Suffering from a rare autoimmune disease and with a gut the size of a beach ball, Australian businessman Joe Cross knows he is fat and sick. What he doesn’t want to be is dead.

Rather than resign himself to a shortened life filled with obesity and prescription drugs, Cross embarks on a road trip across America and a 60-day fast, during which he drinks nothing but the raw juice of fruits and vegetables. His journey to change his life is captured in the documentary he produced and directed, “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead.”

Tonight, the film comes to Portland with two screenings at the Nickelodeon.

“I’m certainly no picture of health,” Cross says at the start of the film in his charming Aussie accent. “I look like I’ve swallowed a sheep.”

His quest: to see if ridding his body of the animal products and processed foods he so enjoys will lead to a turnaround in his health and the loss of 100 pounds.

Spoiler alert: It does.

“I ended up juicing, because that’s the purest way of consuming the phytochemicals and macronutrients in fruits and vegetables,” Cross told me when I reached him by phone. “I call it ‘freebasing Mother Nature.’ I had been consuming way too much processed food and too many animal products. My body broke down.”

After two months of eating nothing but juice, followed by three months of eating a plant-based diet, Cross said he was able to ditch all of his prescription pills.

These days, Cross eats plant-based meals for breakfast and lunch. At dinner, he may eat fish or dairy products, but he continues to avoid meat, soda and alcohol.

“When you eat real food, you get addicted to feeling healthy and feeling good,” Cross told me. “When you give yourself unhealthy food, your body kicks in and reacts.”

Throughout the film, Cross talks with average folks who, like him, struggle with their weight and health. One person he meets is Phil Staples, a truck driver clocking in at 429 pounds and suffering from the same autoimmune condition plaguing Cross. Inspired by Cross, Staples gets on the juice and wellness bandwagon.

“I learn there are a tremendous amount of people who felt they were helpless,” Cross said. “However, they accepted as their fault that they were (overweight and unhealthy). That showed me there was a possibility of hope. They could take responsibility to repair and heal themselves.”

Cross said he chose to travel with a high-powered juicer and a generator so he could create the freshest, least-processed juices.

“Juice has been hijacked,” Cross told me. “When you go into a supermarket, you buy juice in a bottle. The majority of it is a highly processed, pasteurized concentrate with added sugar and lots of water.”

The first three days of the fast, Cross said he felt hungry. But after that, the hunger pains disappeared. He still had cravings for the food he used to consume, but he didn’t give in.

“Some people would argue that people are addicted to sugar, fat, salt, nicotine and caffeine, and I would agree,” Cross said.

As a result of the film, Cross has created an online community called Reboot Your Life, where people interested in improving their health and ditching processed foods can go to find resources and support.

When I asked him whether or not he plans to stay off the junk food and continue eating a diet centered around whole food, Cross said, “personally, for myself, I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life.”

Whether or not more people will join him in cutting their health care bills by shifting to a diet based on plants remains to be seen.

“If tomorrow, by some act of God, 20 million people saw my film, you wouldn’t be able to buy kale, cucumbers or celery in this country for weeks, because there would be a shortage,” Cross said.

With that in mind, you might want to stock up before you head to see the film.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter at: Twitter.com/AveryYaleKamila