In 2004, Morgan Spurlock came out with Supersize Me, a documentary in which he ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days. The results were less than good for Spurlock’s health and the movie came to be seen as an indictment of the fast food industry as a whole and McDonald’s specifically. Fast forward a few years and here comes Tom Naughton with a response to that movie called Fat Head.
In Fat Head, Naughton makes three different claims:
- Spurlock’s movie was essentially a con job, filled with bad science and misleading facts.
- Fast food, while certainly not healthy, is not the bane of all existence as Spurlock made it out to be.
- The real culprit behind obesity and heart disease is the high carb lifestyle, encouraged and maintained by a government interested in selling more commodity crops like corn.
Editor’s Note – I actually didn’t intend for this post to be related to my current experiment with the 4 Hour Body diet. I was going for a break from that series for those readers who might be bored with it. However, it turns out that this movie was perfectly aligned with everything Tim Ferriss says in his book. I’ll chalk that up to coincidence and move right along…
Assumption 1 – Spurlock was a con man
Naughton does a really good job of convincing the viewer that Supersize me was less than honest in a variety of ways.
- He goes over Spurlock’s diet in detail that only an engineer can appreciate and he shows how it was the raw amount of calories and not their source that did Spurlock in. I really liked this part since I don’t think I appreciated how much Spurlock actually ate.
- He shows how silly some of Spurlock’s assertions were by talking to people on the street and testing their knowledge of food. This was a bit over the top but it was useful in showing how ridiculous Super Size Me was. For example, just about everyone knows that McDonald’s is not a healthy meal, despite what Morgan Spurlock would have you believe.
I was a bit surprised that he didn’t go after Super Size Me’s biggest weakness, the fact that Spurlock stopped exercising for that entire month, especially since Naughton believes exercise is far more important than calorie cutting. Still, by the end of the movie, few viewers will still believe that Super Size Me is an accurate and unbiased documentary.
Assumption 2 – Fast food is bad but it’s not that bad
Don’t misunderstand Fat Head, Naughton does not claim that fast food and McDonald’s in particular, is good for you. In fact, there are several points in the movie where he outright says it’s not the healthiest of foods. However, his point is that it’s not fast food that’s killing us. It’s high carb, high sugar diets. Can fast food be part of such a bad diet? Sure. Add a hamburger bun, a large coke and some fries fried in vegetable oil to your diet and your sugar levels will spike up. However, that’s true of any food. Naughton also points out that it’s not fast food specifically that’s adding too many calories to our diets. It’s the fact that we’re eating out way more often than we used to.
Finally, Naughton points out that no one is forcing you to eat fast food. Unlike Supersize me, where Spurlock claimed that McDonald’s is addictive and advertising to children, Naughton believes in a world where people are more responsible for their own actions. He points out that parents are responsible for their kids and that adults are responsible for their actions. No one is forcing you to go to McDonald’s, no one is forcing you to supersize your meal and no one is forcing you to take your kids there every afternoon. These decisions are yours and yours alone.
In general, I agree with Naughton on all of these points. Fast food is crap but even a home made meal can be unhealthy. And yes, adults are responsible for their own actions. I do wish fast food was a little more honest in their presentation but no one ever forced me to go there. If you choose to eat at McDonald’s then that’s your choice. You know what you’re doing is bad for you. So yah, it’s people’s choices that are responsible for their weight, not McDonald’s.
Assumption 3 – The real culprit is high sugar lifestyle combined with lack of exercise.
Here’s where Naughton’s movie really gets interesting. Besides showing us more evidence on just how awful our government is, Naughton goes into detail on where and when our diets went wrong. He’s definitely a believer in the low carb, paleo lifestyle and it shows. I won’t go into too many details here because there are too many to cover, but Naughton does cover them all in great detail. He includes information on:
- How and why government policy changed to support low fat diets
- Impact of low fat on our bodies (he includes a very nice primer on fat cells and how they operate)
- How much less exercise we’re getting
- How various institutes and organizations are still trying to support the low fat lifestyle and what are their reasons for doing so
All good stuff and very interesting to watch. I will note that I found Naughton a bit biased himself (he seems to think all vegetarians are rabid extremists for example) but 99% of his information was well presented and entertaining to watch. I came out of this movie not convinced that paleo was the way to go but definitely headed in that direction.
I will also point out that monoculture farming, something Naughton seems very opposed to, is not just responsible for flooding our bodies with more sugar but also for flooding our markets with more cheap meat. A real paleo diet would have almost zero sugars but it would also include far less factory produced red meat and associated chemicals.
Finally, I really liked Naughton’s emphasis on exercise. Too many diet and fitness movies / books completely ignore this aspect of staying fit. There are two sides to being healthy, exercise and proper diet.
So Is The Movie Worth Watching?
If you’re already on the low carb / paleo diet, there’s nothing new here for you. You’ll enjoy the various sections but you won’t really learn anything you don’t already know. You’re better off going for a brisk walk than you are spending 90 minutes listening to Naughton, as entertaining as he is. However, if you’re still trying to figure out what to eat and why, I would highly recommend this movie. It’s like the cliff notes to Good Calories, Bad Calories presented in a very entertaining way.
By the way, Naughton lost about 12lbs on his McDonald’s diet
Amusingly enough, this article crossed my screen as I was writing this post. It’s about Joe D’Amico, a long distance runner and his McDonald’s centric training for the LA marathon. Enjoy.