In response to Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me (2004), we have Tom Naughton’s Fat Head (2009) and I cannot recommend this movie enough. I wish I had discovered it sooner in the deluge of documentary rebuttals to well known, more popular films. Yes, you’re going to hear a hell of a lot more science than Supersize Me but it’s done in an entertaining way and you may find yourself angry at the diet industry, the government and Spurlock himself. Director Tom Naughton rips into the “bologna” which is what is sticking out of his mouth on the DVD cover as a parody of Spurlock’s fry-filled mouth and comes up with some surprising research that has been ignored. In fact, he shows how the government has paid for bad science and we are all the victims of it which has some pretty dire ramifications.
When I first saw Supersize Me I have to say I didn’t suspect any foul play. I figured it was pretty stupid for anyone to eat McDonald’s food every day and then not exercise at least a little, but Spurlock wasn’t far off base in that most Americans either refuse to exercise or honestly have little time do it. Also a high fat diet is bad for you, at least that’s what our doctors and nutritionists tell us? We have changed over from a hard labor workforce to a sedentary workforce behind computers and wireless mobile devices. Our last blue collar heroes are hard hat construction workers and repairmen and we’d probably be surprised by how much their labor has been cut down by technology. So eating lots of fat and not moving results in weight gain, nothing new there.
Spurlock’s movie went further though. The villain was not our personal responsibility or the success of technology but the fast food restaurants themselves. With their gluttonous appeals, fatty flavors, seductive advertising and cheap prices they were the culprits. Let’s demonize them, sue them, regulate them, etc, …and everyone will become healthy and thin again.
Well, that was bullshi-er, bologna according to Fat Head. The only thing that Supersize did was make Morgan Spurlock rich and jumpstart his career. I do like some of the TV programs he’s produced as they are experiments in human behavior, but now I question the setup for those experiments. Tom Naughton and other critics have repeatedly asked for Spurlock’s food log from the Supersize Me experiment and he has refused. This is not peer reviewed research and, quite frankly, is dishonest. If you make a claim and are not going to open up your findings for others to critique for errors, then where is your confidence in your findings?
Unfortunately, Fat Head will never make as much money as Supersize Me (don’t quote me, that’s just a guess) because it doesn’t indict the usual villains–corporate food giants. It has elements that repel what I hate to say is liberal Hollywood marketing–personal responsibility, science that goes against sacred cows, and a general feeling that McDonald’s is not so bad. Fact is, Naughton’s food log doesn’t restrain itself to just McDonald’s but to almost every fast food place you can think of. His strategy is based on the science and commonsense. Really, it’s pretty simple: avoid carbohydrates and take walks. That’s it.
And guess what? He lost weight. Not only that, all his other vital statistics were in complete order or better than normal. You’ll have to watch Fat Head for the science because to me that was the most impressive part of the documentary–science is never easy to break down for the rest of use without degrees, but Fat Head does a good job. In particular pay attention to the Lipid Hypothesis as these claims have been taken for gospel by our government.
Now the main question I have is when Naughton, who is a programmer by profession, did some calorie calculations on Supersize Me and found that Spurlock’s claims were not adding up? Spurlock said he consumed 5000 calories a day by eating at McDonald’s. Naughton played out several different meal scenarios to show it wasn’t possible with 3 meals a day… so where were the extra calories coming from? In other words, Spurlock was lying or was incompetent. Was he eating on the side? Or off camera? This annoys me because it’s the same reason why I became disgusted with Michael Moore–skewed, biased research and intentionally misleading edits.
But leave it to a programmer on a small budget to call Spurlock out. Maybe there’s more to this story, maybe Spurlock has some valid answers for us–but he’s not responding. It will also make you feel better about yourself for wanting to eat fat because it’s not as bad as you think. Naughton isn’t advocating a diet of fast food, he’s simply asking that you to question the prevailing wisdom based on sound science.
SIDENOTE: Since this is Freethunk, I have to point out that part of Naughton’s conclusions were based on our historical diet of animal fat and that taking in lots of grains and bread or eating a strictly vegan diet would be unnatural. Our bodies weren’t designed by evolution to be vegan and Fat Head suggests that the sugar that results from carbohydrates may result in other health issues. Basically, our bodies crave animal fat because we need animal fat (take that Seventh Day Adventists).
For creationists, doesn’t this present a problem? Creationists say that before the fall of man (Eve being tricked by a talking snake) that humans only ate “nonmeat” because there was no death in the Garden of Eden. In other words, they ate fruits, vegetables, and salad. The reason Naughton’s documentary is called “Fat Head” is one of the doctors interviewed says our brains are fat–they need fat! So without animal fat for our brains and overall health what did Adam and Eve eat? Nuts? A lot of nuts? There really isn’t a comparison between the fat in nuts and the fat in meat, as this movie makes the point, to be of comparative value. Without animal fat in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would have had poor nutrition. God’s perfect design thus suspect. Of course, the fallback is that God remedied any nutritional issues by miraculous healing, but that still suggests a flaw when a system is not designed to be self-sufficient. Otherwise, how could you determine if the human body was designed perfectly? Because God said so? Well, we’re back to the same old circular reasoning…
SIDENOTE 2, added 3/8/2012: I was thinking about this article due to the recent comments since I tend to upset people (you should thank me, even if I’m wrong I’m making you think). I want to add that I think part of my comment was wrong in that it is perfectly reasonable to presuppose a mythological setting and find the conditions that would work. In other words, “magic” or supernatural settings could replace science, Biblically speaking. For example, there are Vegan Bodybuilders, something I was not aware of when writing the first side note–see http://veganbodybuilding.com/ and if you are to say that the Garden of Eden had all of the available foods/supplements that these athletes take, then certainly Adam would have six pack and Eve would be toned and hot (whoo-hoo!). Animal fat may not have been necessary (putting aside predation and the desire for a juicy hamburger) and I think can be debated as to the effects on health and the other big issue brought up by the movie: depression. This is a good article for an overall view on the subject of fat and its effects.
On the flipside, if you type in “Fat Vegetarians” you may be surprised to find they exist and that a vegan or vegetarian diet does not solve your problems. I already was aware of this due to knowing a handful of people who went vegetarian but it made no difference for their weight gain. There are even Fat Vegans, see http://veganhope.com/2010/01/11/yes-im-a-fat-vegan/ So in addition to presupposing all of the available nonmeat food groups in one place you would have to assume that Adam and Eve either worked out or had their metabolisms perfectly set whether they were lazy or active (Adam did go around naming all of the animals, so he must have been busy).
Fat Head, the movie is about the science of fat and losing weight in the here and now. It is not commenting on anything religious. Freethunk is about doing that, for better or worse, thus my first sidenote. I have nothing to do with the director. I just think he did a good job and presented a good case and much like the sermons I’ve heard that use movie examples I put in my own atheist opinions at the end. As a result I almost always learn something from readers. The information in the movie also supports the craving for fat and the historical relation it has to evolution. My first sidenote was more off the cuff and a jab at creationism, which I’m prone to do (I was raised on creationism). Fat doesn’t have to be from animals (I mentioned nuts for example). So if the setup is that God provides ample quantities of nuts and any substitutions for animal life like Omega 3 covered by consuming algae (assuming Eden had access to marine plant life) then there you have it. The Garden of Eden provided the correct nutrition until a talking snake came by and ruined the whole thing.