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Super Size Me

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Super Size Me
An image of Morgan Spurlock having his mouth stuffed with French fries. Film accolades are seen in the poster along with the credits and film titles at the bottom.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMorgan Spurlock
Written byMorgan Spurlock
Produced byMorgan Spurlock
StarringMorgan Spurlock
Alexandra Jamieson
CinematographyScott Ambrozy
Edited byJulie "Bob" Lombardi
Music bySteve Horowitz
The Con
Distributed bySamuel Goldwyn Films
Roadside Attractions
Release date
  • May 7, 2004 (2004-05-07)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$22.2 million[2]

Super Size Me is a 2004 American documentary film directed by and starring Morgan Spurlock, an American independent filmmaker. Spurlock's film follows a 30-day period from February 1 to March 2, 2003, during which he claimed to consume only McDonald's food, although he later disclosed he was also drinking heavy amounts of alcohol. The film documents the drastic change on Spurlock's physical and psychological health and well-being. It also explores the fast food industry's corporate influence, including how it encourages poor nutrition for its own profit and gain.

The film prompted widespread debate about public eating habits and has since come under scrutiny for the accuracy of its science and the truthfulness of Spurlock's on-camera claims.

Spurlock ate at McDonald's restaurants three times a day, consuming every item on the chain's menu at least once. Spurlock claimed to have consumed an average of 20.9 megajoules or 5,000 kcal (the equivalent of 9.26 Big Macs) per day during the experiment. He also walked about 2 kilometers (1.5 miles) a day. An intake of around 2,500 kcal within a healthy balanced diet is more generally recommended for a man to maintain his weight.[3] At the end of the experiment the then-32-year-old Spurlock had gained 24.5 pounds (11.1 kg), a 13% body mass increase, increased his cholesterol to 230 mg/dL (6.0 mmol/L), and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation in his liver.

The reason for Spurlock's investigation was the increasing spread of obesity throughout US society, which the Surgeon General has declared an "epidemic", and the corresponding lawsuit brought against McDonald's on behalf of two overweight girls, who, it was alleged, became obese as a result of eating McDonald's food (Pelman v. McDonald's Corp., 237 F. Supp. 2d 512).[4] Spurlock argued that, although the lawsuit against McDonald's failed (and subsequently many state legislatures have legislated against product liability actions against producers and distributors of "fast food"), as well as the McLibel case,[5][6] much of the same criticism leveled against the tobacco companies applies to fast food franchises whose product is both physiologically addictive and physically harmful.[7][8]

The documentary was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature[9] and won Best Documentary Screenplay from the Writers Guild of America.[10] A comic book related to the movie has been made with Dark Horse Comics as the publisher containing stories based on numerous cases of fast food health scares.[11]

Spurlock released a sequel, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!, in 2017.[12]


As the film begins, Spurlock is in above-average physical shape, according to his personal trainer. He is seen by three physicians (a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist/ hepatologist, and a general practitioner), as well as a nutritionist and a personal trainer. All of the health professionals predict the "McDiet" will have unwelcome effects on his body, but none expect anything too drastic, as his general practitioner Dr. Stephen Siegel cites the human body as being "extremely adaptable". Prior to the experiment, Spurlock ate a varied diet but always had vegan evening meals to accommodate his girlfriend, Alexandra, a vegan chef. At the beginning of the experiment, Spurlock, who stood 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm) tall, had a body weight of 185 pounds (84 kg).


In the experiment, Spurlock must upgrade his portion to Super Size if it is suggested by the cashier.

Spurlock followed specific rules governing his eating habits:

  • He must fully eat three McDonald's meals daily: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • He must consume every item on the McDonald's menu at least once over the course of the 30 days (he managed this in nine days).
  • He must ingest only items offered on the McDonald's menu, including bottled water. All outside consumption of food is prohibited.
  • He must Super Size the meal if offered, but not by his own request. (He Supersized a total of nine times, five times while in Texas and four times while in New York).
  • He will attempt to walk about as much as a typical United States citizen, based on a suggested figure of 5,000 standardized distance steps per day,[13][14] but he did not closely adhere to this, as he walked more while in New York than in Houston.

On February 1, Spurlock starts the month with breakfast near his home in Manhattan, where there is an average of four McDonald's locations (and 66,950 residents, with twice as many commuters) per square mile (2.6 km²). He aims to keep the distances he walks in line with the 5,000 steps (approximately two miles) walked per day by the average American.

Day 2 brings Spurlock's first (of nine) Super Size meals, at the McDonald's on 34th Street and Tenth Avenue, which comprises a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Super Size French fries, and a 42-ounce Coca-Cola, which took him 22 minutes to eat. He experiences steadily increasing stomach discomfort during the process, and then finally vomits in the McDonald's parking lot.

After five days, Spurlock has gained 9.5 pounds (4.3 kg) (from 185.5 to about 195 pounds). It is not long before he finds himself experiencing depression, and he claims that his bouts of it, along with lethargy and headaches, could be relieved by eating a McDonald's meal. His general practitioner describes him as being "addicted". At his second weigh-in he had gained another 8 pounds (3.6 kg), putting his weight at 203.5 pounds (92.3 kg). By the end of the month he weighs about 210 pounds (95 kg), an increase of about 24.5 pounds (about 11 kg). Because he could eat only McDonald's food for a month, Spurlock refused to take any medication at all. At one weigh-in, Spurlock had lost 1 lb. from the previous weigh-in, and a nutritionist hypothesized that he had lost muscle mass, which weighs more than an identical volume of fat. At another weigh-in a nutritionist said Spurlock had gained 17 pounds (7.7 kg) in 12 days.

Spurlock's then-girlfriend, Alexandra Jamieson, attests to the fact that Spurlock lost much of his energy and sex drive during his experiment. It was not clear at the time whether or not Spurlock would be able to complete the entire month of the high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, and family and friends began to express concern.

On Day 21, Spurlock has heart palpitations and has liver damage. His internist, Dr Daryl Isaacs, advises him to stop what he is doing immediately to avoid any serious health problems. He compares Spurlock with the protagonist played by Nicolas Cage in the movie Leaving Las Vegas, who intentionally drinks himself to death in a matter of weeks. Despite this warning Spurlock decides to continue the experiment.

On March 2, Spurlock makes it to day 30 and achieves his goal. In thirty days he has "Supersized" his meals nine times along the way (five of which were in Texas, four in New York City). His physicians are surprised at the degree of deterioration in Spurlock's health. He notes that he has eaten as many McDonald's meals as most nutritionists say the ordinary person should eat in eight years. (He ate 90 meals, which is close to the number of meals consumed once a month in an eight-year period.)


The documentary's end text states that it took Spurlock five months to lose 20.1 pounds (9.1 kg) and another nine months to lose the last 4.5 pounds (2.0 kg). His then-girlfriend Alex, now his ex-wife, began supervising his recovery with a vegan "detox diet", which became the basis for her book The Great American Detox Diet.[15][better source needed]

The movie ends with a rhetorical question, "Who do you want to see go first, you or them?" This is accompanied by a cartoon tombstone, which reads "Ronald McDonald (1954–2012)", which originally appeared in The Economist in an article addressing the ethics of marketing to children.[14]

A short epilogue showed that the salads can contain even more calories than burgers if the customer adds liberal amounts of cheese and dressing before consumption. It also described McDonald's discontinuation of the Super Size option six weeks after the movie's premiere, as well as its recent emphasis on healthier menu items such as salads, and the release of the new adult Happy Meal. McDonald's denied that these changes had anything to do with the film.[16]


Super Size Me premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, where Morgan Spurlock won the Grand Jury Prize for directing the film.[17] The film opened in the US on May 7, 2004, and grossed a total of $11,536,423 worldwide, making it the 7th highest-grossing documentary film of all time.[18] It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, but lost to the film Born into Brothels. It did, however, win the award for Best Documentary Screenplay from the Writers Guild of America.[10]

The film received overall positive reviews from critics and audiences. It holds a 92% rating on the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 171 reviews, with an average rating of 7.73/10. The consensus calls the film an "entertaining doc about the adverse effects of eating fast food."[19] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on 37 critics.[20]

Super Size Me received two thumbs up on At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper. Caroline Westbrook for BBC News stated that the hype for the documentary was proper "to a certain extent", because of its serious message, and that, overall, the film's "high comedy factor and over-familiarity of the subject matter render it less powerful than other recent documentaries – but it still makes for enjoyable, thought-provoking viewing."[21] One reviewer said "he's telling us something everyone already knows: Fast food is bad for you."[22]

Robert Davis of Paste said the film accomplished some of its goals and addressed an important topic, but, at the same time, sometimes looked more like a publicity stunt than a documentary. He primarily criticized the dramatic and unscientific approach of Super Size Me, saying Spurlock unnecessarily ate more than he had to and ignored his nutritionist's advice. Davis explained he would have been more interested had the documentary been about trying to eat as healthy as possible at McDonald's: "You could choose low-fat options, but it would be impossible to get enough vegetables and fiber, and the low-fat meal would be incredibly bland, the product of a system that has worked to optimize food delivery and consistency and, in doing so, has invented foods so devoid of flavor that they require dressings, oils, beef tallow and goopy coatings to make them more than just textured blobs. The industry has worked hard to convince consumers that these odd, sweet flavors are not only good but also unique, recognizable parts of a brand. Spurlock doesn't attempt to convey this message, presumably because the affects [sic] of too few vegetables and too little fiber aren't as dramatic as speedy weight-and-cholesterol gains."[23]

McDonald's UK responded that the author intentionally consumed an average of 5,000 calories per day and did not exercise, and that the results would have been the same regardless of the source of overeating.[24]


In his reply documentary Fat Head, Tom Naughton "suggests that Spurlock's calorie and fat counts don't add up" and noted Spurlock's refusal to publish the Super Size Me food log. The Houston Chronicle reports: "Unlike Spurlock, Naughton has a page on his Web site that lists every item (including nutritional information) he ate during his fast-food month."[25]

After eating exclusively at McDonald's for one month, Soso Whaley said, "The first time I did the diet in April 2004, I lost 10 pounds (going from 175 to 165) and lowered my cholesterol from 237 to 197, a drop of 40 points." Of particular note was that she exercised regularly and did not insist on consuming more food than she otherwise would. Despite eating at only McDonald's every day, she maintained her caloric intake at around 2,000 per day.[26]

After John Cisna, a high school science teacher, lost 60 pounds while eating exclusively at McDonald's for 180 days, he said, "I'm not pushing McDonald's. I'm not pushing fast food. I'm pushing taking accountability and making the right choice for you individually... As a science teacher, I would never show Super Size Me because when I watched that, I never saw the educational value in that... I mean, a guy eats uncontrollable amounts of food, stops exercising, and the whole world is surprised he puts on weight? What I'm not proud about is probably 70 to 80 percent of my colleagues across the United States still show Super Size Me in their health class or their biology class. I don't get it."[27]

As a counterpoint, the film features interviews with Big Mac aficionado Don Gorske, who eats an average of two Big Macs a day, yet maintains his weight and cholesterol.

A 2006 study on fast food consumption by healthy individuals inspired by the documentary showed that, while the heavy diet does affect liver enzymes, it did not show the same dangerous effect shown in the documentary. This suggested that the extreme reaction must have had another cause,[28][29] and in 2017, Spurlock–who previously told his doctors he did not drink–admitted to copious amounts of alcohol consumption during the making of the film, which some critics, such as documentary filmmaker Phelim McAleer, have argued may better account for his liver issues and other health problems, since he had only changed his diet and not his alcohol intake during the experiment.[30]


Six weeks after the film's debut, McDonald's discontinued its supersize portions.[31] In the United Kingdom, McDonald's publicized a website which included a response to and criticisms of the film.[32] In theaters in the UK, the company placed a brief ad in the film's trailers, pointing to the URL and stating, "See what we disagree with. See what we agree with."

Internationally, Super Size Me was a major success in the box office of Australia.[33] McDonald's in Australia responded with an advertising campaign that included three elements: two advertisements for TV and one produced to be shown in movie theaters.[33]

The film was the inspiration for the BBC television series The Supersizers... in which the presenters dine on historical meals and take medical tests to ascertain the impact on their health.[34]

The film was also the inspiration for the 2007 documentary film Super High Me, directed by Michael Blieden. The film follows Doug Benson, a comedian and cannabis enthusiast, as he becomes the subject to a multitude of tests designed to measure the physical and mental impacts of, first, not smoking cannabis for 30 days, and then smoking non-stop for 30 days. The poster for the movie was modeled after one of the promotional posters from Super Size Me.

The premise of the 2011 documentary Forks Over Knives was to create the "reverse" of Super Size Me, where the film's director "goes on this diet and gets better, instead of getting fatter and sicker".[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lee, Christina (2004). "Super Size Me". The Film Journal. Archived from the original on May 12, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Super Size Me". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  3. ^ "What should my daily intake of calories be?". NHS. June 27, 2018. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  4. ^ "McFat Litigation I – Pelman v. McDonald's Corp., 237 F.Supp.2d 512 (S.D.N.Y. Jan 22, 2003)". The Climate Change and Public Health Law Site, Louisiana State University. January 22, 2003. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
  5. ^ Smith, Melissa Diane (August 12, 2008). "'Supersize Me' and 'McLibel' – More Movies that Go Against the Grain". Against the Grain Nutrition.
  6. ^ "The McLibel Trial Story". McSpotlight. Archived from the original on January 19, 2001.
  7. ^ Barnard, Neal (June 2003). Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings and Seven Steps to End Them Naturally. New York City: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1-42997-058-7.
  8. ^ Laurance, Jeremy (January 30, 2003). "Fast food is addictive in same way as drugs, say scientists". The Independent. London, UK. Archived from the original on May 11, 2010.
  9. ^ "Super Size Me". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2009. Archived from the original on February 16, 2009. Retrieved November 23, 2008.
  10. ^ a b Spurlock, Helmer (February 15, 2005). "WGA serves up 1st doc kudo to 'Super'". variety.com. Variety. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  11. ^ Slaton, Joyce (July 23, 2009). "Coming Soon: Super Size Me, the Comic Book". Chow.com. Archived from the original on May 11, 2021.
  12. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (September 14, 2017). "Toronto Film Review: 'Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!'". Variety. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  13. ^ Bumgardner, Wendy (December 9, 2020). "How Many Steps Should You Aim for Each Day?". VeryWellFit. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  14. ^ a b Mark Fenton (Former Walking Magazine editor; Morgan Spurlock (director, producer, star) (2004). Super Size Me (Motion picture).
  15. ^ Jamieson, Alex. "The Great American Detox Diet". HowToBeFit.com. Retrieved May 15, 2007.
  16. ^ "McDonald's phasing out Supersize fries, drinks". NBC News. March 2, 2004. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  17. ^ Spurlock, Morgan (2005). Don't Eat This Book. New York City: G.P. Putnam Sons. p. 245. ISBN 9780399152603.
  18. ^ "Documentary Movies, 1982–Present". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on July 5, 2007. Retrieved May 15, 2007.
  19. ^ "Super Size Me (2004)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  20. ^ "Super Size Me". Metacritic. May 7, 2004. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  21. ^ Westbrook, Caroline (September 10, 2004). "Review: Super Size Me". BBC News. Retrieved May 20, 2012.
  22. ^ Muller, Bill (May 28, 2004). "Super Size Me". The Arizona Republic. Archived from the original on August 25, 2019. Retrieved April 30, 2012.
  23. ^ Davis, Robert (July 20, 2004). "Super Size Me, directed by Morgan Spurlock". Paste. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  24. ^ "McDonald's UK position on 'Super Size Me'". McDonald's UK. August 2004. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved April 22, 2009.
  25. ^ Hoffman, Ken (January 15, 2008). "Ordering up some food for thought". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  26. ^ "Soso, So Good". National Review. June 23, 2005. Retrieved March 2, 2024.
  27. ^ Carlton, Bob (August 12, 2015). "Meet the science teacher who lost 60 pounds eating nothing but McDonald's three meals a day". al.com. Retrieved November 19, 2018.
  28. ^ Blomkvist, Mårten (September 7, 2006). "Only another 5,500 calories to go ..." The Guardian.
  29. ^ Kechagias, Stergios (February 14, 2008). "Fast-food-based hyper-alimentation can induce rapid and profound elevation of serum alanine aminotransferase in healthy subjects". Gut. 57 (2008 May 57(5)): 649–654. doi:10.1136/gut.2007.131797. PMC 2565580. PMID 18276725.
  30. ^ "A Big Mac Attack, or a False Alarm?". The Wall Street Journal. May 23, 2018. Retrieved January 26, 2024.
  31. ^ McLagan, Meg. "Imagining Impact: Documentary Film and the Production of Political Effects". In McLagan, Meg; McKee, Yates (eds.). Sensible Politics: The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Politics. Zone Books. p. 304.
  32. ^ "Super Size Me - The Debate". McDonald's UK. Archived from the original on February 2, 2007. Retrieved February 2, 2007.
  33. ^ a b "Super Size Me: A comparative analysis of responses to crisis by McDonald's' America and McDonald's Australia". Public Relations Issues and Crisis Management. Cengage Learning Australia. January 1, 2005. pp. 67–78. ISBN 0170122700.
  34. ^ Roberts, Rachel (June 10, 2009). "Interview: Sue Perkins and Giles Coren – Gluttons for punishment". The Scotsman. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  35. ^ "An Oral History of Forks Over Knives, the Film That's Been Changing Lives for a Decade". Forks Over Knives. May 6, 2021.

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