Fat Head is a controversial new film on diet and nutrition by comedian Tom Naughton. Not only does it dare to collide head on with Super Size Me, an anti-fast food documentary by Morgan Spurlock, but Fat Head also intelligently challenges us to rethink modern nutritional dogma and standards.
Have you seen the news stories about the obesity epidemic? Did you see Super Size Me? Then guess what? … You’ve been fed a load of bologna.
Comedian (and former health writer) Tom Naughton replies to the blame-McDonald’s crowd by losing weight on a fat-laden fast-food diet while demonstrating that nearly everything we’ve been told about obesity and healthy eating is wrong. Along with some delicious parody of Super Size Me, Naughton serves up plenty of no-bologna facts that will stun most viewers, such as: The obesity “epidemic” has been wildly exaggerated by the CDC. People the government classifies as “overweight” have longer lifespans than people classified as “normal weight.” Having low cholesterol is unhealthy. Lowfat diets can lead to depression and type II diabetes. Saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease — but sugars, starches and processed vegetable oils do.
Muscle & Strength: Just who is Tom Naughton and what is "Fat Head"?
Tom Naughton: I'm a standup comedian, a writer, and a computer programmer, although I try to avoid doing all three on the same day. Fat Head is a comedy documentary that begins by poking fun at Super Size Me and the food cops who want to tell us all how to eat, then moves on to show that much of what we've been told about diet and health is just plain wrong.
Muscle & Strength: Tom, "Fat Head" starts by revealing that the documentary Super Size Me was a load of bologna, and concludes with an enlightening realization that the modern pro-carb, anti-fat stance might be wrong. Did you start out to make a documentary that at its core was about fat intake, or did the issue of fat intake surface organically while filming?
Tom Naughton: I was well into researching and shooting the film when I realized the anti-saturated-fat campaigns were based on lousy science and have done more harm than good. I knew Super Size Me was a load of bologna as soon as I watched it. It's full of faulty logic, and Spurlock's math doesn't even add up. So I began working on Fat Head as a comedic reply to Super Size Me. But since I planned to live on fast food for a month and demonstrate that it's entirely possible to lose weight eating Quarter-Pounders, I figured I should do some research into the science behind nutrition and health. Once I really started digging into that topic, I realized a lot of the dietary advice we've heard repeated over and over for the past 40 years was never based on real science. That's when I decided to change the focus of the entire second half of the film.
Big Fat Lies
Muscle & Strength: Your diet in Fat Head consisted of approximately 50% (or more) fat intake, did it not? Can you tell us a little about how this high fat diet impacted your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc., and your health is general?
Tom Naughton: Yes, it was around 54% fat, with 22% of my total calories coming from saturated fat. In other words, more than double the amount recommended by the so-called experts. My blood pressure stayed the same, I lost weight and body fat, and my cholesterol dropped a bit. The only negative effect was that my HDL dropped too. That's not from the saturated fat, however. That was the result of eating foods fried in trans fats, which were supposed to be the "safe" alternative to saturated fats. When I tried another diet experiment later, living on very high amounts of saturated fat with no trans fats, my HDL shot up higher than ever. I also felt great.
Muscle & Strength: How has Fat Head been received? I am sure by tipping over more than a few sacred cows you have attracted the ire of not only the Spurlockians, but also from some of those in the low-fat is good for health camp?
Tom Naughton: I've received some hate mail from the Spurlock fanatics and the vegan fanatics, which are largely the same group of fanatics. Most of them are laughable because it's clear they never even watched Fat Head. They just heard about it and decided to have a little temper tantrum because I poked fun at Super Size Me and the food nannies at CSPI. I've also heard from a few doctors who insisted I've got it all wrong, but didn't bother to offer any proof I've got it all wrong. They're just angry that the film says they've been handing out the wrong dietary advice. One of the doctors informed me I'm an ignorant American because I don't pronounce "bologna" the way it's pronounced in Italy, then proceeded to berate me in sentences full of misused words, misspelled words, and punctuation errors that would make a fifth-grader cringe. I had a good laugh over that one.
I don't take the hate mails seriously. When a comedian takes on controversial issues, it goes with the territory. You can disagree with someone's beliefs, and he'll be annoyed. But if you invite an audience to laugh at his beliefs, he'll be furious. I knew that going in.
Overall, though, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I've heard from several doctors who told me they've been trying to convince their patients that the standard advice is incorrect, and they now use the film as a fun, visual way to make that point. Some have even bought copies of the film in bulk to give to patients. I've also received hundreds of emails from people who changed their diets after seeing Fat Head and immediately began losing weight and feeling better. Some saw their digestive issues go away, or they stopped feeling fatigued and depressed all the time. A few even told me I changed their lives, which may be an exaggeration, but it's nice to hear. One of those emails more than offsets all the hate mails combined.
Muscle & Strength: Tom can you tell us what your eating habits have been like since concluding Fat Head? Do you currently practice a low carb lifestyle, and if so, what types of foods do you eat on any given day? I am also curious if your wife has adopted any of your eating habits?
Tom Naughton: My eating habits have evolved. Around the time I finished the film, I mostly just limited my carbohydrates, period. So I was eating some low-carb frankenfoods, such as low-carb pasta made with soy flour and low-carb dressings with aspartame. But as I kept reading about nutrition and health, I moved towards much more of a whole-foods approach. We cook almost everything from scratch now, and my diet is what I'd called modified Paleo: meats, eggs, seafoods, nuts, vegetables, some low-sugar fruits, perhaps a sweet potato now and then. No sugar and no grains. My one non-Paleo indulgence is full-fat dairy. I still like cream in my coffee and cheese on my burgers.
My wife lives on pretty much the same diet I do. She doesn't have a weight problem and never has, but after she read Weston A. Price's book "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration," she realized this isn't really about weight loss. It's about health. Since we're raising two girls, she wants them to be as healthy as possible. It was also eye-opening for her when her father, who's naturally lean just she like is, developed type 2 diabetes. A lousy diet can ruin your health, even if you never gain a pound. After she cut the sugar and grains and other junk from her diet, she noticed a difference in her health: fewer colds and other infections, better energy, better mood, better skin, etc.
Muscle & Strength: I want to backtrack for a minute and ask you about the birth of the documentary. Prior to the making of Fat Head, had you been involved with filmmaking on any level? And how long did the "seed" of an idea to start this project fester before you took action and said I am going to do this?
Tom Naughton: My filmmaking experience was limited to shooting and editing videos of my daughters. I originally planned to shoot a sample episode of a TV show I wanted to pitch titled "In Defense of Common Sense." Regular guy with a sense of humor looks at issues of the day, that sort of thing. The first episode would have been a look at obesity and the ridiculous prejudice we have against fat people in our society. I watched Super Size Me after I started doing some initial research. Spurlock's nanny-state agenda and faulty logic annoyed me so much, I immediately decided to produce my own documentary as a response.
I got started pretty much right away, but it was an on-again, off-again project for the next two years. I was working full-time, paying a mortgage, supporting a wife and two kids, so making a documentary had to be a part-time project. Sometimes I'd work all day, hop on a plane that night, fly across the country to conduct an interview the next day, fly home that night, then go to work as a programmer the next day.
I was fortunate that right around the time I was nearly finished with my shooting and researching, a booking agency landed me a two-week gig as a comedian on a cruise ship. I only had to do two shows per week, and the rest of it was all free time. So I sat in my room with a big stack of note cards and interview transcripts and wrote the script.
Why You Got Fat
Muscle & Strength: You mentioned the Paleo diet. There is a mountain of information currently available on the health benefits of this nutritional lifestyle. If someone wants to explore Paleolithic eating beyond the information presented in your documentary, do you recommend any specific books or websites to assist them in their research?
Tom Naughton: I like Mark Sisson's book "The Primal Blueprint." He has a gift for explaining the science to a lay audience. His website is good too --- www.marksdailyapple.com. I haven't read Robb Wolf's book "The Paleo Solution" yet, but people tell me it's great. I'm also a big fan of Don Matesz' Primal Wisdom blog, http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/.
Muscle & Strength: You are currently investing time lecturing on the impact of the "low-fat fiasco". Is this something you are looking to do more of in the future, and can you tell us what these speaking engagements entail, and if you are available for bookings?
Tom Naughton: I am definitely planning on doing more speaking gigs. I've got one coming up in August in Los Angeles at an event called the Ancestral Health Symposium, and another in just a few weeks on the Fourth Annual Low-Carb Cruise. The cruise speech is a slightly different topic, "Science For Smart People." There's a lot of bad science out there, which is why you open your newspaper one day and read that some study says eggs will kill you, then open it a few days later and read that another study says eggs are the best food ever. With a little understanding of how studies are conducted and what they actually show or don't show, people can easily learn to tell the difference between a useful study and one that's pure nonsense. And most of the ones you read about in your newspaper or online are worthless.
I really enjoy the speaking gigs because I'm passionate about the topics, but I also use quite a bit of humor in my speeches, so it's a bit like a return to my standup comedy days. I liked doing standup and I miss it sometimes, but I decided I'll ultimately be doing more good if I focus on giving speeches. You don't leave one of my standup shows knowing how to avoid becoming a diabetic.
Muscle & Strength: What does the future hold for you now that you have taken up the flag and are leading the charge against the misinformation we call modern nutrition? Do you see yourself still involved with education on this topic 10 years down the road? Perhaps a book, or follow-up movie?
Tom Naughton: I don't plan on doing another documentary unless someone else bankrolls it. I financed Fat Head myself, and you can only endure so many sleepless nights in one lifetime. A book is a definite possibility, however. My wife and I cringe when we meet parents who complain that their kids are gaining weight, and meanwhile they're feeding the kids cereals, fruit-spread sandwiches on white bread, Eggo waffles and juice boxes -- all low-fat foods, of course. I write and my wife's quite a talented artist, so we're thinking of producing an illustrated book for parents and kids that explains how different foods affect us biologically. Kind of like the talking-cells scene in Fat Head that explained how high insulin levels make us fatter, only in book form. I've heard from quite a few parents who told me that scene finally convinced their kids sugar is bad for them. Perhaps a book will convince a few more. I hope it convinces the parents, too.
Muscle & Strength: Where can Fat Head currently be purchased and/or viewed? Also, if someone wants to learn more online about Tom Naughton and Fat Head, where can they find you?
Tom Naughton: Fat Head is on both Hulu and Netflix instant-play now. Frankly, I was stunned at how our DVD sales went way up after the film premiered on Netflix. I guess people watch it for free and then decide they want to own a copy. In my humble opinion, it's actually worth owning the DVD, because the bonus track includes about 40 minutes of extra interviews with my on-camera experts. Great information that just didn't fit into the film itself.
Easiest way to find the DVD or just keep up with my recent articles is to visit the blog, www.fathead-movie.com.