Hungry For Change
Hungry For Change Review

A friend pointed me to a new documentary called Hungry For Change that’s from the folks that brought us Food Matters. Now I have not yet watched Food Matters, though I’ve heard many good things. Here’s the trailer for Hungry For Change if you haven’t seen it yet:

Sounds like it could be pretty good, right? Well, it definitely hit on some good points once you waded through the incredible amount of hyperbole and correlation = causation missteps. The story focuses on a young woman, Natalie, who is depressed about the life she leads and the food choices she makes. Her body image issues prevent her from pursuing an office romance with Jason, the debonair, coiffed gentleman we only see briefly. To illustrate the dire situation that our protagonist is in, we see her chronically making poor choices and spiraling ever downward into a pit of despair. She’s drowning in processed food, which brought me to my favorite gaffe of the film:

Diet Cola, now with calories!

Uh-oh, since when do diet sodas have calories? While I agree they’re terrible for you, it’s because of the nasty compounds and the hormonal response, not the calories.

The film gives us a panel of “teachers” (it’s how they’re billed in the credits, I’m not being a dick), from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them are health care practitioners, some are just incredibly motivational people who have turned their lives around. I do wish they had included some more scientifically-minded folks in the group, because by not doing so, they left the very controversial and sometimes wacky, Dr. Joseph Mercola to discuss much of the science behind real food.

I did appreciate the film’s vehement anti-sugar approach. I completely agree that excess calorie consumption from sugar-laden processed foods is largely responsible for obesity and the diseases of modern civilization. I still could have done with less hyperbole and a little more science, but I am a giant nerd, so I understand if that’s not what everyone wants.

One of the teachers that I really liked was Daniel Vitalis (if that’s his real name he was born for this kind of stuff). He believes strongly in the Ancestral Movement, almost to an extreme, where he teaches a lot of historical reenactment. But that was why I liked him; he had a great quote that I’ll paraphrase: “We need to start thinking of a diet as what a species habitually eats.” For countries other than America, this is largely true; a “diet” is just the term for your daily regimen of food. Only in this country has it gotten to a point where we’ve perverted that word to be an oppressive term. The central tenant of the film that I’ll echo here is that diets don’t work; what we need is lifestyle change.

I also appreciated how the teachers stayed largely macronutrient agnostic, choosing instead to focus on micronutrients and the nutrient density of food. See the reason that the SAD (Standard American Diet) is so effective at promoting weight gain and disease is that it is largely hypercaloric (provides more calories than needed) while lacking micronutrients. This creates a state of being “overfed, yet starving to death.” As Vitalis pointed out, most hunter-gatherer-gardener populations had a diet that was adequate in calories or low in calories (hypocaloric), while still being very nutrient dense.

Here’s where the film got really uncomfortable for me as a scientist. The film proceeded to compare Frankenfoods to cigarettes and paint MSG as the cause of all disease and death in the past 70 years. While I agree that both are terrible for you and you shouldn’t use them, unfounded scare tactics provide very little credibility to discerning viewers.

Perhaps the claim that annoyed me the most was made by Dr. Mercola. As his reasoning for avoiding the aspartame found in diet sodas, he cited an urban legend that in the airline pilot community, they know not to drink diet sodas while flying because when aspartame is consumed at high altitudes, it can cause hypotoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain). Furthermore, he claimed, aspartame will make you depressed. Whoa, that’s some bold stuff right there. Join me in putting your thinking caps on for a minute, and let’s take a closer look at this.

Planes are pressurized so that they have a similar pressure to what you’d experience on the ground. Otherwise, passengers and pilots would both feel the effects of hypoxia, altitude sickness and more. The idea that aspartame can some how cause people to experience vision loss or drop dead as Mercola would have us believe, just because you’re at altitude, is just silly.

I pulled up the study that he referenced to see if it was actually proving the claim he made. This study was conducted with two fairly small groups where one group had severe mood disorders and the other was considered “normal.” The individuals were given doses of pure aspartame several times per day to simulate the consumption of diet soda, or a placebo, but in alternating weeks so that each subject served as their own control. The study was halted early by the school running it because the symptoms of those with mood disorders became more severe. In fact, two of the patients started having problems with their eyes (a retinal detachment and a conjunctival hemorrhage). While these are severe results, they can’t definitively be pointed to the aspartame due to the way the study was set up.

The aspartame study used a dosage of 30mg/kg/day. For a 165lb (75kg) person, that’s 2250 mg of aspartame. There are 15mg/oz of aspartame in Diet Coke. That means it takes 150oz or 4.4L or 12.5 cans of Diet Coke to get the same dose. But because the data is incomplete, and the dose is so large, the only conclusion you can get out of it is there may be a correlation between high doses of aspartame and mood disorders, and maybe those people shouldn’t drink 4 liters of diet coke a day for a week straight then go off it.

And Mercola knows this. He totally does. In fact he can’t even look at the camera straight when he makes these outlandish claims:

Every time you equate correlation with causation, a puppy cries.

This review is getting a bit long, and the movie does makes some good points about skin health, fermented foods and the opioid effects of sugar, flour and dairy. But the rest is more sensationalism without too much practical knowledge transfer. In fact, it seems like the only practical suggestion that the film gives for improving your health (besides the stop eating fake food mantra, and get more sleep) is that you can juice your way out of anything. Just throw a bunch of fruit and veggies in a blender and you can beat all disease! Anyone who’s tried to lose weight and who helps people get healthy know that it’s far more complicated than that.

There was one more part of the film that I wanted to mention, and it was where the protagonist started watching the Hungry For Change documentary herself. That’s right, they went totally meta with it.

What is this? Inception for foodies?

This is where I totally lost interest in this documentary as a serious tool for helping people make change. I liked a lot of the teachers that were featured, but the film made too many logical leaps and hyperbolic statements to be effective. I’d rather show people films like Fat Head, Food, Inc. or King Corn. At least they don’t charge for a gimmicky recipe book.

The Lazy Caveman
  • Tim Dymmel

    Forget Inception. The went Spaceballs!

  • Heather

    Nice review, Lazy Caveman! I can tell you’re passionate about this stuff. I haven’t seen any of these films, but have been doing some reading. Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma? I’m only a few chapters in, but so far it’s corn corn corn! And boy, just like the feeling one gets when they think about exactly how that chicken leg got onto their plate, I got nauseous thinking about corn’s life cycle. Fortunately it’s a nice balance of science and everyday language.

  • NiVleK

    Nice review. I am 3/4 into the film and I am starting to think if this film is promoting juicing and the other teacher’s methods.

    Like you said it, there is quite a number scare tactics used. I am no expert at nutrition, just your average guy gaining weight and trying to lose it. But to place MSG and sugar in the same category of heroin is really scary if you take it too seriously.

    Similar, the best part of the document for me was also that we are a species too and we did have a diet prior to being urbanized.

    • butts

      MSG and sugar are both chemically addictive. maybe directly comparing them to heroin is a little much, but the fact is…we have millions and millions of people in this world who suffer pretty harsh withdrawals when trying to get off processed food that is loaded with sugar, aspartame and MSG…there’s a reason for that.

      i really related to kris carr in the film, her description of her sugar and diet pop addictions were the same things i dealt with. everytime i tried to remove diet pop from my diet, i got headaches, mood swings, lethargy and cramps. removing a diet pop wouldn’t have those nasty effects unless there was a chemical addiction going on.

      i find it hard to believe it is just the caffeine, either, because i used to drink a lot of coffee and when i quit drinking that, it was really easy to go off of. diet pop was like fighting a cigarette addiction (something i also kicked).

      so, heroin? maybe not, but i will laugh in the face of anyone who thinks diet pop is harmless and not addictive. it’s just another processed junk product. even if you don’t believe anything bad is related to it, you still can’t deny the highly acidic nature of pop (diet or otherwise) is proven to simply awful for your teeth.

      what i do know is if anyone is on the paleo diet lifestyle, they can’t look me in the eye and truthfully tell me that early man consumed MSG, aspartame and other chemicals that we find flooding our food these days. most of the comments here just seem to be people trying to rationalize their addictions for these chemicals, denial is step one for any junkie, but if people are too arrogant to ever admit they have a problem, they’ll be addicts for life.

      • hsinman

        The issue is that although theses substances have “addictive-like” characteristics, there have been no empirical, peer-reviewed studies that have supported these substances as explicitly addictive in the sense that illicit drugs are addictive. The issue is more of the psychological value you assign to the types of food and the emotional environment that you eat them in. For example, a person does not become “addicted” to drinking diet coke or eating a candy bar after one use, yet someone can become chemically addicted to substances like heroin after one use. The film uses anecdotal evidence and correlational evidence to make its point despite there being ample reputable scientific evidence to argue against it. People want to find something to blame for their own short comings rather than look at the deeper issue, which is almost always psychological.

        And this is coming from someone who, too, struggles with their weight and the amount of sugars they eat. But I’m also a scientist, so there’s not denying when the evidence just isn’t there.

      • banshee

        People don’t commit felonies to feed a Ding Dong addiction.

  • 1d30

    I stopped watching at 19:00 when they jumped off the crazy cliff with aspartame, attributing every deadly malady under the sun to it, like a reverse snake oil. And yeah I noticed the 300+ calorie diet soda thing :P  While I went into this on “their side” when it came to the general concept of healthy diet and exercise, the combination of (a) inclusion of clips from low-budget shows that weren’t pertinent, (b) stupid factual errors, (c) unconvincing uncredentialed speakers (d) who communicate poorly, and (e) the “bad guy political ad” aesthetic of the Natalie segments all not only turned me off but made me question everything the “teachers” said more actively than I might have otherwise. A more skilled filmmaker might have slid past my defenses better.

    One time I was on a flight and the guy next to me was ranting about aspartame the whole time. He was a vitamin salesman or something (he gave me an email spam kinda vibe). So what did I request from the drink cart? Can of diet coke. I felt no ill effects after pounding it but the guy got a face-spasm so maybe the deleterious effects happen to whoever’s sitting next to you.

    My review would be: there might be good information in the film but it’s drowning in the murk caused by unprofessionalism, failures in critical thinking, and possibly batshit insanity. If you liked Loose Change it’s a must-watch, but don’t get it from Netflix because the Jewish Illuminati sends Tesla waves through your modem and reads your aura through your webcam.

    Again, I’m amicable to their movement, but these people are just bullshitters.

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  • ruth almog

    I looked for a review to see if anyone shared my opinion – and I found this. I agree with the LC. Advocating any “diet” to exclude all of any type of food is impractical. It also makes for very boring companions for “normal” food lovers. I have always believed in moderation – do I really need to squeeze the life out of my food in order to be healthy? I don’t think so.

  • lbagley

    Although I agree with your nitpicks, I disagree with the review. Yes, there was a little over the top stuff. Too much emphasis on juicing, Mercola’s diet soda bit.
    But, I loved it. Watched it with the entire fam and it helped get my kids excited about: 1. Eating more fresh veggies and 2. Not eating as much refined sugar/wheat.
    That, to me, was the main message. Refined foods bad. Fresh, more natural food, good.
    This was a movie meant to inspire, and use all the silly emotional tricks to push the viewer to eat less processed, more fresh.

    They could have been more scientific w/out losing the emotional appeal. They could have toned down the emotional side a bit. Still, this is a great vehicle to introduce people to the concepts.

    I didn’t get the same vibe from FatHead, although I enjoyed it.
    Hopefully the movie will inspire more similar movies that are more accuruate.

    • Debbie Pitman

      I agree with you about watching with my family. My hubby loves is crap food! I try to tell him how bad it is and this documentary helped me get through to him.

      Some of the stuff was over the top or exaggerated but overall it was a good movie to watch.

      Take what you like and leave the rest!

  • Jenny Hernandez

    Thank you for this review, as a senior biology major I was dissapointed to hear them repeat the cancer claim they made concerning asparagine. These claims simply aren’t true, and are not base on real science but are just internet hoaxes. Thats when I realized that none of these people have credible backgrounds and I stopped watching. Don’t spread the ignorance!

    • butts

      yes because someone still in college knows everything about everything. get over yourself.

      just remember millions upon millions of people once thought tobacco smoking was harmless and it used to be considered healthy. so did cocaine. so did heroin. the fact is aspartame is a man made chemical that doesn’t have a hint of being natural, how could anyone on a PALEO diet advocate ever consuming it? it’s completely backwards.

      the idea of any “paleo” dieter viewing aspartame as harmless is beyond absurd, it’s hypocritical to the paleo philosophy. maybe there is no direct link between aspartame and cancer, but that doesn’t make it healthy by any means or safe to consume daily.

      i like how you criticize the people in the video for not having “credible backgrounds”, when you’re still in college. you have NO background whatsoever, so i’d be even less likely to take what you say seriously. call me when you’ve got a career and have done something meaningful in your field, at least the people in the film have real careers and a lot of life experience, you’re just some 22 year old who is going to spend the next 10 years of her life galavanting around while her parents struggle to pay off all her college debt.

      • TheLazyCaveman

        Butts, I’ve approved your incredibly acerbic message, lest I be accused of censorship, but know that you are way out of line.

        Your reply presents a strawman that is hurtful and off-topic, so any further comments that aren’t discussing my review or the movie will not be approved.

    • TheLazyCaveman

      Jenny, did you mean aspartame instead of asparagine? It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, but I don’t recall them attacking the amino acid.

      • banshee

        Did you really expect her to come back after your feeble rebuke to Butts, who attacked her personally?

  • Amy

    I watched and enjoyed this – but also felt increasingly uncomfortable as I realised most of the ‘experts’ were authors of books and plans that would ultimately encourage me to spend money on another possible fad. Whilst I definitely agree with the message of cutting down sugar, and can feel comfortable with some of the claims made re diet cola (for example weight gain due to stimulating sweetness sensors etc), some of it was very fluffy.

    Saying that, the people who they had as talking heads all looked incredibly healthy and glowing. So it must be working for them. And could for me…?

  • Jana King

    Diet sodas do have potential to wreak havoc in the body for chemical reasons, but you should not disregard the calorie side of the issue. Soda, diet or not has what you can call “empty calories” or calories that leave you feeling unsatiated, therefore you consume much more calories than you would per day just drinking water or eating the same amount of calories in food.

  • Alec

    I recently watched this “documentary,” and saw it for what it really is. A well-produced infomercial for juice machines.

  • banshee

    I didn’t watch it because Mercola was in it. Way to destroy credibility. I hang out a lot on an online weight-loss community and every once in a while someone brings up how “life-changing” this movie is, whether or not it’s relevant to the conversation. Ugh.