Friday, December 17, 2010

Fat Head

I recently watched a documentary by a guy named Tom Naughton called Fat Head (full feature is available on

For those who don't know, this is a documentary that was made in reaction to the much more well known documentary by Morgan Spurlock called Super Size Me.

Tom Naughton is a computer programmer and in watching Super Size Me, felt there were some inconsistencies as well as flat out untruths in Morgan's information.  In his reaction, Tom does what any normal person would do, he goes on his own 30-day fast food binge. 

To make a long story short, Tom does two main things in his documentary.  First, he criticizes much of Morgan's information about the general public's nutritional knowledge, the availability of nurtritional information, and the control & power that fast food (McDs) has over children and their parents.  Secondly, Tom also eats nothing but fast food (70% McDs) for 30 days and amazingly manages to lose weight, decrease body fat content, improve his cholesterol, and decrease his chance for heart conditions.  He doesn't stick to salads, water, and all the "healthier" items like you'd think though; he has all the fatty, greasy food most normal people would have.  His rules are simple - stick to roughly 2000 calories a day and limit carbs to roughly 100g/day. 

At his final check in, the doctor is utterly amazed at what happened - he got healthier

But that's not what peaked my interest.  I got hooked on Tom's analysis of our diet over the generations and how that correlated with cholesterol.  Tom goes into a lot of detail about something called the Lipid Hypothesis which states that total fat and saturated fat will make you fat, increase your cholesterol, and lead to heart attacks and other conditions.  During this whole fast food binge, Tom eats much more fat and saturated fat than is recommended and manages to improve his cholesterol.  How is that?  Tom explains that we crave three tastes, salt, fat, and sugar; three things that used to be harder to come by (think back to stone age times) and also had lots of our necessary nutrition in it.  Therefore, our cravings were what helped us survive (and is still why we have cravings today - our bodies telling us it needs a certain nutrient).  Today, however, we are told to stay away from fats, limit our sugars, and because of how our diets work, that increases the intake of carbohydrates (bread, pasta, starch), which are mainly processed foods.

What it all comes down to is that the Lipid Hypothesis is mostly junk.  Carbs are broken down into sugars, processed into fat and absorbed into our bodies better than sugar and fat on their own.  Do a search for what' called a Ketogenic Diet.  It's a diet that increases your fat intake and decreases your carbohydrate intake.  This diet has been shown to improve your cholesterol over and over again. 

After the 30-day fast food binge which improved Tom's overall health, he was also intrigued by the fact that going against nutritional recommendations (increased fats, decreased carbs; a ketogenic type diet) improved his cholesterol.  He took another month and accentuated that diet at home - eating much more fatty meat and cholesterol packed foods with little carbs.  The result was another improvement in his cholesterol; going completely against both the doctors and nutritionists predictions.

Overall, I still feel there are some faults in Tom's documentary, but I feel he is much more candid about his information and thorough with his analysis.

I find the evolution of our diet and the impact it has had on our bodies incredibly interesting.  We have decades of nutritionists and doctors telling us that certain combinations of processed foods, supplements, and such are the best way to eat.  We have vegetarians and vegans arguing (apart from moral and ethical stances) that meat is actually harmful to our bodies.  And I don't even want to know how many "amazing," "incredible," and "successful" diets there are on the market today.  I personally favor the evolutionary "look at what our ancestors ate" viewpoint.  There is a book I may talk about in the future - it discussed how the best diet for each individual person is that of their ancestors.  For example, my heritage is Scandanavian (Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch), so I should focus on getting protein from seafood instead of beef, carbs from bread instead of pasta, and such.  The modern world is full of amazing and helpful things, but I think the more we become "experts" at individual tasks (e.g. nutrition, science, food processing and production), the worse off the non-expert general public becomes.

Morals of the blog
1.  Don't believe everything you hear; think on it for yourself.
2.  Watch Fat Head (it's free online)
3.  You can actually lose weight on fast food if you stick to certain guidelines
4.  The ketogenic diet (high fat, low carb) seems to improve cholesterol
5.  Nutritionists and Doctors (really, all experts) are not always right

Enjoy your Friday!


Faerunner said...

I'll definitely be watching the documentary later. :)

I do have to note though that SuperSize me was up-front about the portion sizes Spurlock was eating and did make note of the fact that it was above the daily recommended intake, which was part of the point of the movie - people who eat at McDonald's 3/4 of their meals don't often bother counting calories, let alone following a diet plan. If you limit yourself to under 2k calories per day you're going to lose weight almost without regard to diet and exercise level, unless you eat 2k calories of sugared white-flour pastries and sit in an office chair for 8 hours. Doesn't mean you'll be healthy though, or well fed... and most of us take in more than 3k calories per day because we eat and drink junk foods full of calories that don't satiate.

Spurlock was probably wrong about the public's nutritional knowledge, though. No one is very good at judging how smart society is.

Kurt @ Becoming An Ironman said...


Let me know what you think of it if you do end up watching the documentary. There is a LOT more to it that I didn't get into here.

I left out Tom's analysis of Spurlock's calorie intake. The issue was that Spurlock's nutritionist said he was eating roughly 5k calories/day and following McDs nutritional info, Tom had to super size BOTH lunch and dinner as well as add two desserts to get to that value. But this was an average value, not individual and Spurlock says he only super sized 9 times in the whole month. So the math just doesn't add up with Spurlock's rules.

And yes, Tom was recommended to eat about 2000-2500 calories/day, so he was eating under his recommendation.

Faerunner said...

Ah, I didn't bother with the math while watching! That's interesting. I'll definitely watch it on my day off this upcoming week. :)

(BTW, this is Dawn P - so you know. Been a while since we really talked, but I'm considering getting back into running myself, so this blog has been really informative and encouraging for me!)

Kurt @ Becoming An Ironman said...

I knew who you were. Not many people comment, so it's easy at this point to figure out who's who.

And I'm glad to hear you're thinking of starting back up. I'm always happy to hear I've encouraged healthy thoughts. What makes you want to start up again?