Does Fast Food Contribute to Obesity: An Interview with Tom Naughton
Most of you have probably heard of the documentary "Super Size Me". It received a lot of press and attention, as the creator Morgan Spurlock explored the consequences of eating fast food.
"Fat Head", produced by Tom Naughton, challenges the assertions made in Super Size Me. Like SuperSize Me, he also goes on a fast-food diet, but the results are much different: he ended up losing 12 lbs, decreasing his cholesterol level, and experienced an increase in energy. Throughout the film, he also challenges popular misconceptions like "high fat and saturated fat are evil and bad for you"
We had the opportunity to catch up with him, and ask him some questions regarding his movie and mission. Here is our interview:
SlimKicker: Is there a story behind your decision to make this documentary and what is the 1 main message you wanted to spread?
Tom: I was doing research for a show I wanted to pitch called "In Defense of Common Sense" -- a funny but common-sense guy looks at issues of the day. The first issue I was going to cover was bigotry towards fat people. So I watched Super Size as part of my research, and by the time I was done watching it, I decided to shoot my own reply because a lot of the ideas in Super Size Me annoyed me.
But since I intended go on a fast-food diet for a month, I wanted to do some research into what's actually good for us and what isn't. The more research I did, the more outraged I became, because it was soon clear to me that so much of what we've been told is wrong.
By the time I was halfway through making the film, I was more motivated by the desire to show what's wrong with the Food Pyramid and the misguided campaigns to scare people away from saturated fat. Morgan Spurlock played fast and loose with his facts, but he doesn't tell schools what to serve kids for lunch. The USDA does.
So if there's one message I want to spread, it's this: You've been lied to. Saturated fat and cholesterol were never the problem in our diets. The problem foods are sugars and refined starches, and it's those foods that make us fat and diabetic.
SlimKicker: In the documentary, you stuck to 100 grams of carbs everyday. I know 100 grams of carbs isn't for everyone, but how do people figure out the ideal amount for them? What factors come into play?
Tom: That's highly individual. We all have a tolerance for carbohydrates that's partly genetic and partly determined by how much or how little you've damaged your metabolism with lousy food already.
If you're an active person who isn't overweight, you can probably tolerate well above 100 grams. If you're pre-diabetic, you probably can't tolerate more than 50 grams per day, depending on what kinds of foods you eat for carbohydrates. Best advice I can give is to buy a glucose meter and check your blood sugar an hour after eating. If it's above 125, I'd cut back on the carbs or try different forms of carbohydrates.
The thing to remember is that you don't need carbohydrates in the diet at all. There are essential fatty acids and essential amino acids, but no essential carbohydrates.
So pick the carbohydrate foods that provide beneficial nutrients -- green vegetables, berries, perhaps some sweet potato or squash. Sugars and grains don't provide you with anything you actually need, and they can do a lot of damage to your system.
SlimKicker: Do you think overweight people need to track their food (similar to the food log you kept) when switching to a healthier diet? Or do they just need to follow a few common sense principles such as steering away from processed carbs, and sugars, keeping the carbs below a certain amount, and eating as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible?
Tom: I tracked my intake because I was eating fast food and wanted to tell my audience exactly what I was eating. For most people, I believe giving up all sugars and grains and focusing on meats, eggs, seafood, vegetables and perhaps some full-fat dairy will do the trick without counting or tracking. I don't count anything anymore. I just eat the foods I know are good for me.
SlimKicker: The documentary dismisses a lot of common myths surrounding nutrition. I know even my doctor would tell me saturated fat is harmful. And we all know the official food pyramid is the complete anti-thesis of what you're advocating. If this is the case, how are we supposed to know who to believe, and how to make dietary decisions? Do we resort to trial and error? appeal to authority?
Tom: Appeals to authority are a lousy method for determining the truth. The USDA is held up as an authority, but that agency's job is sell grains, not to make you healthy. Even one of the members of their dietary guidelines committee admitted awhile back that the USDA's recommendations aren't based on solid science.
I urge people to read the actual research, because frankly there is no scientifically sound evidence that saturated fat and cholesterol are bad for us. Pick up a book like "Good Calories, Bad Calories" and check the hundreds of references in the back. Go to a site like http://healthydietsandscience.blogspot.com/ and start reading. The evidence is out there, even though popular culture and most doctors haven't caught up yet.
SlimKicker: What's your view on fruit for people trying to lose weight? Do you think it's something that should be limited to 1 serving a day because of the amount of sugars in it?
Tom: It depends on the fruit. Berries are actually low in sugar, but of course bananas are high in sugar. I'd urge people trying to lose weight to eat fruit in limited amounts and don't drink fruit juice at all. A glass of apple juice is so high in sugar, you may as well be drinking a soda.
Keep in mind that in most parts of the world, ripe fruit was only available for a brief period of the year. My Irish ancestors certainly weren't importing bananas from Brazil in the winter, so we know people don't need year-round fruit to be healthy. If anything, I think making ripe fruit and starches edible in the autumn may have been Nature's way of fattening us up for the winter.
SlimKicker: Many people want to change their diet, whether it's Paleo, or lower carb, but face problems with social stigma. I know a few people who've told me they have trouble because they don't get support from their family/friends. What advice would you give to them?
Tom: You don't want to be a fat diabetic because your friends don't approve of your diet. If you wouldn't snort cocaine just because your friends want you to, then don't eat sugar and refined starches just because they want you to.
In some social situations where people are passing around cake or donuts, I just say no thanks. If I'm pressured, I say I have a bit of a wheat allergy. Not many people will pressure you to eat a food if you're allergic to it.
SlimKicker: In the documentary, you said you walked around 6 days a week, and did resistance training 3 times a week. How much do you think that contributed to your weight loss? Would you have lost the same amount without the exercise?
Tom: The only change was adding an extra three walks per week to my routine. Frankly, based on the research I've read since making the film, I suspect that made very little difference. Walking and jogging don't do much for weight loss, despite what most people think. In one study I read, overweight women did aerobic exercise for 45 minutes per day, five days per week. After a year, they'd only lost four pounds on average.
A couple of months ago I was looking through some old VHS tapes and found one of me being interviewed for a WGN-TV documentary on the comedy business. I was a regular jogger back then. I was also much fatter than I am now, despite the jogging. That's because I was living on a high-carb, low-fat diet back then.
SlimKicker: Have you kept up with the high fat/protein diet since you've made the film? And how has your views on nutrition changed(if they did) after the documentary?
Tom: I eat even fewer carbs now, probably around 50 per day or less. I don't count carbs anymore, but since my diet is based around meats, eggs, seafood, green vegetables, some full-fat dairy foods, a few nuts now and then, it's a low-carb diet. I no longer eat, say, one hamburger bun per day because I've come to believe that wheat is a very bad dietary choice, even if your total carbohydrate load for the day is still low.
When I made Fat Head, I was focused on keeping my diet low-carb, period. So I'd eat low-carb pasta, low-carb tortilla wraps, low-carb desserts, etc. Not anymore. I still eat low-carb, but I'm much more focused on avoiding grains, soy and processed foods than I was then. Almost nothing we eat at home comes out of a box except for the frozen vegetables.
SlimKicker: Do you have any future plans in store? Another movie, or perhaps a book?
Tom: My wife and I are planning to produce an illustrated book to explain to kids how different foods affect their health. After Fat Head started getting wider exposure, I was pleasantly surprised at how many parents wrote and told me their kids loved it and were influenced by it. I hadn't planned on that, but it got me thinking about how few books or films on diet are directed at kids. We need to get kids on board if we're going to stop the rise in obesity and diabetes.
SlimKicker: Thanks for answering our questions, Tom!