Movie Review: Fat Head

20 Mar

I’m not sure what took me so long to watch the film Fat Head, but I noticed it on Hulu Plus the other night and thought I’d give it a try. Ostensibly a response to Super Size Me, this film follows Tom Naughton in his quest to expose some of the “bologna” we get fed about food.Naughton’s approach is simple and sensible: track what he eats, limit his calorie and carbohydrate intake, and exercise more, and see if he can eat nothing but fast food and still lose weight. Along the way, he interviews numerous medical practitioners about diet and health, and the result is a truly wonderful, possibly life-changing film.I think everyone I know should watch Fat Head. There are so many things I love about this movie that I’m not certain I can really do them all justice, but here goes, I’m going to try to explain why this might just be my favorite documentary of all time:

  • Naughton starts right out of the gate by calling out the tactic of using endless looped video of extraordinarily fat people when talking about America’s “obesity crisis.” He points out that he himself, who just looks like a normal guy, is technically obese, and really lays out a wonderful case that pretty much everything the media tries to sell us about the idea of obesity is total bologna. Clearly this is a message I’m already on board with (and one I encourage other people to really learn more about — one great place to start is the blog Junk Food Science) but I was genuinely shocked to see a wellness and food documentary that focused on this instead of jumping immediately to FATNESS = DEAAAAATH!!!1! In particular, Fat Head is one of the first films I’ve seen that says so clearly something I’ve said for years: fatness is a symptom. The same factors that lead to poor health outcomes also lead to fatness, and treating the fatness without treating the underlying cause is severely misguided.
  • This film perfectly skewers much of what made Super Size Me so insufferable — the lack of scientific rigor, the contradictions, the paternalism (“poor people are too stupid to defend themselves against the evils of corporate food giants!”), the layers of fatphobia, the oversimplification, the vegan agenda, and more. I really hated Super Size Me on a lot of levels, so it’s not surprising that I would enjoy this cunning evisceration of it.
  • One of the major points of the movie is something that I think never gets enough air time: the single biggest difference between people now and people historically, even just a few decades ago, is the amount of physical activity inherent in our daily lives. I have some fruity notions about diet, but I still think that exercise is the real key both to weight loss and to overall health.
  • The biggest awesomeness of all: slowly, subtly, this film shifts from being a simple story of losing weight while eating burgers to being a thorough examination of the science behind… a high fat, low carbohydrate, grain-free diet. Yep, Fat Head is a paleo movie, and it’s AMAZING. This film brilliantly deconstructs the lipid hypothesis, the USDA food pyramid, and other cornerstones of “conventional wisdom,” exposing the shocking lack of scientific rigor behind all of the dietary “truths” we’ve been told over the years. Naughton’s simple, engaging style is extraordinarily informative while being relatable and even entertaining. I consider myself a pretty smart science nerd, and very well-informed about dietary research, and even though this was all preaching to the choir for me I came away from watching feeling like I have a much better understanding of metabolic syndrome. After the conclusion of his fast food experiment, Naughton decides to go on a diet of meat, vegetables, and loads of fat for a month — he loses weight and his health markers (cholesterol, etc.) improve.

Naughton has now become an outspoken advocate for essentially a paleo diet. He has a blog. It’s a good read.

I need a cute system to summarize my movie reviews, like “I give this film four pigs!” but that’s now how my brain works. The best I can do to recap is watch this movie if you possibly can.

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