Fat Head

Fat Head was a response to Supersize Me. In Supersize me, Morgan Spurlock claimed he ate at McDonalds three times a day, supersized only when asked, and put on 25 lbs in 30-days. He argued that McDonalds encourages poor nutrition to help them make a profit, and supersizes should be illegal, and probably everyone who has anything to do with  McDonalds (I am not sure if he is so clear on other fast food restaurants) should probably spend eternity in a fiery pit of hell shoveling bacon grease up their….

As a response, “comedian and former health writer” Tom Naughton sets out to eat at fast food restaurants, 3 times a day. But he adds in some reasonable / achievable exercise (walking 3 miles 5 times a week, and 3 resistance training sessions a week) and decides to exercise some sense over the food choices he makes. While he certainly eats fried food and burgers, he does throw away the bun sometimes, and have the occasional salad. He aims to keep his calories at under 2,000 a day. Of course, he loses weight, and a whole load of ‘health biomarkers’ (his term; e.g. LDL, triglycerides) improve. The main points of the documentary that I took away were:

-If people want to be fat or if people want to eat ‘fast’ or ‘junk’ food or if people want to engage in any behaviour deemed unhealthy, then that is their prerogative. Taxing (supposed) unhealthy behaviours, or taking away that option from people (either by making the behaviour so expensive it is prohibitive, or by removing it as an option) is not a morally right choice.
-‘Junk’ (UK term) / ‘fast’ (Alabama term) isn’t the reason why there is an apparent ‘obesity epidemic’.
-Eating fat is fine, it is carbohydrates you should worry about. [yes… doesn’t quite fit in huh?].

Do I agree with these tenets? Erm…. well, the last one for sure – although the nuances of it are a topic for another post. The other two…. I don’t know. I think they were important points to raise, but I am unconvinced.

What did I think of the film? As entertainment: it is OK. Starts off amusingly, nice easy to digest style, but is too long. Both myself and my boyfriend got very bored and wanted to turn it off before the end. The cartoons were a little hokey and eventually grating, but Naughton likeable enough. If you are interested in this topic, it is worth checking out for the first 2/3.

What did i think of it as a piece of information? Well, some things were great:

-He pointed out the (at best) misdirection and (at worse) lies in Supersize Me, which I think are important to realise to help people make their own judgements about Science (or pseudo-Science) in the media. Here is a great example:

Supersize Misdirection

-The encouragement of personal responsibility over health is important (and one I fully agree with).

-Turning over the idea that fat is inherently bad is important.

-Raising the point that people who make decisions about how to improve America’s health may have other motivations than just improving people’s health.

-Much more transparency is aimed at, e.g. the food log is published and Naughton admits he did not want to stick to this diet, and when he came off it, he improved his health more still eating fat and moderate carbs, but not from fast food places.

But what was wrong? Well, the things that really annoyed me were where he heavily laid into Spurlock, but made the same mistakes himself:

-He laid into Spurlock for not publishing his food log. Yet, Naughton won’t publish his exercise log. We are told that he engaged in a new ‘resistance training’ program three times a week – what is this? Pilates bands, or some heavy lifting? If he suddenly took up serious weight training, in a calorically restricted diet, you might expect to see an immediate improvement in health markers, that may not be maintained.

-He claimed that he was doing a more ‘realistic’ experiment than Spurlock, one that was more achievable for the average American. But he threw away a lot of the food he ordered. Can the average fast food visitor / does the average fast food visitor want to order twice as much, so they can throw away 1.2 the food (e.g. he has to order 2 egg Mcmuffins, as he only eats the egg patties). He also didn’t only eat at McDonalds, but bought ‘carb conscious’ bars. This is very much glossed over, and not in the spirit of the ‘average american’ as set out: for one, carb options have been discontinued and the replacements are expensive – especially as Naughton sometimes had 2 for dessert. I am not sure how maintainable this would be.

-He did 45 minutes of exercise every day (at least). Is this realistic? Would his diet work in someone who did not do this? He upped his exercise considerably for the documentary – was the improvement in health markers solely due to that?

-He didn’t far, far exceed the fat recommendations. The American Heart Association recommends ~80g of fat – he was having ~110g WITH ADDED exercise. It is a little over, but I think it would be easy to far exceed that.

-He didn’t have any soda that wasn’t sugar free.

-Of course, we don’t know the long term benefits.

-He said he ‘reduced’ carbs, but he kept them pretty low. He ate about ~100g a day. I mean, I watch my carbs like a hawk (one post workout carb meal a day; only 1 serving of low carb fruit a day, no ‘starchy’ vegetables, no added sugar, limited dairy blah blah blah) and *I* average 90 – as a small female. So, again, how realistic is his diet for the average American?


I think it was an OK documentary. I hated Supersize me, and found this more enjoyable, Naughton much more likeable than Spurlock, and  I preferred his overall conclusions. I just think he is guilty of many of the same mistakes Spurlock made and would like to see a sounder documentary about this.

As an aside, I am sorta starting to hate Gary Taubes. I don’t know why – he used to be my hero. But, I am sick of his making ridiculous statements like ‘fat is the only thing that can’t be turned into fat‘. Well apple pies can’t be turned into apple pies, but having them around doesn’t reduce apple pie consumption. And dietary fat can be turned into stored fat. Idiot.

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