When you make a major documentary about the catastrophic state of the American health-care system, you’re bound to reassess your own personal health.
I caught up with “Sicko” filmmaker Michael Moore Thursday at the Ritz Carlton, and he shared his thoughts on weight loss, running and diet pills before rushing off to his rally at Millennium Park. Sicko opens June 29th.
Here’s an edited transcript.
Q. How much sleep did you get last night?
A. Thank you for asking that. I got seven hours. A common denominator among big guys like me who are trying to take care of our health; we’re not getting enough sleep, and it’s an important part of the [weight loss] equation, but it’s rarely discussed. What I’ve been telling people, especially guys like me from the Midwest who are never going to go to a spinning class, is get up and go for a walk, a good walk, 30 to 40 minutes a day. Sweat a little bit.
Q: Did you walk today?
A: Yes, up and down Michigan Avenue.
Q: (Incredulous) You didn’t go to the lakefront?
A: I like this little strip here. (He gestures to Michigan Avenue.)
Q: Other than getting seven to eight hours of sleep and walking, what else are you doing to lose weight?
A. I eat at least 35 grams of fiber every day. Eat foods that are heavy in weight but low in calories. I got this idea from Roger Ebert; he was the one who turned me on to the Pritikin Longevity Center in Florida. (Eating heavy foods) naturally creates the same thing as gastric bypass; it gives you a full feeling so you don’t want any more food. Just eat things that have some weight to them.
Q: So you’ve lost weight since filming “Sicko?”
A: Yes, about 30 pounds doing these three things (sleep, walking and eating heavy foods).
Q: What would it take to get you into a yoga class?
A: That’s my next step. Yoga and massage. Anything you can do to reduce stress.
Q: Did the movie inspire this attitude?
A: Obviously [while filming] I dealt with a lot of people who had serious health problems. Some I felt bad for because their problems could have been prevented by lifestyle and environmental choices they made. Plus, I thought it was hypocritical to make a movie about health care and I wasn’t taking care of myself. Finally, I thought [preventive health] was actually an effective way to fight the system. One way to avoid the broken system is to take care of yourself and stay out of this [health care] system that kills people.
Q: One part of the movie I was disappointed with …
A: (Interrupts) If you had made the movie …
Q: Yes, if I had made the movie, I wouldn’t have let the food and pharmaceutical industries off the hook.
A: They didn’t get off, but I don’t believe movies should be longer than two hours, do you? Pharma needs its own movie. Alternative medicine needs its own movie. Taking care of yourself needs its own movie. I decided to make the most urgent one. We can’t have 18,000 people dying because they don’t have health insurance.
Q: Have you ever used diet pills?
A: I don’t use them. But I can understand the need for certain things. If you’re in a diabetic or prediabetic state, it’s good to have medication to go on for a period of time. But simply by making the changes--get your sleep, 35 grams of fiber and a half-hour walk--your cholesterol will come down, your sugar will come down, and your blood pressure will come down. Only the minority of people can't control it. Most people can bring these numbers down by moving around.
Q: What are your numbers?
A: I had pretty good numbers to begin with. My cholesterol was 132, my blood sugar was 91, and my blood pressure was 115 over 65. Those numbers have dropped; my cholesterol used to be 154, my sugar was 100, and my blood pressure was always pretty good even though I’m significantly overweight
Q: How much do you weigh?
A. It fluctuates between 300 and 305.
Q: And you have a personal trainer?
A: I don't have a personal trainer. I hired one for the staff and set up a gym in the office. Some wanted to swim, so I got them a membership to a health club down the street. I will say, the majority of people did not use it (he laughs) in part because they’re young and already healthy. Those who did were very happy and look and feel much better.
Q: Did you exercise as a kid?
A: Absolutely not. I played sports, basketball and baseball, but I’ve always been a pretty lethargic person. Aerobic activity in the past has been pushing the button on the remote.
Q: Are we doing anything right in terms of health care in this country?
A: When the insurance company gets in the way, that’s when you have the problem. The quality of care is quite good. The thing we're No. 1 in is response time.
Q. I just wish people would "get" preventive care.
A: In Cuba--and I couldn’t get this in the movie--but I drove around with a doctor who makes house calls. When he visits the home, he walks around and looks for anything that can cause disease. He asks how everyone is getting along because the housing situation is not good--people are crowded in together--so he looks for signs of spousal or drug and alcohol abuse, how the kids are handling things.
Q: All those things are part of a health-care system?
A: Yes. And my wife (producer Kathleen Glynn) just starting running. She just did a half-marathon and she’s out running now.
Q: Along the lake, I hope.
A: Yes, she has better aesthetics than I do.
Q: Is running something you’re interested in?
A: There’s no way with this weight my knees could handle it. When I get the weight off, absolutely.
Q: What’s your goal?
A: I'd be happy at 225 pounds. I’m 6 feet 2 -inches. I’m also starting to lift weight so a lot of that will be muscle.
Q: What diets have you tried over the years?
A: Like every overweight person, I’ve tried everything. Weight Watchers, no white food, etc. None of them work, and they’re a huge waste of time.
Q: Would you try the new diet pill, Alli? The drugmaker suggests carrying an extra pair of pants in the beginning because of the side effects.
A: Absolutely not, and I encourage people not to try it. It misses the point. You need to have a relationship with what you put inside you. I don’t want to get all spiritual about this, but I believe our bodies are a gift, and to deface it is disrespectful.
Q: You are so ready for yoga.
A: I’m telling you, that’s my next step. I’ve been putting it off because you have to get down on the ground, but they say you can start practicing in your chair.