Next spring, I will release a documentary film entitled FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD. I'd never made a film before -- much less one in which I am the subject. I made it without any previous film experience, not to mention any idea of what I was getting myself into. I had left high school at age 17 and got a job working for a bank on Wall Street (in Australia). After 5 years of learning how to trade the worlds markets I went out on my own and became a day trader, way before it was fashionable. I got bored with that so I decided to exercise my entrepreneurial skills and founded a number of companies, some with success and some without. Then I decided to invest in other entrepreneurs companies with my own money, again some with success and some without. Throughout my professional life I had experienced the highs and the lows but making a film was by far the greatest challenge I have ever faced.
The film is my story - the story of how, by the age of 40 and despite a very close family, a terrific group of friends and a career on the move- I was literally fat, sick and nearly dead. Let me break that down for you: FAT- I tipped the scales at over 300lbs. I wore a size 44 jeans and very rarely ever tucked in my shirt (only if I was wearing a jacket-- (you learn these tips when you're a big man). SICK- Thanks to an autoimmune disease that no doctor could trace back to a root cause, I had taken copious prescription medication (including the powerful steroid Prednisone) for eight years, night and day. The condition wasn't something you wish on your worst enemy. I would swell up and break out into hives on any part of my body that was subject to pressure, from a hand shake or sitting on a chair to lying in a bed. Anything and all pressure cause red blotches and swelling in the joints with untold pain, and even gravity was my enemy. My hands and feet suffered the most. Normal things like carrying a shopping bag, holding a baby, sex and walking long distances-- all could have a huge impact. So thanks to the walking time bomb I had turned my body into, I felt as if I were NEARLY DEAD.
But maybe the worst thing for me was that I'd been saying that I was going to do something about this for a very long time, and as I turned 40, I realized I had done nothing to really change. I had focused my capacity for action, determination and discipline on one thing only: creating wealth. It was time now to harness those skills to create health. It dawned on me that I was not alone. Yes, my disease was rare -- but lots of people are sick. And you certainly don't need to be a rocket scientist to see that many of us are fat. So instead of outsourcing my health to some of the smartest doctors in the world, I decided to see if I could take control of the problem, and my own role in creating the situation in the first place. That's when it hit me that I could make a movie about my journey - selfishly, I knew it would keep me honest and focused on "doing" and not just "saying".
Drastic problems require drastic solutions. My steady diet of processed food in enormous quantities was clearly a problem. I had turned my back on Mother Nature. Like so much of the population, my consumption of fruits and vegetables was close to zero. What would happen if I turned toward Mother Nature full steam?? What if I "rebooted" my life?
I committed to eat only food that was grown on trees or dug out of the ground, foods made by the sun, water and the earth. Because I'm an impatient man, I wanted quick results, so I decided to only drink these foods for the first 60 days. Not blend, drink. That means extracting the juice, separating the fibre from the plant. For a 60 day commitment to juicing, I needed a doctor's supervision (enter Dr. Joel Fuhrman who was invaluable to me). That 60 day personal journey gave me the basis for a movie. I hadn't quite wrapped my brain around how to make entertaining a story about a man drinking juice for 60 days, but then I realized that I could transform the story into a literal journey: I left my home in Sydney for New York and set out on a cross country expedition, juicing my way across America.
I went out and bought a truck to get me from place to place, as well as a juicer, and a generator to operate it for when I was on the back roads. A cameraman and sound guy rode along with me. For the next 60 days, I juiced my way across the USA, and by the way I spent a lot of time in restaurant parking lots waiting for my crew to finish their meals. But I stuck it out-- I ate not a single bite of solid food for 2 long months.
Along the way, I spoke to hundreds of people, from all walks of life. We spoke about what they ate, and more importantly, what they didn't eat. I found a nation full of honest, hard working, friendly and caring people willing to engage in conversation. Sometimes these conversations lasted 10 minutes, sometimes hours. I showed them photos of me taken at the beginning of my journey and as the days ticked by, the physical changes apparent by looking at me in the flesh were nothing short of amazing. After 20 days, I was pretty much unrecognizable, that's how much healthier I looked. Meantime, I listened, hearing the pain behind people's stories, and trying as hard as possible to be honest about my own. I was astounded by people's capacity to be candid with a complete stranger, to tell their stories and to listen to my own. My grandmother had given me some good advice about talking with people a long time ago, "Joe, you have two ears and one mouth. You should listen twice as much as you talk". I took that advice with me. I heard people who were desperate for a solution--every bit as desperate as I had been.
While we are on family advice, my father used to tell us that to lead you must do so by example. Don't just tell, do. And leadership is the key to solving our health crisis. But I'm not talking about just one leader here. I'm talking about tens of thousands of leaders. Average people from all walks of life, just like the ones I met on my journey. Just like me. Every person has the ability to reclaim all or some measure of their health. And every person who does that becomes a leader who inspires others. It's that simple.
Over the next few months, I'll be blogging here from time to time. I've spent the past few years focusing on the problems associated with our lifestyle choices. The fact that 70 % of the diseases in the Western world are caused by our own choices is a double-edged sword, an opportunity -on the one hand it is heartbreaking to see how we are hurting ourselves day after day, but it's empowering to realize that we are capable of solving the problem ourselves, from the inside out.
The world is facing some huge challenges right now, but I would argue that of all of them the biggest challenge is our poor health. There is no one quick fix or a single magic bullet to solving this problem. It requires each and every one of us to make changes. While it's fair to expect that government and big corporations can play a constructive role, at the end of the day, the responsibility lies with each of us.
My small contribution is to try to lead by example, inspiring others to follow. What is it that I'm doing that will make a difference? What is that you can do that will make a difference? The answer is simple. Eat and drink more fruits and vegetables. Eat more nuts, beans and seeds. Consume more of what is made directly by the sun, soil and water. You will be amazed at what will happen. I can personally vouch for this. After 60 days of vegetable and fruit juice only, followed by another 70 days of eating just fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and seeds, I was 100 lbs lighter and off all medication. I've been that way ever since.
The hard part is in the starting. It always has been, and it always will be. But I'm hoping that my film will help make it a little easier. During the past year I've partnered with the mid Atlantic region of Whole Foods Market and shown the film in over 20 of their stores to a very small group of the customers, around 4000. Already over 1000 have joined our community and are consuming more fruits and vegetables....and that's not the best part. What I have discovered is a nation ready to take personal responsibility and inspire others to take up the challenge to regain control of their health and well being. I therefore find myself using the word "optimistic" on a regular basis, in a world where that word is not used as often as it used to be.