Update: the giveaway is closed! Thanks to everyone who entered. I’ll announce the winners soon and get in touch with Tom to have some DVDs shipped out post-haste.
Let’s dial it back to 2009.
Long before I’d discovered The Primal Blueprint, and long before the low-carb Paleo movement had hit such a massive stride on the Internet, comedian Tom Naughton was doing two things: being funny, and working hard to release Fat Head, a smart documentary that just recently became one of my favorite tools for introducing people to a more Paleo-friendly lifestyle.
I’m not sure why it took me so long to find it, but I’m glad I did. And I’m especially glad, now, to have the opportunity to share it with you, in the form of both a giveaway and an interview with Tom himself. Read on for a discussion of some of the key points of the documentary and a chance to win a copy of your own!
Matt: Let’s start with Fat Head. How would you describe it to someone not already familiar with the documentary?
Tom: I’d say it’s a comedy documentary that exposes the super-sized serving of nonsense presented in the movie “Super Size Me,” while also demonstrating that much of what we’ve been told about health and nutrition is flat-out wrong.
Matt: What drove you to create it in the first place? A desire to challenge conventional wisdom about health and nutrition, or the need to prove SuperSize Me as a factually ‘loose’ documentary?
Tom: It started out as a reply to Super Size 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.
Matt: One of my favorite parts of the documentary is the historical leanings: you take us back through time and analyze just why we accepted such faulty science as ”conventional wisdom” regarding health and nutrition. There seems to be a movement now, however, towards rejecting the lipid hypothesis and similar ideas. Fat Head is clearly part of that. What has been the response to the film? Have you seen any indication that the ideas in Fat Head are reaching mainstream appeal, or is a high-fat, low-carb lifestyle still primarily talked about on the Internet?
Tom: Fat Head is a small part of a growing movement. As Dr. Mike Eades explains in the film, lots of careers and businesses were built on the Lipid Hypothesis, and those people aren’t going to give up without a fight. But the great thing about the digital age is that information has been democratized. A badly designed, biased study is published, and dozens of bloggers tear it apart. And I know the bad researchers pay attention to the blogs, because I’ve heard from a couple of them who were offended by my critiques. Funny thing is, they never did answer the criticisms, except to more or less tell me I had no business disputing the work of someone with a PhD. Thanks to blogs, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the truth about diet and health is getting out there, but it’s bubbling up from the bottom. The people at the top are mostly still stuck in their old way of thinking. As Max Planck said, science often progresses one funeral at a time.
Matt: Near the end of the documentary, you mention dramatically upping your intake of saturated fat. Your doctor — and this might be my favorite scene — seems floored when you lose even more weight as you do. The documentary doesn’t mention, however, just how much more weight you lost. Mind spilling the beans?
Tom: After the fast-food diet, I spent another month on a diet that was very high in saturated fat, but nearly devoid of sugar and starch. The idea was to see, as Dr. Mike Eades predicted, if my cholesterol profile would actually improve, which of course it did. I ate a lot of food and wasn’t trying to lose any weight that month, but I still dropped another two pounds.
Matt: Likewise, do you think upping your saturated fat intake had health benefits because your body had already adapted to the lower intake of carbs, or do you think anyone can benefit from working more coconut products and fried cheese into their diet? I’ve read in a few places that high saturated fat intake, when combined with high carbohydrate, can cause health problems, but I’m not sure what to believe. Have you done any research of your own into this, and if you have, what did you find?
Tom: Saturated fat and cholesterol are good for you. Your body needs those nutrients, and humans thrived on diets high in fat and cholesterol for hundreds of thousands of years, but there’s one huge caveat: You cannot eat a high-fat diet if it’s also a diet high in refined carbohydrates. For reasons no one has been able to explain to me clearly, that particular combination appears to be the worst of all. Blood sugar goes way up, insulin goes way up, lipid profiles go out of whack. So while I tell people to enjoy their saturated fats, they need to cut out the refined carbohydrates at the same time.
Matt: You interview the Eades, as I recall, and a higher-up from the Weston A. Price foundation. I tend to associate those names with a more “Paleo” style of health and nutrition, though I don’t think that label comes up at any point in the documentary. Were you aware of it when you were filming, and would you say that it’s the style of eating you now follow?
Tom: I became aware of the paleo movement after the film was in the can. Had I known about it, I would’ve featured it in the film, because I think paleo diets are probably the best. I live on an almost-paleo diet now. No grains, no sugars, not much fruit and only if it’s low-sugar fruit. I’m not totally paleo because I still like cream in my coffee and cheese on my burgers.
Matt: Let’s talk about the family aspect. What does your wife think about how you eat? Did you have to convince her that the conventional way to eat healthy (low fat, high-carb, etc.) is nonsense, and if so, how’d you do it?
Tom: She was fascinated with the research I was digging up and made pretty much the same dietary changes I did. She’s naturally lean and has no need or desire to lose any weight, but she soon noticed how much healthier she felt. Eventually she read Dr. Weston A. Price’s book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” and became a bit of a whole-foods fanatic, especially since we have two growing girls. She cooks pretty much everything from scratch now and uses only natural fats. She even puts marrow bones in her stews to get the extra fat from the from the marrow. She buys Kerry Gold butter, which comes from grass-fed cows. She buys cream from a local dairy where they only feed the cows grass. She saves bacon grease for frying. We were just saying today — after eating a few of her awesome sweet-potato fries — that we can’t believe we used to throw out bacon grease and then fry foods in Crisco. What a waste.
Matt: How does the way you eat work with kids? I’ve been asked how I’d raise my own children in a more “Paleo” style of nutrition, to which I just cleared my throat and awkwardly tried to change the subject. Frankly, I’m not sure how easy that would be. What difficulties have you had in keeping your kids off the whole grains (if you try and do that at all)? Especially when school lunches seem like the stuff of nightmares?
Tom: You know, it’s not as hard as you’d think. Our girls love natural fats, which I think is true for most humans. So they’re perfectly happy eating fatty meats, eggs, vegetables with lots of butter, sweet potatoes fried in bacon grease, things like that. We don’t keep cereal in the house, so that’s not a problem. If they really and truly want a sandwich — which they usually don’t — we’ll make one with sprouted bread. Now and then my wife makes a baked dessert for them with apples, nuts, cream and barley that’s been soaked to minimize the lectins. Schools of course are another issue. They pack a lunch instead of eating the cafeteria food, but it seems like at least once a week, it’s some kid’s birthday and the teacher serves cupcakes. We don’t want to be food Nazis, so we just let those go. We know they’re eating well most of the time, and while they like a treat now and then, both girls are very aware that sugar is basically a garbage food.
Matt: What do you do now, health-wise? You clearly learned a lot while you were filming the documentary, so what does Tom Naughton do now in regards to eating, exercising, etc.? What are some typical meals, as an example, and how do you exercise?
Tom: My diet is pretty close to paleo, as I described. Breakfast this morning was bacon and eggs. Lunch was a handful of nuts. Dinner was meatloaf, a few sweet-potato fries, and spinach mixed with butter, spices, cream and some parmesan cheese. For exercise, I lift weights at a gym once per week, then do fairly intense calesthenics once or twice during the week. I also take long walks and listen to podcasts and audio books.
Matt: You counted calories during the fast food month, but clearly as part of the experiment. What are your thoughts on calorie counting now? Do you still do it? If not, do you count macronutrients instead?
Tom: That’s a tough one to explain. When we become fatter, we’re consuming more calories than we’re expending, but that’s not really why we become fat. We start accumulating fat first. Then we eat more because we’re storing too many calories as fat and run short of fuel. So no, I don’t count calories. I eat whole foods that are low in carbohydrates, so my insulin stays down and I’m satisfied on normal portions. That of course means I consume fewer calories than when I was fat, but I’m consuming fewer calories because I don’t want them, not because I’m counting them and limiting them.
Matt: I’m of the opinion that eating whole foods (and minimizing grains) negates the need for any kind of counting at all. Any thoughts on this?
Tom: Absolutely. When you’re nourished, when you avoid processed carbohydrates, when your insulin stays down at the level Mother Nature intended, your appetite is naturally regulated and you don’t need to count.
Matt: What about fast food? I’m sure you avoided it like the plague after one straight month of eating it, but what’s your take on fast food as a regular addition to the diet? Any concerns about weird ingredients or the consumption of highly-processed food?
Tom: I wouldn’t suggest anyone live on fast food. I was trying to make a point by eating fast-food items containing lots of saturated fat, which is one of the reasons fast food is supposed to be bad for us. I lost weight and my health was fine. But I made it clear in the film that I was limiting my starches and avoiding sugar almost entirely. If people are out and about and want to grab a fast-food meal, fine. Avoid the sugar and the starch, and it won’t hurt you. But of course we get way more quality nutrition from whole foods we cook at home.
Matt: I saw on your blog that you’ve been experimenting with Intermittent Fasting. That’s a popular subject here on Three New Leaves (and by popular, of course, I mean that I like to blab on about it while everyone sighs and looks away), so please forgive the next few rapid-fire questions: how do you like it? What has been your experience with fasting so far? Have you lost weight doing it too?
Tom: Intermittent fasting was much easier than I would’ve predicted. My concept of what it would be like was based on the times I had to fast before, say, a colonoscopy. I was hungry and foggy-brained back then. But that was before I cut the carbohydrates from my diet, so I’d conditioned my body to run on short-term fuel. Now I run mostly on fat, which is a long-term fuel. So I can go 24 hours without eating and barely notice it. So far, I’ve lost six pounds in three weeks. Not bad, since I eat until I’m full when I’m not fasting.
Matt: Last question, then. Let’s say someone just watched Fat Head and is looking to change their diet in a way to reflect the new knowledge. What’s one thing you would recommend as a great first step?
Tom: I’d say cut all sugar and white flour from your diet. That’s half the battle right there. Then pick up a good book such as The Primal Blueprint or The Paleo Solution and see if the advice makes sense. If it does, follow that advice. You’ll be glad you did.
Matt: Thanks, Tom!
An Equally Fat Giveaway
I’ll just establish this now: Tom’s a great guy.
When I contacted him to discuss an interview and see how I could help spread the word about Fat Head, he readily agreed to offer five — five! — copies of his documentary for use in a contest on Three New Leaves. That kind of generosity is rarely matched, so let me take just a moment to extend big thanks in Tom’s direction for being a stand-up kind of guy (let alone comedian!).
Tom tells me, additionally, that these copies are from the international release of the film, which includes his “Big Fat Fiasco” speech you’d normally have to order separately. I haven’t seen it myself, but I have high hopes for both the quality and the humor of it given his previous work.
But what about this contest, you say?
Leave a comment below with a link to your favorite Primal/Paleo-approved recipe. You can just include the recipe, if you want, and feel free to drop a link to your blog if you’ve discussed the recipe there too.
That’s it! Just one comment necessary to enter the contest. I’ll leave it open until midnight on Sunday, February 20th, at which point I’ll pick five recipes at random to win a copy each of the documentary.
What are you waiting for, then? Get commenting! And remember: all you need to do is link to a Paleo/Primal recipe of your choosing!
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