What is the straight dope on the documentary "Fat Head"?

I am currently watching a documentary called Fat Head on netflix by one Tom Naughton. It was conceived as a response to Morgan Spurlock’s film Super Size Me. Since I always thought Spurlock was full of shit, I started watching it, but as I watched, he seemed to be promoting an Atkins-type diet which rang some alarm bells. I couldn’t find anything about him in the Skeptic’s Dictionary, but I did find one of the commentators that he interviews, Gary Taubes, was quoted in support of various skeptical positions.

So, Dopers, what’s the Dope?


Atkins gets a lot of criticism, but if you think about it we do consume a lot of carbs, way too many. Think of a burger combo. Burger on a bun, carbs. Fries, more carbs. Then a big ol’ soda. Even more carbs. The point is, some meat and some vegetables is going to be way healthier. Don’t know about the movie, but I think there are good points to what Atkins had to say.

Never mind. I found a whole bunch of other threads about this topic.


Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t vegetables carbs as well?

Depends what you mean by “vegetable.” Atkins doesn’t “count” fiber as a carbohydrate for the purpose of defining “low carbohydrate”. And it isn’t a “no carb” diet, it’s a “low carb” diet. Vegetables that have low nutrition, low fiber proportionate to total carbs, such as potatoes, are excluded. Vegetables which have high nutrition, high proportionate fiber, are not.

Yes: Broccoli, 1 cup (approx 100g): 31 calories, 6g carbohydrates, of which, 2g fiber
No: Baked potato, 100g: 93 calories, 21g carbohydrate, of which, 2g fiber

Depends which ones. Root vegetables are usually fairly high in carbohydrates. leafy veg not so much.

On a calorie to carb ratio those two are nearly the same.

Seems to me the big difference is the weight to calorie ratio.

Atkins does not concern itself with “calorie to carb” ratios of vegetables, so I’m not sure why you think that’s relevant. It concerns itself with the amount of non-fiber carbs in a serving (and, btw, most people consider a whole baked potato a serving - that’s about 250 grams) . It’s hardly rocket science to notice that foods which are carbohydrate dense, are also calorically dense compared to foods which are low in non-fiber carbohydrates and high in fiber. You can’t digest fiber, so it basically has no calories.

This is basically correct. Carbohydrates are broken down for energy, after all. Low-carb is just another strategy for reducing your calorie intake. It’s not magic.


I do think there’s a slight bit of magic in low-carb: filling up on meat and fat, for most people, is more satisfying and keeps you full longer than a low-fat, high-carb diet. Carbs - especially simple carbs like sugars - are easily and quickly digested, leaving you hungry sooner than the equivalent number of calories in fat or protein.

At least, that’s how it works for a lot of people, me included. Low-fat diets leave me starving all the time. Low-carb diets, on the other hand, are much easier to maintain.

Low carb works by making it easier to reduce the calories you consume. That’s what I mean by there’s no “magic” to it: there’s no super secret trick - you eat less, that’s it. I do see what you mean though, compared to low-fat diets, it feels much easier to reduce your calories, at least for some people.

The Atkins diet worked on the premise that the body mechanism that triggered fat storage and burned fat (ketosis?) relied only on the level of carbs ingested. So a diet high in meat and other proteins (and some fat) but low in carbohydrates caused the body to believe it was starving and burn stored fat. So essentially it was a diet of meats, eggs, cheese, lower-carb veggies like broccolli, lettuce, celery, etc. Of course, if you insist on pigging out, you may actually not lose weight this way.

Similarly, by this same logic, sugar was better than starches (complex carbs) because it came and went through your system in a faster time, while complex carbs encouraged higher insulin levels for longer times. Atkins, IIRC, considered insulin the agent that encouraged the storage of carbs as body fat.

The maroon in Supersize Me insisted on pigging out on 5000 to 7000 calories a day. The fact that before this he was a thin vegetarian before this did not help his health. If you eat nice balanced meals at that calorie level, you will still gain weight and have health problems. McD’s had nothing to do with it, except he insisted on eating too much.

While we’ve had other threads on this, I think it worth noting, again, that if Spurlock actually did eat nothing but 3 meals at McDonald’s a day, he could not possibly have consumed anything close to that many calories. McDonald’s is not good for you, but even a daily estimate of 5000 calories seems awfully high.

If you look at McDonald’s food calorie counts, Spurlock should have been averaging about 3000-4000 calories a day assuming he never once bought a diet soda (which he should have, since he said he was trying everything on the menu.) He super-sized only eight times in 30 days. I don’t see how he could have averaged 5,000 calories. It just doesn’t add up.