Review of Fat: A Documentary

I should preface this by saying the following: 1) there is some valuable perspective in this film; 2) clearly, some fats are not only not bad for you, but actually good for you; and 3) I think many who give their opinion in this film are well-meaning.

However, I cannot in good conscience recommend this film for the following reasons:

1) The film lacks a clear purpose. It is unclear whether the producers are trying to make a film to clear the bad name from fat or to advocate for a ketogenic diet. If their goal was the former, they should have stuck to that; if the latter, they should clearly identify the film as advocating for keto and not title it based on a common macronutrient.

2) The head honcho of the film, Vince, admits that he lied on Oprah in the 1990s in order to make an episode about him. I don’t deny that he may have had just cause to do so or that the episode was better media for that. But if his goal is, as he says, to show that the media will try to advocate anything so long as it thinks there’s dollars in it, the same could very well be said of this film—and besides, once someone admits they straight-out lied before, how do we know they aren’t doing it again? In his autobiography, Marlon Brando does something similar: he admits to have totally fabricated biographies for playbills when he was performing in the theater. And the same question then arises: how can we, and why should we, believe Brando now, if he has done this before?

3) If the goal of the film is to advocate for keto, it suffers from a serious problem: it presents parents of a type 1 diabetic child who swear that by switching from a standard American diet to keto, they minimized their child’s insulin needs and thereby made him healthier. They brag about cutting fruit from his diet. The problem here is enormous. First of all, the film goes to great lengths to point out that when not-very-healthy foods are compared to crap foods, the balance in favor of the not-very-healthy stuff is not meaningful—and here they have parents saying that keto was better for their kid than pancakes and such like. That’s equally meaningless.

The thing with type 1 diabetes—and I know this first-hand—is that there are two dietary patterns that can be used to control it: there’s the low-carb way and the nutrient-dense way. I’ve seen the low-carb way in action, and I’ve seen it kill people. On the other hand I have personally found great success with a nutrient-density approach. The more fruits, legumes, and whole grains (rice, quinoa, oats) that I eat, the better my blood sugar runs. In fact, when I started eating more of these by percentage, I stopped experiencing wild blood sugar swings. One possible explanation is that the vitamins and minerals in fruits help insulin metabolism.

The film would have you believe that these foods cause obesity and insulin resistance. At 6’3” and 185 lbs dripping wet—a weight I struggle to maintain even when eating like a pig—I’m certainly not obese. And I’m not insulin resistant, either: for all the carbs I eat, I average 30-35 units daily, 13 of which are long-acting, and maintain an A1c under 7%. What causes obesity is processed foods—and while they do say this, it gets buried in the film under carb-bashing, because we must have an enemy. While you can probably lose weight quickly with keto, if that’s your goal, it’s also pretty clearly a yo-yo diet. And in any case for someone like me, there’s no fat to burn, so it’d kill me, not help me.

Do I eat fat? Yes, and plenty of it. I love nuts, I love avocados, I love fish—but the film also tries to clear saturated fat of its bad reputation, and I can’t agree that it is really good for you. In fact, the one food that really screws up my blood sugar is pizza, because the saturated fat in the cheese messes with insulin metabolism. The film barely talks about nuts; there was a gold mine there if they had talked about the health benefits of almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, etc. Instead they advocate an almost carnivorous diet. On that note, I should add that I have gone mostly plant-based—and feel sturdier and stronger physically than I have in years. The link is clear to me.

4) The strongest case that can be made for keto has to do with the treatment of epilepsy. They movie highlights this—in fact that’s where it begins. But it never asks the obvious question: if the goal in treating epilepsy this way is to starve the brain of an ingredient that is causing it trouble in certain people, why should people who don’t have the same issue starve their brains? I can see no compelling reason to do so.

The second strongest justification in the movie revolves around a doctor who went to live with the Inuits and said they have no major diseases and their carnivorous diet is healthy. Fine; I’ll not challenge the first part as a statement of fact. What I will challenge is the opinion at the end, because the Inuits live much shorter lives than we do—I’m reminded of the fate of Nanook of the North—so the diseases that we start to see in people in their late 50s, 60s, and upwards don’t have a parallel in their society because they just don’t live long enough for those to manifest.

Contrast these stronger points with the attempt to discredit whole grains by linking them with Seventh Day Adventists: but wait, the movie forgot to note that Seventh Day Adventists are notable for their longevity and good health! Something’s missing…

Now, with all that said, there are two things I can completely agree with in the film: 1) fats are not inherently bad for you, and in some cases are actually very good for you; and 2) government policy in the United States, between subsidizing corn, creating the absurd food pyramid, and rewarding the pharmaceutical companies for treating diseases we don’t need to have, is an absolute disaster. But that’s true of everything the federal government dips its hands into, particularly when there are Democrats involved….just look at our school system. The argument here is not for keto, but for local and state control rather than federal, and for people with legitimate substantive ideas based on facts and knowledge of human nature to administer that control.