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'Super Size Me' star Morgan Spurlock needed a serious detox after his fast-food ordeal. His fiancée, a vegan chef, tells Catherine Elsworth how she got him back into shape
Alexandra Jamieson is not happy. There she is, a successful vegan chef with a passion for helping people eat well, and her boyfriend turns himself into a gastronomic guinea pig, embarking on a junk food odyssey of such orgiastic proportions that his liver almost packs up, his heart gets the jitters and his libido vanishes.
Her boyfriend - now fiancé - is Morgan Spurlock, the film-maker behind Super Size Me, the award-winning documentary on America's lethal love affair with hamburgers and fries. For 30 days, he lived "every eight-year-old's dream", gorging himself on nothing but McDonald's food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As a result, the athletic, yoga-loving 32-year-old put on almost two stone. His body fat percentage rose from 11 to 20 per cent. He became depressed and suffered headaches and chest pain, his cholesterol level rocketed by 65 points and his disbelieving doctors observed that his liver was "turning into pate".
The moment the experiment was over, Jamieson made Spurlock submit to a strict, "non-negotiable" detox regime. Not only did it work - Spurlock says his girlfriend "helped save my life" - but inquiries began to flood in from people who had seen Jamieson in the film and wanted "to detox the way Morgan did". Soon, publishers came calling and, before she knew it, Jamieson had expanded her regime into a book, The Great American Detox Diet: Eight Weeks to Weight Loss and Well-Being.
"I think Super Size Me was a great advert for my services," says Jamieson, 30, sitting in the bamboo-fringed garden of the Hollywood home the New York-based couple are renting while Spurlock films a new documentary series. "We had no idea anyone was even going to see it, so when I started putting together the detox plan it was more a case of 'I've got to do something, he's in pain'."
The success of Super Size Me, which cost just £30,000 to make, surprised everyone. First screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 (where Spurlock won best director), it went on to receive an Oscar nomination and has earned about £6 million.
The book takes over where the film leaves off. A foreword written by Spurlock is entitled "Super Size Me: The Aftermath" and describes his journey back from "hopped-up junk food junkie" to normality. "The things my body went through while I was eating all that fast food should stand as a reminder of what types of food we should be avoiding as often as possible," he writes.
For Jamieson, watching her boyfriend embark on his "gastrointestinal form of hara-kiri" was anything but funny. "I knew he was going to feel terrible, but I had no idea it would happen so quickly and be so dangerous," she says. "He would come home and collapse on the couch and have no energy. He became moody and his libido totally disappeared within a couple of weeks. I was like, 'Where's my boyfriend?'."
She describes Spurlock's junk-food regime as "a ridiculously exaggerated version of the Standard American Diet, which is low in nutrients and high in sugar, salt, caffeine and additives".
"The changes my body went through during the month were inconceivable," says Spurlock. "I experienced three different health problems that, not coincidentally, we treat routinely in the US with massive amounts of prescription medication: I was massively depressed, I experienced sexual dysfunction, and I had all the telltale signs of Attention Deficit Disorder."
"Doctors were astounded that the human body could fail so quickly," says Jamieson. "The day the month finished, I was so happy. We decided to dive right in with the detox on day 31."
Jamieson's regime was brutal: no animal products (meat, fish or dairy), no refined carbohydrates, such as white bread or white rice, no sugar, artificial sweeteners, caffeine or alcohol. And it hurt. "It was really, really hard for Morgan," she says. "For the first couple of days he was sweating, shaking and looked like a crack fiend curled up in a ball on the couch. For your body to go from being jacked up on all that sugar and caffeine to nothing was tough."
After a few days the alarming "cold turkey" symptoms eased off and within a week Spurlock was feeling calmer and regaining energy. "It was like emerging from a hangover," Jamieson says.
She worked out a regime "that was nearly the opposite of the McDonald's diet", focusing on "nutrient-dense and cleansing foods" such as whole grains (brown rice, millet, oats), nuts and seeds, beans, organic fresh fruit and vegetables and liver boosters, such as watercress, dandelion root and ginger. "We also took out all the liquids except for water and herbal tea."
For eight weeks, Spurlock followed the diet to the letter, lost 10lb and brought his cholesterol level, blood pressure and liver function back to normal. Then he began to exercise again and started to eat meat. It took him several more months to lose all the weight he had gained.
Jamieson believes anyone with poor eating habits can quickly feel the benefits of her eight-week detox. In the kitchen she slices up carrots, onions, mountains of garlic (she eats raw cloves at the first sign of a cold) and sweet potatoes for a hearty curried-lentil stew, which she serves for lunch with a kale and red pepper salad. It is delicious.
A willowy 5ft 10in with blonde hair, blue eyes and the glowing complexion of a cosmetics model, Jamieson was raised by Bohemian parents in Oregon, and grew up eating a healthy diet of home-cooked food. But a sweet tooth was her undoing. Her "addiction to sugar" kicked in at 14 with a job at a snack shop called Muffin Break. She began indulging in all its sugary fare and for the next 10 years had "a fast-food-heavy lifestyle".
"With my young person's metabolism, I never gained an ounce," she says. But that changed with her "first real job" at a New York law firm, five years ago. The inactivity of 12-hour days combined with poor eating made her body finally rebel. She put on weight and suffered migraines, compensating by reaching for "more and more sugar and caffeine".
"It was a terrible spiral. I began to feel bad in ways I had never experienced before". By chance she tuned in to a radio show about healthy eating and became hooked. At the library she pored over books on nutrition and visited a doctor who diagnosed her as suffering from food allergies. "So I went vegan. I cut out sugar, caffeine, everything. It was incredibly hard; I had to learn how to feed myself all over again, but in two weeks I felt like a new woman."
She enrolled at the Natural Gourmet Cookery School, funding her studies with a job as a cocktail waitress at the SoHo bar where she met Spurlock. "It was a big Irish bar and he loves his Guinness. He came in and I picked him up."
A period as a sous-chef at a macrobiotic restaurant in Milan was followed by a stint as a pastry chef at a fashionable organic New York eaterie. She then realised she "didn't just want to feed people, I wanted to teach them to feed themselves". She became a "holistic health counsellor", helping people to devise diets tailored to their needs.
After meeting Jamieson it's impossible not to question your diet and vow to detox, at least a little. And that's fine with her. While she believes most people would benefit from following the whole programme, she does not want to berate them. "It used to really bother me that anyone ate meat. I became a religious zealot. But what's right for me might not be right for someone else. People just need to think about what's best for them, and try to understand their own bodies in a better way."
Alex Jamieson's tips for breaking the cycle of unhealthy eating:
· Drink lots of filtered water, at least eight to 10 glasses a day.
· Eliminate all sugar, including honey and artificial sweeteners. Instead, use date sugar or agave nectar from the agave cactus.
· Cut out all caffeine - tea, coffee, chocolate, cocoa and colas. Choose decaffeinated products that use a non-chemical removal process.
· Replace saturated fats and hydrogenated oils with healthy alternatives. Cook with extra-virgin olive, coconut and sesame oils.
· Switch to vegetable sources of protein such as soya-based foods, beans, nuts, barley, couscous and quinoa.
· Replace refined carbohydrates such as white flour and bread products with whole grains such as buckwheat, barley, quinoa and rye, and fibre-rich lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, potatoes and oats.
· Become a "food detective" - study labels on packaging to find out what's in the food you buy.
· Detox your kitchen - throw out highly processed foods "full of sugars, chemicals, preservatives and other toxic ingredients".
· Have more fun in the kitchen by listening to music as you cook.
· Create your own detox roadmap. Writing down why you've decided to detox and what you hope to gain from it makes your goals "concrete" and easier to achieve.
· "The Great American Detox Diet" by Alex Jamieson (Rodale, June 3) is available from Telegraph Books Direct for £10.99 + £2.25 p&p. To order, call 0870 155 7222