A NEW, OLD IDEA
Before the days of George Foreman grillers and deep fryers and man-made fire, way back when humankind was incapable of processing food, we ate it raw. Raw food is defined as food not heated above 112 degrees Fahrenheit (a temperature that some experts say is the point where healthy food enzymes die). Today, processed food is beyond plentiful. In many places, fresh foods are all but impossible to find among the mounds of packaged food products. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, only 33 percent of American adults eat enough fruit each day and only 27 percent eat the recommended amount of vegetables. Those numbers are even lower for high school students.
Amid all the unhealthy eating is hope:
Slow food pioneers like Alice Waters developed an Edible Schoolyard in hopes of educating consumers about locally grown organic food, First Lady Michelle Obama announced her healthy eating initiative, “Let’s Move,” and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution scored ABC’s highest ratings for their adult audience in more than three years. Healthy eating activists have the public’s attention. Whether or not people actually choose fruits and vegetables over fried chicken and sodium-laden snacks is another thing.
DESIRE TO CHANGE
One of those food activists is Joe Cross. The 43-year-old Australian businessman was told by doctors just a few years ago that he might die unless he turned his life around.
“When you get sick and the doctor tells you that it doesn’t look like it’s going to get good again, that’s a game changer,” Cross says. “I heard that in 1998.”
Cross suffered from a rare debilitating autoimmune disease called chronic urticaria.
Though he never suffered from diabetes, Cross was relying on pills usually prescribed to control Type 2 diabetes to “manage” his illness.
“I thought there would be drugs that would be created that I would eventually take that would cure me,” Cross admits.
Eventually, Cross realized that no cure by pills was in sight. In an effort to save his life, he decided to change what he ate, or rather what he drank. His life-changing diet is the subject of a new documentary, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. The movie reveals how juice saved Cross’s life and changed his relationship with food forever.
For 60 days, 30 in New York City and 30 driving across the United States, Cross put nothing in his body except the juice of raw fruits and vegetables. Sixty days is extreme, but Cross says he needed to let his body heal from the inside out.
“You break your arm, well that’s all right. You put a plaster on it, and it’s going to be good again,” Cross says of the body’s natural ability to heal itself. “You scrape your knee, it’s going to be good again.”
In Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Cross demonstrates his body’s ability to heal without steroids or pills, both of which he relied on before turning to the natural enzymes and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.
“There’s a way to get America moving and eating the right food,” Cross says. “It is by leading by example.”
Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead is gaining positive feedback from the few screenings where it has been shown. The film’s Facebook fan page has more than 1,300 fans.
Elizabeth MacDonald, 52, recently saw the documentary at the Sonoma International Film Festival.
“It was amazing," she says. "I was inspired."
And so were the other 150 people screening Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, which won the Audience Choice Award and the Turning Point Award.
MacDonald did not jump right into a juice fast. She did, however, buy a juicer and read up on the benefits of juicing.
“This morning I had fresh apple juice with four apples,” she says. “I could never sit down and eat four apples at once.”
Juicing allows the body to absorb nutrients from fruits and vegetables more efficiently, makes consuming a high quantity of fresh produce easier, and enables micronutrient diversity.
In the Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Cross praises the produce section at retail chain Wal-Mart, saying, “There aren’t too many Americans who can’t find their way to a Wal-Mart.”
Cross did a straight 60-day juice fast to give his body the opportunity to change and heal. For the 30 days he traveled cross-country, he kept a juicer in his trunk and relied on finding local produce. He says it was not easy, but well worth the struggle.
“There is something very powerful about setting a goal and achieving it,” he says. “I went from a size 44 jeans to a size 36 jeans over the space of eight weeks.”
MANAGED, NOT CURED
Not only did Cross drop weight—100 pounds to be exact—he no longer needs to take pills because he no longer suffers from his autoimmune disease.
“I’m not saying I’m cured,” he says. “What I am doing and what I think many of us can do, is manage our illnesses or our symptoms with fruits and vegetables.”
Now, Cross is convincing people to try what he calls the “5-5-5 Reboot.” The 15-day reboot is five days of eating only raw fruits and vegetables, five days of drinking the juice of raw fruits and vegetables, topped off with another five days of fruits and vegetables.
He says after the micronutrient fast, “You’re not going to go back to eating a big pizza or take-away Chinese.”
The goal of the reboot is to rid the body of the addiction to processed foods that are high in sugars, salt and fat.
Mandy Hillstrom, a nutritionist at California State University, Los Angeles, says she has many people ask about whether juicing is healthy or not.
“For the most part, going on a juice cleanse for a couple of days is probably harmless and may actually be a nice break from the typical American diet which is full of calories, fat, sodium and sugar,” Hillstrom says.
She recommends including juice, “Especially from vegetables, as part of a healthy diet.” But she warns that, “We shouldn’t expect any food or drink to cure whatever ails us.”
And Cross says the same thing. His goal is to advocate healthy eating and to inspire people to want to be healthy.
“You can’t live on juice,” Cross says. “What the reboot will give you is a lovely bookend of nutrition. I am getting you in on fruits and vegetables so I’m going to be breaking down a lot of your caffeine, your sugar, your salt, your fat addictions by just eating fruits and vegetables.”
Cross says his diet no longer includes chicken, pork, beef, alcohol, caffeine, or soda. He focuses on eating micronutrients as well as fish and seafood and says he tries to steer clear of all processed foods. Cross admits, “I’m not Superman.”
“Ice cream and particularly chocolate ice cream is my guilty pleasure,” he says.
But, Cross proudly reports he has not indulged in ice cream since 2010 started, and is not planning on breaking that accomplishment any time soon.
“Willpower is something I think each and every one of us has."