On Tuesday 2/12, 52-year-old John Alleman, an "Unofficial Spokesman" (i.e. an unpaid but very vocal enthusiast) for the Heart Attack Grill died of - unsurprisingly - a heart attack, after a year and a half of daily intake of massive burgers and beer.
While it may be all-too-easy to make jokes about the appropriateness of his demise, it does provide the opportunity to talk about whether something called a "Quadruple Bypass Burger"(R) (verified by Guinness World Records as the world's most calorific burger at 9,983 calories in a 3+ lb concoction) has a place in our lives.
Heart Attack Grill owner Jon Basso has never made the claim that his restaurant's food is healthy. On the contrary, the entire theme is a play on a cardiac ward: the waitresses dress as nurses, patrons are referred to as "patients", and along with the Single-, Double-, Triple-, and Quadruple-Bypass Burgers (R), their menu features "Flatliner Fries (R)" and unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes. As Basso told the Las Vegas Sun, “I told [Alleman] if you keep eating like this, it’s going to kill ya".
It is precisely in Basso's defiance of all things healthy that we can find some sanity in the world of the Heart Attack Grill.
Our society is overrun with pseudo-healthy food items, from fat-free salad dressing with 9 grams of pure sugar per serving, to diet sodas packed with chemicals (and regular sodas advertising that they're sweetened with real sugar, as if that makes it a health food), to sickeningly sweet breakfast cereals that promote being made "with whole grains". Basso may actually be doing us a favor by promoting his food as a tremendously unhealthy option.
As discussed previously, the best thing a dieter can do is recognize whether food falls into the "fuel" category or the "treat" category, and make choices appropriately. The old adage that says "Everything you do, every decision you make, is either a step toward or a step away from your goals" certainly holds true with eating habits.
ZJ Poirier, a trainer at DEFY! in Broomfield, recently took a group of CrossFitters through a diet challenge he called "Get Ripped or Die Trying". Part of the challenge involved earning "points" for every day the participants ate the specified diet - in this case, no grains, dairy, sugar, or alcohol, as well as drinking a minimum of 8 glasses of water each day. By running the challenge this way, Poirier encouraged the participants to make a decision on each and every "treat" item they ate; they were not forbidden to eat anything, but they had to assess whether it was worth losing points toward winning the challenge.
By thinking of food in this way - deciding each time whether the enjoyment of it is worth taking a step away from a goal - it becomes possible to make good decisions about food while not feeling deprived; rather than an environment of denial, the dieter has a positive feeling each time he makes a decision moving him toward his goals, and knows that if there's something he truly wants, he can have it on reasonable occasions without feeling guilty about "cheating".
From this standpoint, The Heart Attack Grill can really remind us of the place of junk food in our lives. While there may never be a time when 10,000 calories of burger is an appropriate meal, knowing what foods and drinks bring us enough pleasure to make it worth taking a step away from our goals is a critical decision each person needs to make.