phil had to quit his job, which is fine if you’re the subject of a documentary, but not so much in the real world.
The only time Joe makes any real sense is when he says, “It doesn’t seem logical to not eat food” and “When you’re not eating food, it just doesn’t seem normal.”
It’s not normal, Joe. What is normal is some schmock profiteering off of the fear and self-loathing of fatties by offering an unproven “cure” for everything from migraines to obesity. You aren’t a weight loss messiah, and you aren’t offering anything new. Desperate fatties have tried everything under the sun, including juice fasting and just plain fasting fasting, to lose weight, and none of these solutions work.
What does work is eating a healthy, balanced, intuitive diet that respects your cravings and desires, while getting as much exercise as you are capable of without wrecking your sanity through stress and self-flagellation. Moderation is the key to health, Joe, not micronutrient foods.
*By rare, Joe means that 15% to 23% of people have urticaria, or a standard allergic reaction, while a quarter of those people will have the chronic version. That breaks down to around 3.75% to 5.75% of people having this “rare” disease. To put that in perspective, the rate of morbid obesity in the United States is 5.7%. Therefore, according to Joe Cross, morbid obesity is a rare disorder.