Whatever you believe about the best diet to control diabetes, this new documentary “Fat Head” is bound to shake up those beliefs. I have been studying and trying to practice good nutrition for years, and even so, some parts of it disturbed me. Still, most of it delighted me. This is a funny movie.
About half way through I almost stopped watching. “Fat Head” was beginning to look like a movie in praise of fast food.
A guy named Tom Naughton wrote, directed, and starred in this 104 minute film. Like Morgan Spurlock in his 2004 documentary “Super Size Me,” Naughton lived on fast food for a month. But unlike Spurlock, Naughton lost weight.
For one thing, Naughton didn’t eat anywhere the 5,000 daily calories that Spurlock claimed to consume. But neither did Spurlock, according to Naughton, who says that it doesn’t jibe with the record. For another thing, Naughton ate a lot more wisely, limiting himself to 100 grams of carbohydrate per day.
That’s how the new documentary starts off. Since I never eat at fast food restaurants — except one that specializes in great salads — I was disturbed. Then, I heard Naughton say in the movie, “A fast food diet is not a good diet.”
And the movie moved on. It turns out that Naughton wasn’t making an apologia for fast food. The fast food industry, he says, is not at fault for what he calls the “so-called obesity epidemic,” which he argues is really a high blood glucose epidemic. Instead, he argues for personal responsibility and against government intervention and interventionists like Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who he calls “a tireless propagator of junk science.”
But Naughton reserves his greatest contempt for Ancel Keys, who got so famous that Time magazine featured him on its cover for his manipulating the “lipid hypothesis” statistics in the “Seven Countries Study.” Data from those seven countries seemed to show a relationship between a diet high in saturated fat and heart disease, but Keys conveniently ignored data from even more countries that didn’t fit his hypothesis, which then became — and still is — the accepted wisdom of our medical establishment.
This makes “Fat Head” sound like a serious, dull movie. It is anything but that. In fact, it’s closer to being a comedy than anything else. Naughton is a professional comedian who is also a former health writer. Consequently, “Fat Head” both funny and exceedingly thought-provoking.
Naughton just didn’t eat in fast food restaurants, mostly McDonald’s. He also went around interviewing real people. The people he talked with were men and women in the street as well as experts like Michael Eades, M.D., and his wife Mary Dan Eades, M.D., the authors of Protein Power; Mary Enig, Ph.D., and Sally Fallon, the authors of The Skinny on Fat; Al Sears, M.D., the founder and director of The Wellness Research Foundation and the author of The Doctor’s Heart Cure; J. Eric Oliver, Ph.D., of the University of Chicago and the author of Fat Politics; and Reason magazine editor Jacob Sullum.
And Naughton even roped in members of his family, interviewing his mother and his wife. One of my favorite lines from the film was when Naughton went into the bedroom where his wife was was reading a magazine on the bed. He asked her to tell us how much better their sex life was on his new diet.
She paused dramatically. And then she replied, “Are you really a moron?”
So we don’t learn all the benefits of wise eating. But we can get the point. And Naughton not only lost weight but also improved his cholesterol numbers.
The best of anything shakes us up. And for me the really disturbing statement in this documentary was that statistics — correlations — of people who have a high normal BMI or are even overweight live longer than people whose BMI is at the low end of the scale. Like mine. I find that hard to accept, and of course I don’t believe everything that I read or hear, but I will look into it for a future article here. Request: any leads to those studies or insights explaining them.
You can view the trailer for “Fat Head” on YouTube. The movie also has a website. And just a few days ago Amazon.com started to offer the DVD for as little as $11.72.
I bought one of the first copies. It was certainly worth the money for both the entertainment and information that I got from watching “Fat Head.”
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.
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I’d have to check with you here. Which isn’t something I often do! I take pleasure in reading a post that can make individuals think. Additionally, thanks for permitting me to remark!
I lean heavily toward low carb/paleo and think the “conventional wisdom” is full of holes, but I don’t think “Fat Head” does a good job (at all) of advancing the argument to the uninitiated.
The attack on Morgan Spurlock is misguided, and Naughton’s counter-experiment proves nothing. Spurlock went on an extreme binge which everyone, including Spurlock, expected in advance to cause weight gain and other negative effects (“duh”), which he wanted to document on film. It was more of an exercise in “performance art” than in science, and meant to simply to provoke the viewer into the thinking a bit about the possible consequences of regularly ingesting the same kind of food over a lifetime.
Naughton, on the other hand, takes in an actual caloric deficit, with restricted carbs, and regular exercise, and then experiences a weight loss. How does Naughton’s experiment in any way “rebut” Spurlock’s? And, given the fact that Naughton goes on to argue that restricting carbs is more important than lowering calorie intake, his own experiment is useless to prove either strategy, since he cut intake of both calories AND carbs.
The film is poorly organized and produced, and is undermined at every turn by the injection of sophomoric humor. In a typically tedious sequence, the snarky Naughton asks people on the street if they have ever collapsed with a heart attack immediately after eating fettuccine alfredo. Tres dumb. Especially when you consider that a plate-full of pasta smothered in cream, butter, and cheese is a food that both low carb and low fat eaters would want to avoid eating often. In one of his failed attempts at humor (in a scene showing his own wife in bed), she asks if he is a moron, and in that moment she seems to speak on behalf of the viewer.
Worst of all is the ongoing anti-government Libertarian ideology that underscores Naughton’s narrative. He argues that anyone “with a functioning brain” can make proper food choices, but at the same time argues that the public has been deluged with mountains of false information and bad advice for decades. The film is littered with such logical inconsistencies. Naughton’s gratuitous political agenda shows up in some bizarre assertions, like when he argues that higher tendency toward obesity among the poor is merely the result of a predisposition among non-whites toward “thicker” bodies, and the assertion that court-mandated busing to achieve racial desegregation contributed to overweight school children. These theories simply detract from the credibility of the diet and health science he eventually discusses. Naughton is entitled to whatever political views he wishes, but injecting them into a documentary about nutrition and health does nothing to advance an essentially purely scientific subject.
At his blog and in interviews like the one above, Naughton comes off considerably better than in the amateurish film that he actually made. If you know anyone “with a functioning brain” that is still clinging to the conventional wisdom that you’d like to convert, showing them “Fat Head” may not be the best way to get them to become more open-minded, thanks to the many mis-guided and unhelpful aspects of the film.
Just saw Fat Head, went on a low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet, lost 6 pounds in 3 days.
It is clear to me that this is the way I was meant to eat.
I agree with Sara that you can’t lose weight if your hungry all the time. The more carbs I eat the hungry I get. Low carb or controlled low glycemic carbs are the answer for me.
I used to be a napper. Sometimes napping 2 hours in the afternoon. I seem to have a lot of energy now that I don’t need to nap like I used to. So, that’s a nice added benefit too.
Thanks for asking! Actually, I was already planning to write about the McDougall Plan.
Last month Gretchen Becker, my friend and fellow writer about diabetes, wrote me:
“I was thinking the other day how far you’ve come in the evolution of your diet from one extreme (McDougall) to the other (Bernstein). I thought an article on ‘My trip through the jungle of diabetes diets’ might be interesting to do.”
I followed the McDougall Plan in 1994 and 1995 right after a doctor diagnosed my diabetes. I also exercised a lot more. That combination helped some, but I was not able to control my blood glucose level on his diet. No wonder, since his diet is “starch centered,” as his book, which I still have, says.
Right now I think that this diet is the absolute worst for people with diabetes. Sorry about that!
Clearly to be able to stay on ANY diet – you need to not be hungry AND you have to like it. I realize you are able to change tastes slowly and learn to love foods you perhaps did not before – but bottom line is you can’t be hungry.
So my main gripe with all these diabetes websites is they do not address the different types of diets and the results for diabetes control.
In particular, I’m referring to the McDougall/Ornish diets as well as the raw food Furhman Diet. Why on earth would Medosa’s web site not give equal time to examining McDougall’s diet??
Does it work? What about all the Star McDougallers? I realize there are a lot of people doing much effort weighing their food, reducing portion amounts and achieving glucose control.
But what about the rest of us?? Those of us who are sick of thinking about diabetes, portion control, testing, shooting up. The ones of us with no self control – especially IF we’re hungry.
Plus, I HATE eating animals! I don’t want to contribute to the ecological disaster eating dairy, fish and meat causes. Plus I don’t even like meat! I’ve been grossed out by animal products since I was a child and even more so now that I know what’s happening to the earth and the animals!!
Plus isn’t oil a highly processed product?? 1 tblsp of oil oil must be around 50 olives! Yes?
So the question is – can a McDougall diet (eliminating ALL animal products PLUS added oils) correct your problem with diabetes, bring your numbers down AND allow you to eat unlimited amounts of foods – including carbs! Never to go hungry again, never to weigh or count carbs again, never to worry about ANYTHING except trying to get the manufacturing industry AND restaurants to leave the dam salt and oil out!
I want ALL the diabetic websites to address ALL the types of diets out there AND deal with what ever successes are actually achieved!
David Mendosa – how could you not address this on your website??