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Review: Facing the Fat

Published 1.27.2017
Facing the Fat is a 2009 movie that apparently tried to capitalize on the minor popularity of Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. It is currently available for viewing on Amazon for free if you have an Amazon Prime membership. Use this link to try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial.

Synopsis

The synopsis of Facing the Fat is that a 32 year old obese man, Kenny Saylors, does a water fast for 40 days, but ends up doing the fast for a total 55 days because he wanted the Guinness World record for not eating. His starting weight is 315.2 lbs, giving him a BMI of 47.8. After 55 days of only drinking water, he weighed 271.4 lbs with a BMI of 41.6, which is still in the morbidly obese category. He lost 43.8 lbs while starving himself for 55 days. Worse, than that, if you google his name, you will find that he regained every pound that he lost, plus some.

At the end of the movie, some of his health issues were ameliorated, but frankly my thought watching it was that he neatly demonstrated why fasting is not the way to lose weight. In addition, the Guinness people refused to give him the record because they (correctly) feared that eventually someone would starve to death in pursuit of the record. I do not recommend wasting any of your precious time on this plane of existence watching this film.

Beyond the synopsis

That's the synopsis and my bottom line, but I have other commentary about the movie, and about fasting for weight loss. I'll start with the movie. The set up and structure mimicked Fat Sick & Nearly Dead completely, though the production value of the film was nowhere near as good. The film shows him struggling to find a doctor that will monitor him during his fast, which at this point is only to be 40 days because there's some biblical link to that number. Finally he locates an "alternative" medicine practitioner in California who agrees to do it, clearly with the requirement that his spa get prime coverage. So we are treated to the saga of his first colonic and other "woo-ish" nonsense.

The practitioner (I don't remember if he was an MD or ND and don't have that in my notes) has him do a juice fast (ingesting only juices) for two weeks before and after the fast. And has him drink Smart™ water to replace electrolytes. He records his bathroom visits for some reason, and gets told to use ketostix to monitor his ketone level. He's clearly not as wealthy as Joe Cross (the Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead guy), and so has to stay with friends in California for duration. Saylors is from Tennessee I think, but the practitioner was in California, so that why the fast happened there.

He feels awful at first, but eventually begins to feel better. Unlike Cross though, because he's doing something genuinely dangerous, he doesn't go around and suggest to people that they give it a try. To be clear, Cross simply asked people to try his vegetable juices and consider eating more fruits and vegetables and less junk. Cross's juice fast is generally dismissed as a stunt, but though it's not sustainable for the long term, it's not dangerous. Saylors, on the other hand, was more in the role of traveling "freak," just looking for friend's reactions.

Of course we had the requisite scenes of temptation, with his friends stuffing their faces with food while he looked on forlornly. There was also a silly scene where he tried to call a bunch of politicians to ask them how they are trying to solve the obesity problem. Well, one thing they are not doing is telling people to do stupid and unsustainable things like water fast for 40 days. The movie ends with him listing the health issues that have improved from the weight lost during the fast, but unlike Joe Cross, his health is not restored. How could it be? He's still morbidly obese, and now he's deprived his body of the nutrients it needs to function for almost two months.

Cross's juice fast lasted six months, if I remember correctly, before he started eating solid food again. Saylors didn't have to option to extend his fast that long, he would have died. Whatever the message Saylors was hoping to send with the film, the message he demonstrated is that water fasting is not a healthy way to lose weight. Of course, the film ends with the fast, and there is no "six months later" update at the end. As I say, a simple Google search reveals that the weight loss was not permanent. Cross also put on a bit of weight too, but then lost it again restricting calories to only juice. Of course, Cross created a business out of the juice fast (or did he call it a feast? I can't remember) stunt, so he has a financial incentive to keep the weight off.


Fasting

I haven't done as much research into fasting as I have for other topics, mostly because the idea of not eating for extended periods of time holds zero appeal for me. However, the word fasting usually had an adjective in front of it, thus fasting doesn't mean the same thing to all people. Fasting, for me, means not eating. So-called "juice fasts" are not fasting, they are calorie restricting intake to liquified vegetables and fruits. I place "smoothie fasts" into the same category. Neither one is sustainable for the long term, and neither one is easy to adhere to.

I want to clarify something, because I think I come off as very snarky towards Joe Cross above. Although not appealing to me, I see nothing wrong with Cross's ReBoot™ business. He doesn't push it as a long term solution, it's merely supposed to be a way to jump start the process of getting healthy. Suggesting that people max out the number and types of vegetables and fruit for a bit is not the worst diet advice I've come across. He's answered the concerns about lack of fiber by saying that smoothies are fine— it's also fine just to eat the vegetables and fruit as they are. The problem is that most people don't. Juicing them is better than not eating them at all.

So-called "intermittent fasting" doesn't meet my criteria either. Choosing to limit yourself to a single meal in a day or limited window of time in which to eat is not fasting because you're eating every day. Calling that fasting would allow me to say that I intermittent fast because I generally don't eat after 7:30PM or before 8:00AM or later the next morning. That's why it's called breakfast— you're breaking your overnight fast. Intermittent fasting has been shown to be no better than simple calorie restriction.

I've written numerous times about how we use Michael Moseley's 5:2 "fast" diet as a way to reduce calorie intake. It's not a fast, however, it's just severely restricting intake twice a week. The alternate day fasting diet regimes are true fasting, if on the days you don't eat you stick to water. Many people don't think the 5:2 diet is sustainable, but I think alternate day fasting would be even less so. We've been doing the 5:2 regime for years at this point, and like its flexibility. I get that not everyone would want to organize their lives that way.

So having said what I don't think is real fasting, it's time to talk about the real McCoy. Because thanks to Dr Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore, actually starving yourself for days in an attempt to lose weight seems to be having something of a "moment." Fung is a Canadian nephrologist, who has somehow convinced the internet that he's got the answer to cure type 2 diabetes. Moore is a blogger with even less qualification to talk about medical issue than I have, but he has somehow created a business for himself as a health blogger.

Fung advocates long term fasts, and by long term I mean 3 days and longer— sometimes much longer, as treatment for insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and obesity. This is supposed to a movie review rather than a treatise on fasting, so I will try to be brief. Fung and Moore wrote a book last year about fasting. I haven't read the book, but I've read enough on Fung's website (no links, if you want to be exposed to their nonsense you'll have to find it yourself) to consider him genuinely dangerous.

Moore has attempted several long term fasts, following Fung's teachings to very little success. They don't seem to have been true water fasts, and he didn't get anywhere close to 55 days in duration. Sure he lost weight, and at a rate similar to Saylors. And like Saylors, he's put weight back on. I admit that I don't follow his nonsense much at all, but the fasting thing was discussed at the Carb-Sane Asylum. My impression is that Fung is either unaware of the Dr Roy Taylor's work with curing type 2 diabetes, or he is, and it trying to "one up" him.

Taylor's research has shown that an eight week protocol of ingesting 600-800 calories a day (typically 3 shakes of 200 calories each plus some cabbage or other fibrous vegetable) reverses type 2 diabetes. And when I say reversed, I mean that the subject can pass an oral glucose tolerance test without changing his diet before the test. Eight weeks of a liquid diet (some subject eschew the vegetables) doesn't sound like much fund, but it's enough nutrients to keep the body functioning.

After eight weeks, yes, subjects have lost weight, but more importantly, they've reduced the fat content in their livers and pancreas, as well as increased their insulin sensitivity. As a result, both organs begin to function normally again. Fung seems to think that complete cessation of food will get the job done quicker, but has absolutely zero evidence for that. I will state again, I'm not any sort of medical professional, but it seems to me that eight weeks of a very low calorie diet is a stress for the body. A few weeks of no food at all is a catastrophe. The body would not react the same to both circumstances.

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