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Film / Fat Head

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You've been fed a load of bologna.

Fat Head is a 2009 documentary, created as a reply to the documentary Super Size Me.

In Super Size Me, director Morgan Spurlock ate at McDonald's three times a day, taking in five thousand calories per day and gaining weight as a result. Since eating five thousand calories a day of anything would make someone fat, comedian and former health writer Tom Naughton began wondering if it was possible to lose weight on a fast food diet. To this end, Naughton crafted a diet with three main points:

  1. He has a functioning brain.
  2. He may only eat fast food for thirty days (cut short to 28 due to his doctor's schedule).
  3. He would consume two thousand calories a day or less and avoid going over a hundred grams of carbs a day as much as possible.

While it parodies and takes shots at Super Size Me in a few places, Fat Head largely goes in its own direction. The film looks at the science behind what makes a healthy diet, the political background to creating "certified healthy" foods, and the social stigma associated with those who are overweight.

The movie is available for free on YouTube, as are Naughton's talks Big Fat Fiasco, which delves deeper into how obesity became so rampant and Science for Smart People, which goes into detail about good science versus junk science.

Fat Head provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Jewish: Tom explicitly says that he is not Jewish, but he may have family members that are because he had gone to a Passover dinner.
  • Ambulance Chaser: When discussing the lawyers who want to hold fast food companies legally liable for possible weight problems, Tom insinuates that the main reason these lawyers target fast food companies is because they have lots of money, and that the arguments they use to support fast food companies being responsible are designed to justify their greed.
  • An Aesop: Healthy or not, the food you eat is the food that you choose to eat. Nutritional intake varies from person to person and nobody should force you to change up your diet just because they think what they don't like to eat is poisonous to everyone else.
    Tom: And now for the one question that really matters: who decides to drink 44 oz. sodas and big bowls of sugary cereals and large orders of fries and then go home and sit in front of the TV and eat more sugar and more starch instead of taking up a sport or just going for a walk? You do. And if that's your choice? [shrugs indifferently]
  • Arc Words: "So _____ did what any dedicated _____ would do". This phrase precedes a blatant rejection of scientific fact, showing how poorly-researched some anti-fast-food arguments are.
  • Blaming the Victim:invoked Tom argues that Morgan Spurlock and those who agreed with him in Super Size Me came off as Holier Than Thou at best, and outright racist at worst. Tom notes that in its quest to drive home how the American masses were Fat Idiots, Super Size Me implied that low-income minorities that frequent fast food restaurants were inherently unintelligent people who don't know what's good for them and need unwanted guidance towards "better" lifestyles.
  • Captain Obvious: When one interviewee was asked whether she'd buy carrots if McDonald's sold them:
    "You don't go to McDonald's for carrots. You go to McDonald's for fries."
  • Chirping Crickets: They sound with coyote howls when Fat Head shows how empty are the parking lot floors that are far from the mall entrances. Or the non-automatic stairs that are inside the mall. Or emergency rooms which are surprisingly free of obese people choking on their own fat.
  • Condescending Compassion: The documentary frames Morgan Spurlock and other anti-fastfood advocates as being of the opinion that poor people and minorities are stupid and do not understand what they're consuming. Tom counters that they are fully aware that fast food is not healthy, but are still making that choice.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: The CSPI is not exactly interested in consumers, but rather in pushing vegetarianism on everyone. They are not even good scientists.
  • Corrupt Politician: Tom repeatedly talks about the overreach the government has over eating healthy.
  • Curse Cut Short: The customer in the CSPI cartoon skit does this after essentially being browbeat into not ordering lunch.
  • Cut Short: Downplayed. Tom shortened his experiment from 30 to 28 days because his doctor was going on vacation.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Tom’s wife when he asks her if his diet has changed their sex life.
      "Are you a moron?"
    • Tom's physician also gets in on it on occasion.
      Dr. Feit: Have ever been told you have a murmur?
      Tom: No?
      Dr. Feit: Good, because you don't have one.
  • Documentary of Lies: Super Size Me is accused of fudging the truth and being manipulative. Tom starts by pointing out that eating more than 5,000 calories of McDonald's each day on Spurlock's rules is actually impossible (math tops out at around 3,800 calories if at least one meal was supersized every day, requiring at least three additional desserts to reach that number), indicating that Spurlock either lied about his calorie intake or broke his own rules.
  • Do Not Try This at Home: Tom says that his experimental fast food diet is not a healthy one because it lacks fruits and vegetables, but has trans fats, which lower LDL. He does say that, if he can lose weight eating fast food three times a day, you would not die going to fast-food restaurants a couple of times a week.
  • Driven to Suicide: Nathan Pritikin got leukemia and committed suicide, though the documentary implies that his suicide was a result from his diet lacking fats.
  • Falsely Advertised Accuracy: invoked Discussed. Fat Head points out a lot of false claims of accuracy in Super Size Me. Among other things, Fat Head starts with the obvious conclusion of "eating five thousand calories a day and not exercising, regardless of what you ate, would make you gain weight." It also says that the experiment carried out within Super Size Me doesn't add up based on what host Morgan Spurlock says he ate.
  • Fat Idiot: Attacks this trope forward, backward, and sideways.
    • Tom goes against the belief that fat people eat junk food because they genuinely don't know what's good or bad for them, a belief that many of the food activists and fast food critics seem to operate on. Tom also criticizes Super Size Me for the implications it draws, arguing that Morgan Spurlock and those who agree with him come off as Holier Than Thou busybodies who are trying to force people into lifestyles that they don't want.
    • Tom talks about the common knee-jerk reaction to blame a fat person for failing to lose weight when dieting, when more often than not, it's because the diet that person was put on isn't working. Tom's own food logs from his website prove that his weight went down and his health improved, all while eating fast food three times a day. Therefore, Tom concludes that it's not fast food itself that's the problem.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: A guy ordering a double cheeseburger? Sounds like a job for The Guy from CSPI!
  • Flexing Those Non-Biceps: The Guy from CSPI has a couple, representing taxation and regulation.
  • Fridge Logic: This film questions pieces of the experiment found in Super Size Me.invoked
    • Spurlock was supposed to be eating over five thousand calories a day. Tom Naughton counters that five thousand calories of anything would make you gain weight. Naughton tries at one point to come up with a five thousand calorie day using Spurlock's rules, and it takes two supersized meals and two desserts to even get close (since the option was never available for breakfast).
    • After the experiment was over, Spurlock claims that eating so much junk food gave him a fatty liver. Tom points out that Spurlock confessed that he was drunk at least once a week during the experiment, which would also explain the fatty liver.
    • Naughton brings up Spurlock's claims of McDonald's food being addicting. The claim came in between Spurlock's complaints of despising the food, and how he had no trouble quitting McDonald's food the moment his experiment was over.
    • One scene has Naughton discussing the scene in Super Size Me where Morgan speaks with his lawyer friend, who feels McDonalds lures in children with its Play Places, particularly in areas where there are no local playgrounds. Tom stops the video and questions why he's supposed to get mad at McDonald's for providing something the government couldn't provide.
  • Fun with Subtitles: At one point there's a clip of the lawyer from Super Size Me (impersonated by Tom himself) claiming that it has to be McDonald's causing the obesity epidemic. The subtitles replace his (fairly tenuous) logic with It's All About Me (in particular, "hundreds of years" becomes "they don't have much money").
  • Good Old Ways:
    • Tom bemoans how children watch television or play video games instead of playing outside, or again, ride a vehicle instead of walking to school if they could. He bemoans more how adults would not even walk up to restaurants, instead ordering from their cars. On the other hand, he acknowledges that the proliferation of fast-food restaurants and drive-throughs gave people more free time.
    • Tom goes even older: he aligns the way he eats closer to a how pre-agricultural people ate because pre-agricultural people were actually surprisingly healthy. Indeed, even in agricultural times, people did not stray that far from the pre-agricultural diet until recently.
    • Jacob Sullum defies this. He did not want to go back to a time when people did most of their jobs through physical labor because people today, despite getting fatter, are living longer.
  • Gone Horribly Right: When he got fat, Tom's vegetarian friends suggested that he give up meat. He lost weight, but the weight lost was from losing muscle mass, not fat. His belly actually grew, plus he got tired to boot. So in the end, Naughton may have gone down in pounds, but he was even less healthy.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong:
    • When the United States government managed to impose a cutting on fat (especially saturated fat) and cholesterol, it didn't work. The obesity epidemic in particular continued on.
    • The current wheat harvested today is shorter and has a higher yield compared to that of decades ago. This drastic change changed the wheat at a genetic and biochemical level.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Played for Laughs. At one point, Tom consumes a 1450 calorie hamburger which the CSPI hyperbolically described as "heart attack in a bun". He records a log in the middle of the night, complaining of chest pain and sounding very worried, before he admits he's just joking and he actually feels great. Tom points out that if he actually suspected he had a heart attack, he would have immediately gone to the hospital, not set up a camera in his bedroom for Rule of Drama like Spurlock.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Pritikin, the author of the Pritikin diet, committed suicide. Though he committed suicide after he got leukemia, Tom Naughton and Al Sears, who essentially never get depressed, got depressed when on the Pritikin diet.
  • If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You: Averted, because "Mother Nature isn't stupid." More specifically, Tom mentions that you like salt, sugar, and fat because our ancient human ancestors were pointed to similar foods in nature for them — nuts, olives, fruits, certain vegetables, meat and milk — which they passed on through the generations. Tom then asks why would Mother Nature give humans a taste preference for things that would kill them.
  • Informed Flaw: Eric Oliver notes that by the Body Mass Index's logic, a six-foot 190-pound guy is overweight. This is in spite of Oliver having a somewhat lean figure.
  • Ironic Echo: Plenty from Super Size Me.
    • The title of Super Size Me had Morgan Spurlock's mouth stuffed full of fries. In the title of Fat Head, Tom Naughton's mouth is full of baloney.
    • Morgan's rules are that 1) he eats three meals a day at McDonald's, 2) he eats everything in the McDonald's menu at least once, 3) he would only Super-Size when asked, and 4) he would restrict his daily steps to 5,000. Tom's rules are that 1) He has a functioning brain, 2) he can eat any item of fast food at any fast food restaurant, 3) his total calories do not exceed 2,000, 4) his total carbohydrates do not exceed 100, and 5) he walks six times a week.
    • Before his experiment, Morgan had a "last supper" of a vegetable tart, quinoa with roasted veggie salad, artichokes, and a simple green salad, all organic. Morgan gladly ate the supper. Tom's "Last Supper" was quinoa with pineapple-teriyaki tofu and chicken-flavored soy drumlets with sweet-and-sour-sauce, plus a glass of carrot juice. 22 minutes of struggle later, he orders a pizza that has pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. Tom did not even wait until 10:00 before starting the experiment.
    • Morgan said that he could not get nutritional information in about 25% of the McDonald's restaurants in Manhattan. Tom replies that someone could simply walk to the many McDonald's in Manhattan that have nutritional information. Barring that, someone could just go to the McDonald's website. And it's accessible in many places that offer Internet access. Barring THAT, someone can simply use the many books that have that information.
    • The main part of Super Size Me was Morgan always Super-Sizing a meal when asked. Meanwhile, after an employee at McDonald's asks "Would you like fries with that?", Tom says "No, thank you." The employee actually respected Tom's choice.
      Tom: See how easy that was?
    • Super Size Me tells the joke: "What part of a Chicken does a Chicken McNugget come from?" Tom deconstructs the joke by saying: "There are also no sausages on a pig."
    • Super Size Me had an animation of two girls looking around before getting fat. Fat Head edited that clip to have them simply look around.
    • John Banzmat appeared in Super Size Me and told how McDonald's influence over the obesity epidemic required legal intervention. The same clips play in Fat Head, albeit with mocking subtitles that suggest that John just wants money.
    • In the middle of Super Size Me, Morgan is up in the middle of the night because he feels that he's getting a heart attack. In Fat Head, Tom implies to be getting a heart attack in the middle of the night before explicitly saying that he's up because he feels great. Tom then says that, if he felt that he was getting a heart attack, his first response would be calling for an ambulance, not setting up a camera.
    • In Super Size Me, Morgan's girlfriend shared some information on how Morgan's diet affected his more "intimate" matters. In Fat Head, Tom asked his wife to tell the audience of those "intimate" matters.
      "Are you a moron?"
    • After his experiment, Morgan got in a purifying vegan diet which had him lose only one pound a week. After his experiment, Tom went on a high-saturated-fat diet which not only improved his health, but also gave him the energy to work on a tough programming project even into the night without getting tired.
  • Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:
    • The obesity epidemic looks like it's gotten worse because the parameters for who is considered overweight vs. obese was changed. Then, there's the shift in age demographics; when the median age of the population changes from 26 years old to 35 years old, it's to be expected that the average person's weight would be heavier. Ethnic diversity also plays a role, with African-Americans and Latinos more prone to heavier builds. Tom even noted that it took him several hours on a busy street corner to find even a handful of shots of extremely heavy people. He argues that these statistics are manipulated by NGOs with political agendas and government agencies that are more concerned with securing funding than actually solving problems.
    • Ancel Keys deliberately messed with his research to "prove" the lipid hypothesis. Keys threw out more than half the countries he examined because their data did not fit his theory that animal fats are bad for human health. For instance, Chile ate little fat but got a lot of heart disease, while Norway and Holland ate a lot of fat but got little heart disease. Keys was not the only one who deliberately messed with data, either.
  • Limited Animation: "The Guy from CSPI" has no real animation. Characters slide and flip, but that's about it.
  • Long List: That would be the list of foods Michael Jacobson of CSPI fame that he calls lethal: alfalfa sprouts, bacon, beer, berries, butter, caffeine, cantaloupes, cappuccino, cheese, chef salads, Chinese food, clams, cookies, corned beef, creamed spinach, croissants, doughnuts, eggplant parmigiana, eggnog, eggs, fat-free ice cream, fettuccine alfredo, French fries, French toast, fried rice, fried shrimp, frozen turkey, garlic bread, grilled cheese, gyros, hamburgers, Italian food, macaroni and cheese, mayonnaise, meatloaf, melons, Mexican food, mushrooms, mussels, oysters, pancakes, pork chops, potato chips, pudding, salad dressings, salt, scones, anything from seafood restaurants, soft drinks, anything from Starbucks, anything from steakhouses, veal parmigiana, waffles, and wine.
  • Mind Screw: He shows that if your metabolism is low the energy you're getting from food may not be going straight to your cells, and you can still be starving at the cellular level. So your body is telling you you're hungry, despite that energy not being used. The end result means that instead of "You're getting fat because you're eating more" it is "You're eating more because you're getting fat."
  • Moral Guardians: How Jacob Sullum portrayed people who want the government to enforce nutritional standards (especially the CSPI) and the temperance movement. Tom calls these people "food evangelists".
  • Moving the Goalposts: CSPI once complained that McDonald's wasn't putting out nutrition information about its food. After McDonald's put out its nutrition facts publicly, CSPI says that it wasn't working since people do not want to read the nutrition facts if that involved getting out of line.
  • Never My Fault: People in charge of imposing federal nutrition standards behave this way when their guidelines not only lack the intended effect but also have the opposite effect. CSPI, in particular, told fast-food places to switch from meat fats to trans fats, but when trans fats were revealed to be bad, CSPI insisted that they knew that trans fats were bad all along.
  • New Media Are Evil: Tom bemoans the fact that currently, children do not play outside, but rather watch television or play video games. He cites a study that has a positive correlation between being fat and television use.
  • Nutritional Nightmare: Tom's fast-food diet and his high-fat diet appear to be unhealthy, but he ends up healthier in both situations. Tom also refers to Spurlock's Super Size Me diet as him "McStuffing himself".
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Throughout the film, Naughton keeps bringing up Spurlock's alleged impotence.
  • Precision F-Strike: One happens after the second experiment shows that Tom's cholesterol ratio improved after eating the "wrong" foods. Most of the film has no profanity at all, but then this comes up, and Tom can't contain himself.
    Tom: When I think of all the times I had low-fat cereal when I really wanted bacon and eggs, or a skinless chicken breast when I really wanted a juicy steak, well... It kind of pisses me off.
  • Record Needle Scratch: The Fat Head Followup starts with the ending of the original documentary, then the first second of the credits before playing a record scratch, rewinding the ending, then starting the follow-up.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The documentary repeatedly plays the "Follow the money" clip from All the President's Men.
    • When describing the effects Morgan Spurlock's experiment had on his body, Tom shows a picture of Fat Bastard with Morgan's head photoshopped on.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Naughton's food logs appear in the film, and can be also accessed from his website. These charts show a calorie count and other nutritional information.
    • Tom's fast-food diet and his high-fat diet appear to be Nutritional Nightmares, but he ends up healthier in both situations. Tom ends up going into some detail about how this could be the case, since the human body needs animal fat and animal protein as part of its diet to maintain good nutritional health.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Fat Head is made by Tom Naughton as a response to Super Size Me, and takes an opposite approach to Morgan Spurlock's McDonalds experiment while still attempting to replicate it. Spurlock deliberately goes after the unhealtheist items on the menu, force feeds himself until he throws up, and does not keep a food log; Naughton, reasoning that he has a functioning brain, restricts his carb intake, avoids sugary sodas, and publishes his food log for transparency. Their attitudes to the larger "obesity epidemic" are also polar opposites, with Spurlock openly accusing the fast food industry of being responsible and argues that consumers should boycot them until they go bankrupt, while Naughton takes a deep dive into the statistics and research used by health experts and lobby groups such as the CSPI (used as a source by Spurlock), claiming that they have an agenda and deliberately fudged the numbers. Basically, Spurlock takes a left-progressive, social activist approach, while Naughton is a libertarian-minded, do-your-own-research and free choice advocate.
  • Take That!:
    • To Super Size Me and its creator, Morgan Spurlock. This documentary is a response film to Super Size Me, which Tom argues is inherently flawed at best and outright lying at worst. Also, the aesop of "fast food is bad for you" gets exaggerated by Spurlock's experiment, since even the most unhealthy of people generally don't eat anywhere near as much fast food as Spurlock did. Tom also argues that Spurlock and those who agree with his point in Super Size Me treat poor people and those who choose to eat fast food as stupid, which Tom says makes Spurlock and company come off as Holier Than Thou.
    • To the "heart-healthy" Cocoa Puffs, which Tom Naughton argues is inherently impossible.
    • To government oversight in general. Naughton invokes Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics to argue that it's made the obesity epidemic look worse than it really is, because the standards for overweight and obese both changed since the data began being collected. Tom notes the government oversights on fast food (like the CSPI) are either not helping or actively making things worse. Tom argues that such entities are more concerned with getting government funding than doing what they were set up to do, to the point that the CSPI starts changing what it wants from fast food restaurants after their demands get met.
  • Take That, Audience!:
    • Tom Naughton expected his audience to expect him to lose weight on only Grilled Chicken Salads. He eats his first meal, a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese, on screen. He does skip the regular soda throughout the experiment, though.
    • Naughton says that the person responsible for you downing lots of sugar at work before sitting down and eating more sugar instead of getting active outside is you. However, Tom subverts the jab by saying that it's your choice to do that, and it's none of his business what you do with your time.
  • Think of the Children!: This is the reasoning that food evangelists use in blocking commercials that advertise "unhealthy" food to children.
  • Too Much Information: How Tom Naughton called Morgan Spurlock's reading about a link between saturated fat and how one performs in bed.
  • Viewers Are Morons:
    • invokedThe movie points out this is a driving factor in a lot of reform movements targeted at the fast food industry, so at one point Naughton interviews several people to reveal that the ability to recognize that fries and a cheeseburger is a high calorie meal is pretty much universal.
    • CSPI plays this trope straight by insisting the reason people keep eating fast food is because they're morons who don't know anything about nutrition.
    • Part of the documentary's intention is deconstructing this mindset by showing that the ability to recognize that fast food is bad for you is common; what's less common is knowing how to maintain a properly healthy diet.
  • Visual Innuendo: The Leaning Tower of Pisa falls down whenever Naughton talks about Spurlock's impotence.
  • Visual Pun: On the cover, Tom's mouth is stuffed full of bologna. Calling something "bologna" is an informal way of saying that it is completely untrue, and the purpose of this documentary is to spell out that how Super Size Me approached demonstrating the unhealthiness of fast food was dishonest and misleading.
  • Where Are They Now: In a Fat Head Followup, Tom explains what happened since the three years he finished both diet experiments.