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Film / Fat Head

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You've been fed a load of bologna.

A 2009 documentary created as a reply to Super Size Me. Since eating five thousand calories a day of anything would make anybody 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 he 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 Super Size Me in a few places, the film largely goes in its own direction, choosing to look 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 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.
  • 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:
    • Of course... 'bologna'.
    • The phrase "so _____ did what any dedicated _____ would do" precedes a blatant rejection of scientific fact.
  • Caffeine Bullet Time: The "Fit for Life" diet says that you should eat proteins and carbohydrates at separate times, but consume only fruit and juice until noon. Tom ended up with a sugar rush that lasted two hours.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Critical Research Failure: invokedFat Head points out a lot of this in Super Size Me. Among other things, Fat Head starts with the Captain 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Robert Pritikin got leukemia and committed suicide, though the documentary implies that his suicide was a result from his diet lacking fats.
  • Fat Idiot: Attacks this trope forward, backward, and sideways. For one, Tom goes against the belief that fat people eat junk 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. Later on, he 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 just doesn't work.
  • 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.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: "Surgeon General's Warning: Lamp may be Hot."
  • Fridge Logic: invokedIt's pointed out that in Super Size Me Spurlock was supposed to be eating over 5000 calories a day, and that five thousand calories of anything would make you fat. Naughton tries at one point to come up with a five thousand calorie day using Spurlock's rules, and it takes two supersized meals (since the option was never available for breakfast) and two desserts to even get close. Turns out that Spurlock was drunk at least once a week, which would also explain the fatty liver Spurlock got.
    • He also brings up Spurlock's claims of McDonald's food being addicting, pointing out the claim came in between Spurlock's complaints of despising the food, and how he had absolutely no trouble quitting McDonald's food, cold turkey, the moment his experiment was over.
    • One scene has him 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 McDonalds for providing something the government couldn't.
  • Fun with Subtitles: At one point there's a clip of the lawyer from Super Size Me 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.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong:
    • When the United States government managed to impose a cutting on fat (especially saturated fat) and cholesterol... see how healthy are people today.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • I Ate WHAT?!:
    • Grains are essentially carbohydrates, which are sugar in the blood. That is the reason why grains "give you energy". In fact, a high-grain diet is equivalent to an animal-fattening diet that farmers give their livestock. The wheat you eat today is not even the same "wheat" that was grown millennia ago!
    • A few of egregious examples: The glycemic index (the speed in which a food raises blood sugar) of table sugar is 64 (out of a maximum of 100). The glycemic index of Shredded Wheat is 67. Special K cereal has a glycemic index of 69. Whole wheat bread has a glycemic index of 70.
  • 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 they pointed to the healthiest foods in nature: nuts, olives, fruits, certain vegetables, meat and milk. Why would Mother Nature give humans a taste preference of foods that would kill humans?
  • Informed Flaw: Eric Oliver notes that by the Body Mass Index's logic, he, a six foot 190 pound guy, is overweight, in spite of having a somewhat lean figure.
  • Ironic Echo: Plenty. Some of these Ironic echoes even share the same introductory subtitles 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, of course. 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 DO have nutritional information. Barring that, someone could just go to the McDonald's website... 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 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 is up because he feels great. Tom then says that, if he felt that he is getting a heart attack, his first response would not be 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 1 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 in a tough programming project even into the night without getting tired.
  • Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:
    • The obesity epidemic is actually because the parameters for who is considered overweight vs. obese was changed. Ethnic diversity also plays a role, with African Americans and Latinos more prone to heavier builds. He even noted that it took him several hours on a busy street corner to find a even a handful of shots of extremely heavy people.
    • Ancel Keys deliberately messed with his research: Chile ate little fat but got a lot of heart disease, while Norway ate a lot of fat but got little heart disease. He was not the only one who deliberately messed with the 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 "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 them 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. At least he cites a study that has a positive correlation between being fat and television use.
  • Nutritional Nightmare: His fast-food diet and his high-fat diet appear to be these... 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, considering most of the film has absolutely no profanity at all.
    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 kinda 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 followup.
  • Retcon: CSPI once said that trans fats were good (and that animal fats were bad), forcing everyone to switch to trans fats. Once CSPI learned that trans fats were actually bad, CSPI insisted that they knew that trans fats were bad and forced everyone to ditch trans fats.
  • Shout-Out:
    • There is one to Rip Van Winkle.
    • The documentary repeatedly plays the "Follow the money" clip from All The President's Men.
  • Shown Their Work: Naughton's food logs appear in the film and can be accessed from his website. Unfortunately, Morgan averts this.
  • Stylistic Suck: Any animation Fat Head uses is this.
  • Take That!:
    • To the "heart-healthy" Cocoa Puffs.
    • To government in general.
  • Take That, Audience!:
    • He 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.
    • He 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. That is your choice and none of his business, though.
  • 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.
  • Unfortunate Implications:invoked 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.
  • 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.
  • Violation of Common Sense:
    • In keeping his carbohydrates low, he orders burgers and sandwiches without the bun. That works.
    • Turns out that switching to a low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-grain diet that was once entirely contrary to the way people ate millennia ago and even impossible without modern technology (vegetable oil did not have the technology required to be extracted from vegetables) is not good to our health.
  • Visual Innuendo: The Leaning Tower of Pisa falls down fully... whenever Naughton talks about Spurlock's impotence.
  • Where Are They Now: In a Fat Head Followup, Tom explains what happened since the 3 years he finished both diet experiments.


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