The Challenge that Wasn’t

This morning, Dan Harris and Katie Couric were on GMA reporting out on their separate experiences trying Couric’s 10-Day “Fed Up Challenge.” Basically, the challenge is an awareness-raising publicity stunt designed to accompany the release of the new documentary that, as Mark Bittman describes in the NYTimes, presents “heavy-hitting facts about the dangers of the overconsumption of sugar and other hyperprocessed food.”

Couric and the other filmmakers encouraged a sugar-elimination regime that may sound familiar to followers of my HCG journey: fresh fruits and natural sugars are okay. The challenge instead is about avoiding anything that has added sugar in it. And I’m assuming part of the motivation behind issuing this challenge was to raise some level of public awareness about the shocking number of packaged and processed foods that contain added sugars — even when you might not expect them to.

Of course, the funny thing about Couric’s challenge, when seen through an it’s-all-about-me lens, was the ways that this “new” 10-day challenged overlapped so perfectly and precisely with the final days of my HCG journey. So for me, the “challenge” to avoid added sugars was pretty much routine by the time Couric was talking about it on the news shows.

But that’s just me. I find myself wondering how many folks have chosen/will choose to take this project on.  The website currently lists close to 28,000 registrants, but my mind is racing with so many possibilities — some significant portion of those folks may have tried and stopped, or there could be many more folks who are doing the challenge without registering, and there may be folks who come across the film and the challenge in weeks to come who add themselves to the list of participants — that I can’t tell if the figure of 28,000 participants is a Mama Bear, Papa Bear, or Baby Bear kind of number. (Too big, too small, or just right?)

And whatever the number of participants is, I wonder how many of them are being impacted by the experience. Do they find the preponderance of sugar on food labels as shocking as I did? Are they contemplating changing the structure of their food habits, or are they waiting out the time before going on the next sugar binge? (And, to stop deflecting and judging others and instead to take my own damn inventory: which of those possibilities will be my path? I’ve already had some cheese popcorn and a small piece of chocolate tonight, so it didn’t take me hardly any time post-HCG to dip my toe back into the addictive waters…)

Bittner is hopeful that the movie will make an impact on the American public:

The movie addresses what the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler calls “one of the great public health epidemics of our time.” The greater public needs to know that.

As of this writing, the movie is in 19 markets, and doing well. If it were in hundreds of theaters, it would probably change more lives than any movie released this year, because if people see the film, they will get the message. It’s not a subtle one.

And it certainly seems as if there’s enough fear of impact that the inevitable backlash from the corporate machine has started. (As, thankfully, has the backlash against the backlash, most cogently embodied by Boston’s own* Union of Concerned Scientists.)

So, I remain curious to see how this will unfold.


I’m also feeling into the question of whether I’m going to see the movie, and if so, when and where I will choose to do so. I have some hesitation because of all the ways I expect the film will give me stabby feelings. Both in the desire to strike out against the food industry, but also, I fear, in my desire to take a knife to the filmmakers themselves.

Because I am pretty damn sure that the film’s argument in many instances is going to boil down to “It’s sugar’s fault for making us fat!” After all, the HuffPo teaser for the film from which I got the poster, above, leads not with the scientifically accurate and scarier facts about diabetes and the food industry, but instead with society’s true monster-under-the-bed: being fat!**

The more nuanced and accurate perspective would be to say: “Sugar causes numerous health challenges and deficits which are sometimes but not always correlated with (not causing) weight gain, so we should focus on the sugar and not on monitoring people’s body size.”

Anyone want to quote me Vegas odds for that possibility? Don’t bother: I know full well there’s not a snowball’s chance in Rome of seeing that inconvenient polemic anywhere in Fed Up. More’s the pity.

* Okay, “Cambridge,” not Boston proper. I’m still having some hometown pride…

** And believe me when I say that was the least offensive of the options I found to link to as image sources.

One thought on “The Challenge that Wasn’t

  1. No added sugar here… It is so hard to do! A few months ago I was in a hurry and bought tomato soup AMY’s – thought it a brand I could trust… My husband remarked on the sweetness… we figured out the small can had 3 Tablespoons of Sugar added. YIKES… this has got to stop!
    Thanks for your insightful post! Jayme B


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