‘Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2’ Makes Healthy Habits Accessible, but Does it Go Far Enough?

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Tickets to the film were provided by Fathom Events.

On Thursday evening I had the privilege of attending a screening of Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2 at Crossgates Regal 18 in Albany, NY. This was part of a nationwide event to give a “sneak peek” of the film before its official release later this year.

Before the screening, I had a chance to talk with a few fellow audience members.   I met Tarcisio and Jamie, who saw the original Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and have been eating an entirely plant-based diet five days a week ever since. They tend their own garden so they have fresh produce for juicing. Tarcisio happened to be on the 17th day of a juice fast, a habit he got into after seeing the original movie.

Jim and Melissa saw the first film as well, and they’ve both been juicing since 1998. Sometimes Melissa and her daughter do short juice fasts together. They both seemed concerned about the quality of food these days, and Jim in particular was disheartened by the fact that so few people seem to have the knowledge or skills to cook good food. Having owned a restaurant, he understood the value of fresh foods prepared well.

It was interesting to meet others and hear how they approach their journey to health, because that’s exactly the driving force behind Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2.  With Joe Cross at the helm, the film seeks to answer the question so many are still asking: how can people not only make healthy lifestyle changes but also sustain them in the long term?

Welcome Back, Joe Cross

Cross is as personable as ever. His passion for spreading the message of a healthy lifestyle is echoed in the recurring theme of “lead by example” threaded throughout the movie.   Going beyond the promise of weight loss that draws people to go on diets, Cross sets out to explain and demonstrate the other benefits of living a healthy life including the prevention, management and reversal of diseases.  (Read my Q&A with Joe Cross for more on what inspired him to make the film!)

The quirky cartoons that appeared in the original Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead are back, this time used to illustrate aspects of health such as immunity and food cravings that are affected by food and lifestyle. These memorable visuals show how everyday choices affect the body and stick with viewers after the film is over.

orange juice by nazrethHearing from the Experts

Interviews with doctors, food psychologists and health experts are sprinkled throughout the film to shed more light on what it means to be healthy. Prominently featured are:

  • Dean Ornish, who has been helping people manage disease through diet and lifestyle changes for decades;
  • Brian Wansink, author of Why We Eat More Than We Think, who claims we make 200 decisions about food per day; and
  • Sheila Kar, a self-proclaimed practitioner of preventative cardiology who takes the time to look at how clean people’s arteries are rather than judging health by the numbers.

Together, their commentaries shed light on the physical, mental and emotional aspects of healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle.

Identifying With Others

A combination of “man on the street” interviews and fan videos that Cross sourced from his connections across social media balance the expert commentaries. These serve to show the biggest challenges that people face when it comes to eating and living healthy. It’s not surprising to see that most people have an understanding of what’s healthy and what isn’t, yet turn to the unhealthy choices more often than not.

Stress and lack of time are highlighted repeatedly as major barriers to maintaining positive diet and lifestyle choices. Cross himself admits to getting off track during times of stress. This gives the audience something to identify with: the fact that we’re all human and we all face challenges that can sometimes make it difficult to follow the optimal path to health.

Real-Life Stories

Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2 also features stories from people whom Cross has met personally. We meet the folks at Juicy’s juice bar in McMinville, TN who not only spread the word about a plant-based diet but also deliver fresh juice to cancer patients in the area. Their story is very inspiring and I wish they had been given more screen time.

Another inspiring story is that of Ethan, a 6-year-old whose mother has been giving him one green juice per day since he was a toddler. Diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at age 2 1/2, Ethan spent his days in pain and on a whole host of medications to manage the condition. When he started juicing, his symptoms reduced and he was able to start living life like a normal kid.

Cross also returns to some old friends from the first film, including Terry of Terry’s Gun Shop in Guthrie, OK, whose lifestyle changes inspired the entire town to get healthier. Even the mayor of Guthrie got on board, starting a community garden where people can come together to grow their own produce. And in case you were wondering, yes, we do get to hear about what happened to Phil, the truck driver whose transformation in the original film inspired so many, though his story may not be what viewers were expecting.

One of the most uplifting and inspiring parts of the film for me was a lengthy section showing how families and schools are beginning to focus more on teaching kids healthy habits and making healthy eating enjoyable from a young age. One such school, John M. Marhsall Elementary in East Hampton, NY, features a program where kids and parents participate together to learn more about making positive choices and preparing healthful food at home.

The film makes the point that children in families who cook together rather than relying on the pizza delivery guy for the majority of their meals are often more willing to try healthy foods and will happily choose these options when given the chance. In some cases, it’s the kids who inspire the parents to make changes, a role reversal which many of us in the plant-based community are already familiar with.

How We Experience Food

A continuing theme throughout the film is our perceptions and attitudes surrounding food. Wasink, who holds a Ph.D. in Consumer Behavior, reinforces this idea with an explanation of what he calls “licensing,” where we give ourselves permission to make poor food choices after a period of “being good.” He also points out that, whether through advertising, constantly being exposed to it in public or always having it visible in the house, unhealthy food is marketed to us on almost moment-by-moment basis.

This is reinforced by continual shots of food throughout the movie. More than once we’re taken down a street that seems to consist of one fast food restaurant after another. Contrasting this are colorful, appetizing images of fresh food at farmer’s markets and in stores such as Whole Foods. These wildly different environments can and do influence the choices that people make about what to eat every day.

fruit plate by Yucel Tellici

Image courtesy of Yucel Tellici

It’s not surprising, then, that many in the film cite a change of food environment as one that makes it easiest to eat healthy. By keeping fruit washed and ready to grab for a snack and not bringing junk food into the house, many are able to stay on track with their diets and lifestyles without feeling like they have to struggle to eat well.

I was glad to see a good deal of time was also spent on how emotions impact food choices. Too often, society looks down on people who are in some way unhealthy as failures or lacking “willpower.” Ornish speaks about looking at the diet in context, not just what people choose to eat, but why they choose it. Instead of falling into an “eat this, not that” dogma, he suggests that people need to experience true behavioral change to reap the full benefit of a healthier lifestyle. For some, this may mean identifying and resolving deep-seated emotional issues before any lasting changes can be made.

The importance of support is another key point of the film. Whether it’s from family, friends or an online community such as the one that grew up around Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, accountability and encouragement is what helps people to make and maintain healthy choices.

The Verdict

Overall, the film feels less cohesive than its predecessor. Despite its focus on health, it lacks a strong thread to tie it together as it flows from one subject to another. We come across so many different people and hear such a wide variety of stories that at times it can be difficult to follow.

There were moments that made the vegan foodie in me cringe, as well, such as a scene where Cross is giving a talk and describes his diet as 40 percent plants, 30 percent animals and 30 percent processed foods. He goes on to suggest that the occasional trip to McDonald’s has little negative impact on health. This echoes a recurring idea throughout the film that there are no such things as “bad” foods, a concept that I personally disagree with. Given what research has uncovered about the effects that the current Western diet has on health, I feel it’s damaging to perpetuate the idea that “indulging” in these foods has no consequences when it comes to well-being.

From the whole-foods, plant-based standpoint, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2 doesn’t go far enough with its message of health. For the general public, however, Cross does a good job of making healthy eating and positive lifestyle changes accessible. And with the massive amount of confusing nutrition information and dietary advice out there these days, people need all the positive guidance they can get.

You can pre-order the film now for its November 18th release and get in on the online discussion by tagging social media posts with #FSND2.

sam@quantumvegan.com' About The Author

Sam has been a vegan since summer of 2009 and has spent the subsequent years experimenting with all manner of vegan food. She holds a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and is a graduate of the Bauman College Nutrition Consultant Program. She is a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals as well as Toastmasters International and currently serves as Vice President Membership of the Capital View Toastmasters club. When she's not blogging or cooking, Sam likes to read, play silly card games and knit socks.

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