If you like movies, and working out—and movies about working out—then Chris Bell is your Werner Herzog, Ken Burns, and Michael Moore all wrapped into one. A lifelong gym rat (and brother of “Meathead Millionaire” Mark Bell), Bell is one of the most popular and controversial documentary filmmakers of our time—and one of very few tackling subjects that are near and dear to the hearts of fit people.
Bell has an everyman appeal that derives from his fearlessness in including his personal struggles in the stories he tells, whether it be his family’s flirtation with anabolic steroids in 2008’s Bigger, Stronger, Faster, or his own battle against opioid addiction in 2015’s Prescription Thugs, and the newly released A Leaf Of Faith (available now on iTunes and Netflix).
Bell recently visited Onnit HQ to talk about his results on the carnivore diet (he showed us his blood work!), upcoming movies he’s making, and how the WWE’s Ultimate Warrior turned his life around.
Q&A With Chris Bell: The Carnivore Diet, Kratom, and the Ultimate Warrior
Onnit: You’ve been following the carnivore diet for months and documenting your experience on social media. How did you discover it?
Chris Bell: I started with the carnivore diet in 1994. I was 19 years old and weighed 245 pounds, and I wanted to be a powerlifter. I was strong—I could squat 500 for sets of 8—but I had no idea how to eat right. I was in Gold’s Gym one day and this older, very experienced lifter told me I was too fat. So he said, “Just eat red meat and water. Do that for two weeks.” I did, and my body did awesome on it. I lost over 20 pounds.
I ended up competing at a lighter weight class and lifting more weight than I had ever done before. I continued on the diet for almost two years. But then, for whatever reason, you just abandon things. I started eating bad foods again. I think it was chicks. Girls wanted to go out for drinks and I worked at a bar so it was hard to stay carnivore. I ended up letting life get in the way and eventually got fat again. And it makes no sense, because if I had stayed on carnivore and stayed lean, I might have had a million girls [laughs].
Chicks… The downfall of many a diet.
Yeah. I didn’t know what I was doing with carnivore at first, and I think that was the beauty of it. It’s funny because, I think if that lifter had said, “I want you to do a keto diet,” it would have been too complicated for me. But red meat and water was something I could handle. I think if more people knew less nowadays, they would do better. Everybody’s got Google now. They start asking, “What can I have on the carnivore diet?” and exploiting every loophole, when they should stick to the main idea. What can you have? Red meat. That’s fucking it. I ate when I was hungry, ate as much as I wanted to, and I stayed in awesome shape.
One reason the carnivore diet works so well is there’s no interference from antinutrients—compounds that stop you from digesting things and using them in your body. I don’t think we should disregard plants entirely, but my attitude lately is that animals are food, and plants are medicine.
Let’s talk about that next. What brought you back to the carnivore diet this past year?
My brother Mark [Bell] and I started making the movie The War On Carbs, which should be out next year. A lot of people don’t like that title, but from my experience, you have to be inflammatory to get a response. Anyway, we started doing a lot of research on nutrition, and I was following a ketogenic diet. I got good results, but I was pricking my fingers constantly, nervous that I wasn’t in ketosis. I rediscovered the carnivore diet in January and I weighed 200 pounds. Now I weigh 185. I was 20-something percent body fat, and now I’m down to 16%.
No more pricking my fingers. Now if I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m hungry, I’ll just eat three burgers. People say, “You shouldn’t eat before bed…” Dude, I do everything people say you shouldn’t do. I don’t even follow the carnivore diet to the letter. I eat apples sometimes because I crave them. I think that’s your body telling you that you need something, and it makes carnivore more sustainable for me. Ultimately, the only diet that will work for you is one you can follow. So I’d say I’m 90% carnivore. But it’s hard to teach people to listen to their bodies and have balance. It’s easier to give them one direction, like just eat red meat, so if that’s what somebody needs to hear to get started, that’s fine.
Have you had blood work done since going on the carnivore diet?
Yeah, it’s awesome. The only thing that’s a little bit off is my liver enzymes, which are a bit high, but my doctor said that was no big deal. My HDL cholesterol is 87 and my triglycerides are 85. That’s pretty close to a 1:1 ratio, which is good, meaning there’s no indication of insulin resistance. But most important of all, I feel good.
See Bell’s latest blood lab results here
So tell us about A Leaf of Faith, your new documentary on the supplement kratom.
I have arthritis and three fake hips—I had one done twice. It seems like I’ve always been in pain. For years, doing anything would wear me down. I could never sleep well. And when you don’t feel good, you don’t want to exercise or follow a diet. I got into drinking and abusing prescription pain meds to deal with it.
After I did [the documentary Prescription Thugs], people told me the one thing they didn’t like about the movie was that there was no answer at the end. I heard a lot of, “That’s great for you, Chris. You were hooked on opioids, went to rehab, and got better. But what about all the other people who need help? How are you going to help them?” And I had no idea.
So this movie is about what an alternative did for me and how it can help.
How does a typical day for you look?
I get up at four a.m. and do fasted cardio for an hour at Gold’s Gym in Venice. Half the days of the week I do steady-state cardio and the other half I do HIIT [high-intensity interval training], like pushing a sled, or using battle ropes. I like the step mill for steady state. If you go an hour on that you burn a ton of calories. If I walk on a treadmill on an incline for an hour, not a drop of sweat comes off me, but three minutes on that step mill and I’m drenched.
After cardio, I go back home, shower, and eat. Then I go back to the gym. I do a lot of deadlifting with the trap bar these days, and squats with the safety squat bar. They’re easier on my lower back and shoulders. I do things easier now in general. I’m 45 years old and I’m not going to win Mr. Olympia. I’m not going to the NBA. So what are the things that are important to me? Getting in shape and helping others get in shape.
After the workout, I work on my films for the rest of the day.
Do you have any tips for aspiring filmmakers?
Just do things. Getting a film made is always about the money, and it’s real easy to back away from doing something you want to do because you don’t have the money. I say, don’t worry about getting the money because you’re probably never going to [laughs]. Think instead about how you’re going to make your project as cheap, easy, and simple as possible. You don’t have to have a lot of money to make something really cool.
The way I started making movies was at my house, making up skits with my brother Mark with a VHS camcorder. My first real project was a music video for some rappers who lived down the street from me. So don’t wait around for anyone to give you the go ahead, or the money. The best filmmakers make decisions quickly. I’ve become friends with [actor/director] Peter Berg, who I made Trophy Kids with. If you ask him, “Pete, which hat should the guy wear in this scene?,” he’ll say “the blue hat.” If you ask why, he’ll say, “because that’s what I fuckin’ want.” OK then.
The more you can decide and get going, the quicker you get things done. The biggest enemy of the filmmaker is procrastination. Don’t wait around—go.
You’ve been a lifelong fan of pro wrestling/sports entertainment, and its influence shows up in many of your films. For you, who’s the greatest wrestler of all time?
Overall, I’d go with Stone Cold Steve Austin. He’s actually a good friend of mine now. But during the Attitude Era, he was the ultimate bad ass. I was in my 30s, and when I would go to arenas to see him and I heard the sound of glass breaking in his theme song as he came to the ring, I would jump up out of my seat. I don’t get that excited about anything. But when his music hit, I would jump. I’m a grown man, but I still turn into a little kid when I hear it. His in-ring ability, his ability on the mike, and the fact that he changed wrestling forever make him an icon. I also think he made The Rock. If you didn’t have Stone Cold, you never would have had Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the way you do today. Their rivalry was huge.
Also, one of the documentaries I’m working on is about the Ultimate Warrior. He really changed my life, so for personal reasons, he’s one of my all-time favorites. He had these videos on YouTube called “Injections of Inspiration,” and they got me sober. I was doing drugs and drinking because I was in pain. I’d sit there and feel sorry for myself, and then I found this video where Warrior was saying, “You’re lost, you’re confused, you don’t know where to go…” And I said, “Yeah! I am lost, confused, and I don’t know where to go.”
Is that the one where he talks about how “pasty-faced” exercise scientists “couldn’t groom the groin hairs on a warrior?” We got a kick out of that one too.
Yes! He said, “I want you to walk all fucking night until you find yourself.” I literally started crying, and I said, “I’m gone.” I was out the door and I walked for three hours that night, asking myself, “Who the fuck am I? Why am I doing this to myself?” And three weeks later I was in rehab. It was just a YouTube video, but I get emotional talking about it. It goes to show that the media can change minds all the time.
The best thing you can do is put something out into the world and have people come back to you and say that you’ve changed their life. And for me, thanks to the movies I’ve done, they just keep coming. Every day. “Thank you, kratom changed my life.” “When I watched Prescription Thugs, I realized my mom was killing herself, so I got her off of drugs.” “When I watched Bigger, Stronger, Faster, I realized that I didn’t want to take steroids to be somebody.” And then another guy says, “Guess what, I DID take steroids, and my life got better as a result!” [laughs]. So it doesn’t matter how people are interpreting my movies, really, as long as they’re making a positive difference.
See A Leaf of Faith, available now on Netflix, and follow Bell on Instagram, @bigstrongfast