Fat Head (2009) Review

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No Fries with that.

Fat Head (2009): 6 out of 10: Cruise ship comedian Tom Naughton makes a scrappy little documentary to counteract the claims of the successful and influential Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock from a few years earlier.

Spurlock famously ate exclusively from McDonald’s for 30 days and documented the purported health consequences of such a diet. Naughton, skeptical of Spurlock’s assertions, embarks on his own experiment to debunk what he sees as misconceptions about fast food and nutrition.

Naughton meticulously examines the nutritional information of McDonald’s menu, questioning Spurlock’s reported calorie intake and the validity of his claims regarding addiction and health effects. He also criticizes the idea that consumers are unaware of the calorie content in fast food, arguing that choice plays a significant role in dietary decisions.

Addressing Spurlock’s argument that corporate fast-food chains are solely responsible for the obesity epidemic, Naughton points out that similar unhealthy foods are consumed at family-owned restaurants without the same level of scrutiny. He challenges prevailing notions of obesity and questions the validity of using the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a measure of health, highlighting discrepancies in how it categorizes individuals.

Beyond critiquing Spurlock’s film, “Fat Head” delves into the science and politics behind government nutrition recommendations, particularly the lipid hypothesis linking dietary fat to heart disease. Naughton interviews medical professionals who argue against this hypothesis, citing research that suggests inflammation and high blood sugar are more significant factors in heart disease.

Throughout the documentary, Naughton adopts an all-fast-food diet, carefully monitoring his calorie and carbohydrate intake while disregarding fat restrictions. Surprisingly, he experiences weight loss and improvements in his cholesterol levels, challenging conventional wisdom about the health effects of high-fat diets.

In a final experiment, Naughton eliminates sugars and starches from his diet, opting for foods high in fat and protein. Despite initial concerns, he finds no adverse effects on his energy levels or mood, and his cholesterol levels continue to improve.

“Fat Head” ultimately presents a provocative and contrarian view of nutrition and health, questioning widely accepted beliefs about fast food, dietary fat, and obesity. Through Naughton’s experiments and interviews, the documentary challenges viewers to reconsider their understanding of nutrition and personal responsibility in food choices.

The Good

The Good: Well Super Size Me is a fat target and Tom Naughton has chosen wisely. Possibly more wisely than he could have possibly known in 2009. Tom starts with the criticism that is just sitting there. If you eat five thousand calories of pretty much anything and don’t exercise, you will not be in as good shape a month later.

Tom moves on to other targets, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Now I remember these yahoos from the eighties and nineties. You could not turn on a news channel without hearing about the deadly threats of movie popcorn or Mexican food. The news media was particularly naïve about such things and reported these breathless “facts” verbatim. Of course, this is the same news media who bought “Satanic Cults” in our nation’s daycare system at face value, so keep that in mind.

Naughton rightly points out that the CSPI are the ones who asked movie theaters to replace relatively healthy (and natural) coconut oil with partially hydrogenated oil AKA Trans-fat. That did not work out as planned.

There are some superb nuggets of information in Fat Head. Too many to go over here. His description of the process where the Lipid hypothesis was declared the law of the land. It is a fascinating look with a few caveats I describe below. The description of how the scientific community can be cowed into accepting a theory is illuminating and well presented.

The Bad

The Bad: Remember the criticism of Super Size Me above was If you eat five thousand calories of pretty much anything and don’t exercise, you will not be in as good shape a month later. Well, if you eat two thousand calories of anything and double your exercise, you will be in better shape a month later. Congratulations Tom Naughton, you proved nothing. (Unlike Spurlock, however, at least Tom’s experiment can be replicated.)

Naughton spends (wastes?) a chuck of this documentary trying to disprove CICO (calories in calories out). Naughton is a member of the Good Calories Bad Calories Cult. (Spurlock’s girlfriend was a vegan, so we know which side his whole grain bread was covered with a partially hydrogenated fat soluble margarine was spread on.) But when push comes to shove, both Spurlock and Naughton seem to prove that the more calories you eat, the more weight you will gain. No matter the source of said calories. They both claim different things, but that results from the so-called experiments they both ran. (If Naughton had eaten five thousand calories a day but kept it Keto, I would have been more impressed)

Now don’t get me wrong, I am on team Keto. In my personal experience, I have lost fifty pounds in about four months on Keto. And have kept most of it off for a while. When I am not paying attention to my diet, the pounds can sneak back on, but if I get strict again, they come back off. There is a reason that Dr. Nowzaradan on my 600lb Life puts his patients on a high protein, carb free restrictive diet. But it is calorie restrictive as well. Dr. Now doesn’t say no carbs, but feel free to eat 5000 calories a day.

Naughton loves his straw men, and Fat Head is chock full of them. Bussing is causing childhood obesity? Really Tom? I get it you don’t like mandatory bussing to serve racial integration and prefer neighborhood schools. You know what I feel the same way. But is bussing really that common anymore? It was a lot more popular in the seventies when kids were significantly thinner. I get it he hates bussing, but it clearly has nothing to do with the topic at hand and simple logic disproves your theory. This is not an offhand aside. He brings up this theory twice.

Naughton hates the government. While that is well placed in his description of the creation of the food pyramid and the alleged bullying of scientists who did not go along. His anti-government screened takes some weird right turns. (In more ways than one). If you are doing keto, Naughton, you ought to support clear labeling on food, since you need that to do Keto. Anti-government screeds have their place but time has not been kind to them of late as many of the acolytes of such views turned out to be gullible violent idiots of the type who probably believe that birds have been replaced with robots and root canals cause cancer. (Read Ugly below. It will make more sense). Much like GamersGate, I was on board till I met the people that were on the bus with me.

I would be remiss to point out that while I understand this is a documentary made fifteen years ago and on a very low budget, it does not excuse the soundtrack by Tom Monahan that I swear has slide whistles to emphasize points, the overuse of the word bologna, and a graphics artist who apparently thinks Microsoft Paint is a secret government conspiracy and he will have his mind taken over if he reads a how to guide on the same.

The Ugly

The Ugly: A couple of years ago, I saw a documentary on Amazon called Root Cause. It was nicely shot, with plenty of people in white coats. Its claim was that root canals caused cancer and heart disease. It was nuts. Completely and totally insane. Birds are not real van insane. It was pulled (No pun intended) from Amazon and Netflix but it is still on YouTube if you are curious. Just think of how unscientific a documentary has to be to be pulled from a streaming service that has documentaries on aliens in the Bermuda Triangle, bigfoot is real and lives in northwest Arkansas, and Keeping up with the Kardashians.

This is the problem. Even in 2009, anyone could make a documentary and get it realised on a streaming service. The gatekeepers basically have to face a mob of angry dentists before they will take any action. Sure, it is buyer beware. I was not inclined to think root canals were anything but overpriced and painful (having been the recipient of a few myself) and I turned the documentary off after a half an hour as it dawned on me slowly that this guy was nuts. I read with bemusement a few months later about the rather unique delisting. (Streaming services will stream almost anything. Last Tango in Paris is on Tubi and Pretty Baby is on Hoopla.)

But I was inclined to think the documentary maker of Root Canal was incorrect. When I watched Super Size me I bought the information being presented hook, line and sinker. Why wouldn’t I? I was watching a professional documentary that had been in theaters. Unlike Root Canal (or strangely enough Bowling for Columbine) nothing in Super Size Me triggered my “that makes little sense” reflex.

I am not vulnerable enough to believe in bigfoot or The Kardashians. But plenty of Americans are. Like those aliens in Galaxy Quest, just because it is on television, they think it is real. And I bought into Super Size Me. A documentary that is shown in schools. A documentary that, as Tom Naughton says way too many times, is baloney.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: Spurlock had a lot more success after 2009 than Tom Naughton did. Tom still hasn’t managed a Netflix special and they give those to anyone with a mic and a pulse. Of course, Tom is sitting there with his two kids and attractive wife, eating a burger and enjoying some long delayed schadenfreude as Spurlock ran into a self-inflicted buzz saw. First Spurlock responded to the Me Too movement with a poorly thought out mea culpa blog post explaining how he was part of the problem. He was soon part of the unemployed.

It also turned out that Spurlock was a raging alcoholic during the time he made Super Size Me, which both explains the extra 1500 calories he consumed a day (A scientific analysis of his meals during filming showed none of them went over 3500 calories a day supersize or not) and the liver damage shown after thirty days which he blamed on McDonalds. I genuinely wish Spurlock well in his new sobriety and hope his next wife knows how to cook a steak.

As for Mr. Naughton, there are pieces of Fat Head that really work well despite the sub South Park animation and soundtrack from a Carry On movie. Had Tom Naughton focused on just laying out his argument in a clear and concise manner with a lot less strawman and conspiracy theories, he would have been better off.

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