Keto: The Ultimate Cure?
An Analysis of ‘The Magic Pill’ (2017) documentary and its claims
In the era of laxative lollies and meal replacement shakes touted by cultural influencers, the creative duo of Pete Evans and Robert Tate debuted their film, The Magic Pill (2017), on Netflix, looking to set the record straight once and for all: there is no magic pill for weight loss.
Instead of perpetuating diet culture trends, Evans looks to paleolithic eating patterns for inspiration. He attempts to offer solid evidence for the ketogenic diet, a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in fats, through nonclinical trials that are studied throughout the film.
The Australian-born celebrity chef highlights a global-wide initiative to sponsor a grain-dominant diet, uncovers the relation between carbohydrates and the deterioration of the Yolngu people, and follows the lives of several ketogenic supporters to better understand the alleged effects of the diet. Evans strengthens his narrative with emotional appeals so while his sources appear credible to the undiscerning viewer, it is important to dig deeper into Evan’s cited evidence, to dissect fact from fiction.
First, Evans believes that global leaders knew how much a grain-dominate diet would affect citizens but enforced regulations that would benefit them financially anyway. The idea may borderline on conspiracy at first glance, but history has shown that grain is cheaper to produce, buy, and it keeps bellies fuller for longer. In medieval Europe, pottage was the most common food served in households which consisted mainly of beans, a carbohydrate, (historyonthenet.com, 2019).
America the Beautiful (1892), a song created by Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward, is a patriotic ballad that most in the United States identify with. Originally a poem by Bates, the scene depicts our “purple mountains” as majestic. There is even a line that perhaps nods to our deepening dependence on carbohydrates; our “amber waves of grain” (Pikes Peak, Bates, 1895). However much grains like wheat and corn have aided in the ascension of the United States, Evans believes they are also crippling our countrymen to their very core.
To further highlight this greed, he introduces Tim Noakes, a renowned South African scientist. Noakes was made famous when he was put on trial three times to defend his actions when he gave medical advice on Twitter where he was later reported for misconduct. Four years previous to his right to walk as a free man, Noakes suggested to a woman that she should wean her child from breastfeeding using the low-carb, high-fat diet, (businessday.com, 2018). The Health Professions Council of South Africa strongly believes in a grain-dominate diet like the United States and they were willing to verbally spar with Noakes on multiple occasions to prove their agenda, a legacy that had been passed on for several generations.
Light was shed on the practice of pushing for a carbohydrate-laden diet, how unhealthy and unsustainable it allegedly was. Noakes provided reasonable doubt for the overseeing jury and judges, creating a ripple through the societal pond that would influence the next wave of diet trends. Evans counts on Noakes's argument to persuade the audience logically rather than hoping to gain emotional appeal.
Next, he allows the cooperating organizations of Hope for Health and Why Warriors to explore the Yolngu people and their rapidly deteriorating health.
The Yolngu are an aboriginal culture in northeastern Australia in what is known as Arnhem Land. Since the introduction of colonists in 1948, the ancient culture which spans over 40,000 years, has seen an increase in diabetes, asthma, and early deaths when previous to this, there had been no chronic illness present.
Since 2016, groups like Hope for Health and Why Warriors have been working to reintroduce native practices involving hunting and foraging to the Yolngu people who have since lost the knowledge and abilities. The groups have also set up and maintained health clinics to help monitor and manage the chronic illnesses that have swept the tribes in the last 60 years.
According to the Why Warriors website, through the practice of their innovative measures, 80% of diabetics in the program lowered their blood sugar levels in just 6 months, (whywarriors.com.au, 2019). They boast results and encourage support through emotional appeal, highlighting both of Evans most influential argument narratives. Through the combined efforts of humanitarian organizations like Hope for Health and Why Warriors, the Yolngu are said to be learning how to regain their native ways while regaining their health as well.
Lastly, Evans uses his strongest emotional appeal yet by closely monitoring the lives of extended family members. He introduces an overweight aunt who struggles with thyroid issues and her son along with his family which includes a young daughter with autism. There was nothing notable that appeared to have occurred for the aunt but her granddaughter, the one who lives with autism, seems to have had the most influential outcome featured in the film.
When Evans first arrived, the girl wouldn’t make eye contact, she was climbing on the windowsills and couches, and she refused to eat anything besides chips and crackers. Five weeks later, she was using a fork and maintaining eye contact. Her parents were even able to reduce her expensive anticonvulsant medication because the number of seizures had dropped so drastically.
Children were Evans’ final persuasive measure. In addition to his niece, Evans introduced more children who were also autistic or had severe symptoms, citing how a ketogenic diet helped alleviate their symptoms or ‘cured’ them completely.
The target audience is not the elderly but instead, Evans is focused on a much younger demographic, one with children or the ones who have prospects of having families in the future.
As a mother myself, the focus on children suffering from such severe symptoms and to see the alleged effects, moved me despite my uncertainty of the claims previously made.
As a celebrity chef, Pete Evans needs all of the publicity he can get, so he is no stranger to controversy. Creating The Magic Pill allowed him to target a large fanbase of influential and naïve young adults using logical and emotional persuasion. His argument studied the influence of global governments on diet trends, uncovered the connection between the introduction of junk food and the chronic illnesses killing the Yolngu tribe of Australia, and used his own family in nonclinical trials to give a backbone to the movie.
He sought to clear the air of the myths surrounding the ketogenic diet and its alleged effects, but instead, he left the audience with more questions than answers. Rather than coming to a definitive idea about the diet, the viewer is simply left to wonder what is fact and what is fiction.
Works Cited |
Anonymous. (2019). Pete Evans. Biography, International Movie Database. Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/name/nm4456046/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
Anonymous. (2019). America the Beautiful. American patriotic songs, Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_the_Beautiful
Gustafson, Craig. (2017). David Perlmutter, MD: The Dynamic Brain. Journal list, US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health, v.16(2). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6413641/
Anonymous. (2019). Tim Noakes. Famous Scientists: The Art of Genius. Retrieved from: https://www.famousscientists.org/tim-noakes/
Rank, Scott Michael. (2019). Medieval Food: From Peasant Porridge to King’s Mutton. Medieval Life, History on the Net. Retrieved from https://www.historyonthenet.com/medieval-food
Child, Katharine. (2018). Tim Noakes is finally free and clear after winning Banting diet advice case. National, Business Day. Retrieved from https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/health/2018-06-08-tim-noakes-is-finally-free-and-clear-after-winning-banting-diet-advice-case/
Anonymous. (2019). Hope for Health, Why Warriors. Retrieved from https://www.whywarriors.com.au/projects/hope-for-health/
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