Meet The Fatheads: Tom Monahan

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Several people have mentioned in discussion groups that they can’t stop humming that “Sugar” song from Fat Head. Well, why should they? It’s catchy as all get-out. My daughter sang it for weeks after hearing it. (Although my daughter also eats bugs, so her taste isn’t always impeccable.)

Tom Monahan with some cute girls I know.

Tom Monahan with some cute girls I know.

Today I’d like to introduce the man responsible for that catchy tune and the rest of the music in Fat Head. This will be part of an occasional series of posts in which people who were influenced by the film tell their own stories. I know many of you who bought the film were already singing from the low-carb hymnal – and I love you all, believe me – but it was a real kick to hear from people who changed their diets after seeing it.

Tom Monahan, the film’s composer, was one of them. I met Tom in Chicago many years ago (we both had hair at the time) when he auditioned for a band I was trying to put together with a talented guitarist who was, as I realized later, a couple of cards shy of a full house. Tom called later to say he’d be happy to work with me, but the guitarist gave him a bad feeling – thus demonstrating his intuition.

We worked on some songs together, performed together now and then (mostly then) and became great friends. When I started working on Fat Head, I called and asked if he’d be interested in composing music. I knew this task would be challenging but not daunting for Tom, because at one time he was the composer for a Chicago children’s show titled “The Magic Door,” which won an Emmy.

Tom agreed and soon began sending me MP3 versions of various mood-music and transition-type compositions. At the time, I still planned on using pop songs to introduce some sections of the film. The section on blood sugar, for example, would’ve been introduced with a bit of “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies.

I say would’ve because I was informed that licensing the songs I’d selected – and we’re talking about little snippets – would cost more than $300,000. After the smelling salts were administered, I told Tom about my troubles, and he got busy writing songs, including his own “Sugar” song and the opening “Fat Head” theme – which I must say, I love.

By the time Tom flew to L.A. and his compositions got the full treatment by a talented music producer named Martin Blasick, I was glad the pop songs were too expensive. The film is 100% original, and Tom’s theme music ties it all up in a neat little bow.

So, with my long-winded introduction out of the way, here is Tom’s story in his own words:

In 1972 I graduated high school at a strapping 5’ 8”, 135 pounds. My introduction to nutrition didn’t begin until the late ‘70s, with Linus Pauling’s megavitamin therapy. In theory, flooding the body with an array of nutrients would correct health imbalances, with vitamin leftovers excreted by the body in what some critics called “expensive urine.”

I was experimenting with all kinds of concoctions, such as vegetable juice, wheat bran and brewer’s yeast, all mixed into a thick, blended shake. The taste was medicinal, and there was enough fiber to make a king-sized quilt, but it didn’t matter; I was a starry-eyed baby boomer out to reinvent myself and discover the fountain of youth.

These elixirs left me feeling incredibly high, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that in addition to all of the dense nutrients, I was flooding my system with natural sugars. Afterwards, I’d crash into a bed of fuzzy thinking and eventually sleep it off.

My exploratory urges dwindled considerably when my friends believed that I was jaundiced, when in fact my skin had turned orange from all the carrot/beet/celery juice that I was guzzling. To counteract such an otherworldly appearance, I began fasting for days to clear away any hint of my saffron hue.

Tens years later, my father reluctantly revealed that he had volunteered as a military guinea pig for the Nevada atomic-bomb tests in the 1950s — six months before I was conceived. My dad now lay dying, and I was left to wonder whether I had somehow inherited damaged DNA due to indirect radioactive fallout.

To compound matters, I was exposing myself to powerful toxins by handling work-related industrial pesticides and solvents over a two-year period. These cumulative poisons took an unimaginable toll on my system. I eventually collapsed.

I was now 122 pounds, utterly exhausted, and unable to work. I experienced flu-like symptoms for eighteen months. Conventional doctors were baffled by my condition, and I felt hopeless. I had hit rock bottom.

A holistic MD later diagnosed me with Environmental Illness/ Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. He prescribed a series of glandulars to restore my depleted endocrine system, and a macrobiotic diet to gently clean the toxins from my system.

Macrobiotics is an organic, low-protein/ high-complex-carbohydrate discipline that mainly consists of beans, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and occasional fish. The theory is that the lack of saturated fat restores clogged arteries, similar to removing bacon grease from a kitchen sink drain.

At the time, such a metaphor made perfect sense to me, considering I was the kind of child who believed that fixing the television set meant that a qualified technician would put the smoke back in.

Magical thinking aside, it took about ten years to recover my basic health, but I still tired easily and was always hungry. After ballooning to 170 pounds, it slowly dawned on me that macrobiotics wasn’t working in the long run. Besides, I had been eating whole grains for years, only to learn that my cholesterol was now 245. How could this be? I was a vegetarian! I was eating almost no saturated fat!

Thus began another round of dietary investigation. In 2000, I came across Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions,” which describes the benefits of saturated fat and explains how the insulin response to grains and sugar raises cholesterol. I began experimenting with small amounts of meat and felt stronger every day, with newfound vigor.

Tom Naughton later asked me to compose the soundtrack for Fat Head. I was absolutely thrilled because music is my passion, and because Tom and I had both been vegetarians for years but independently came to the same conclusion: the current theories about fat and cholesterol were questionable at best.

But it wasn’t until finishing the soundtrack that I became fully committed to the high-fat/low-carb approach. Until then, I still believed I could get away with eating carbohydrates and sugar as long as I ate meat to slow down the process. Silly me.

The first day we were producing the music for the film, Tom, Martin Blasick and I took a lunch break at a nearby fast food restaurant. Everyone ordered cheeseburgers without the bun, but I was the only one who added fries and a soda to my order.

Two hours later I was exhausted. Not even an iced tea could revive me. Meanwhile, Tom and Martin were still going strong. “Why am I so sleepy?” I wondered aloud, to which Tom replied, “It’s the starches and sugar from the fries and the Coke. Your blood sugar is crashing.”

He went on to explain how the insulin response to all those carbohydrates was driving the available fuel into my fat cells for storage, even as my blood sugar was dropping. Now I finally got it. I made the commitment to drastically cut back on sugar and starch.

Over the next eight weeks, I lost 20 pounds. My energy levels rose. After years of feeling tired, I now feel strong enough to take a full load of college classes on the way to finishing my degree in theater, and I work out at the gym three days a week.

And I look forward to even greater creative challenges ahead.

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9 thoughts on “Meet The Fatheads: Tom Monahan

  1. Robbie Trinidad

    I’ve always wondered how well Fat Head and Taubes’ GCBC have been reaching the their target audiences. I know for us low-carbers, Fat Head is basically “preaching to the choir”, but it’s a lot easier for me to get someone to watch Fat Head than to read GCBC.

    I agree with you. It’s a kick to hear from people who changed their diets from watching Fat Head. I’m hoping to hear more of them.

    Taubes knew when he was writing GCBC he’d have to choose between making it consumer-friendly or scientifically dense enough to convince the white-coat crowd. To his credit, he decided he needed to convince the medical experts first. He’s working on a consumer-friendly version now.

    I’ve got more stories from converted Fatheads up my sleeve.

    Reply
  2. Helen (MiniChem101nz)

    I believe Allan has had contact with you in the past about the profound change seeing “Fat Head” made to our lives and our weight. I was a classic carb-addicted/low-fat crusader. Ever delighting in my carb-laden low-fat dinner, only to be starving an hour later. Not terribly overweight (8lbs) but pretty chumpy, and I couldn’t understand why, when I considered the amount of physical work I did, and my restricted-fat diet.

    For many years too, I have suffered heart-burn and indigestion… gall bladder problems resulting in its removal… and most recently I was diagnosed with Barrett’s disease which can lead to esophageal cancer and most likely a miserable death.

    I’m setting the scene here, so bear with me 🙂 For almost 15 years I have relied heavily on Losec (Omeprazole), Motilium (Domperidone) and OTC antacids. Through those years I did try to limit the antacid use, fearing a rebound reaction, but once I was diagnosed with Barrett’s, I didn’t care how many Antacids I sucked on. The acid was going to be suppressed no matter the chance of other consequences.

    So finally, here’s the kicker for you. We changed our diet to lo-carb around 8 weeks ago after we watched “Fat Head” on the Documentary Channel. Since the diet change I haven’t had the need for an antacid – none – zip – nada. Not a single glug from the bottle of liquid antacid, not a chew on a tablet, nor a nibble around the edge. Frankly – we are gobsmacked (charming Kiwi phrase, don’t you think?) I have also lost 6 of the 8lbs, so I’m pretty pleased about that… but Tom even if my weight remained the same, to lose the reliance on those darned antacids, has been MY life-changing event. And it’s all down to you Tom – my HERO!

    We have since gone on to buy the books associated with the many medical professionals in your movie. We are also promoting the lo-carb diet to anyone who shows an ounce of interest… recommending your website… talking to people about Statins (you may recall Allan is a Pharmacist) and putting the word out to the medical professionals with whom we come into contact. Sure, a lot of the time it’s an uphill battle. I regularly allow myself a satisfying mental rolling-of-the-eyes when I hear and see the BS that abounds…….. Anyway Tom, a heart-felt thankyou, and a huge cyber-hug from me. xx

    I’ll take all the cyberhugs I can get. And I love “gobsmacked.” Wonder if I can use it around here without people thinking I’m … what’s a Kiwi word for “crazy”?

    I believe I may have been in touch with Allan about contributing to a Meet the Fatheads post.

    Reply
  3. TonyNZ

    According to this the word you would use would be “mad”, but I would go with something like “nuts” or “flipped his lid”.

    I got into a good conversation at a bar recently. We were trying some new craft beers and one of the party bought some pork rinds, saying his arteries won’t like it but what the hey. I said “you know that’s a load of BS right”. Started to explain why and by the end the bar staff and a couple of other randoms (another Kiwi thing, random can be a noun) had tuned in. All spreading the word in NZ.

    Speaking of craft beer, there is talk of blanket raising taxes on alcohol to curb binge drinking in New Zealand (because that works). Seeing as the craft beer crowd are some of the most responsible drinkers around (really are role models for drinking responsibly) and the tax raises would effectively hobble the industry, raises on craft beer would seem to pervert the point. If you want to support good beer, inventiveness and entrepeneurship then sign this petition.

    Taxes like that give me the colly wobbles.

    Reply
  4. Phyllis Mueller

    I don’t remember how I found your website, Tom, but when I couldn’t find your movie at my local video store I ordered a copy from Amazon. Much of the information was not new to me (I’ve been to a couple of Sally Fallon’s workshops, read Mary Enig’s and Eric Oliver’s books and GCBC, and I edited college-level nutrition textbooks in the 80s, post-McGovern commission) but I was not familiar with the work of Drs. Eades, and found them impressive. So I bought the Protein Power book and read it. Having read GCBC, I was confident in the science, and I liked the fact that the food plan was about real food, not shakes or bars or packaged junk, because we eat local and organic and I cook. I wanted to lose a few pounds I had put on over the winter, and I told my husband (who also wanted to lose a few pounds) that I had decided to follow their food plan. He said he would, too. That was two months ago.

    We have both lost weight. And we aren’t hungry all the time, the way we were when we ate more carbs, even the so-called “healthy” ones (brown rice, beans, etc.) Best of all, my husband’s blood pressure, for which he had been taking three medications, dropped 50 points (both systolic and diastolic) in about three weeks. For more than 20 years, doctors had told him there was nothing he could do to lower it but swallow the pills and endure the side effects. He’s gradually reducing the meds, feeling good, getting good BP readings, and continuing to lose weight. He is amazed. I am delighted.

    This is a permanent change for us, one we are happy to make. Thank you.

    That’s an amazing improvement on the blood pressure. Isn’t it a shame to think how many people are popping prescription drugs every day because their doctors know so little about nutrition?

    Reply
  5. Phyllis Mueller

    It is a shame. I don’t know which is worse–the side effects and the expense, or feeling you have no control and there’s nothing you can do. My husband does not have high cholesterol or elevated blood sugar (possibly because he’s always been a diligent exerciser) so it’s harder to make the leap that carbs might be an issue. And of course there’s having to ignore all the standard advice (meat is bad, fat is bad, eggs are bad, whole grains are good, eat oatmeal, etc.)

    One interesting thing–he tried a low carb regimen as a weight loss strategy a few years back, lost weight, and felt just terrible–draggy and tired and devoid of energy. So after he lost the weight he went back to eating more carbs and felt better. We now know what was probably “wrong” was that his blood pressure had dropped significantly. But he didn’t know to expect that, not having read a book. He wasn’t monitoring, the time didn’t coincide with a doctor visit, and he was on BP meds. Wish we had made the connection then.

    Blood pressure aside, it takes some people several weeks to re-adjust to burning primarily fat for fuel. In the meantime, their bodies are still trying to burn primarily glucose, which isn’t available in a large enough quantity to supply the fuel. So they go through withdrawal and feel foggy.

    Reply
  6. Sue

    Kiwi is what we Australians affectionately call New Zealanders.

    I like it. The words that Americans, Canadians and Mexicans use to refer to each other aren’t always so affectionate.

    Reply
  7. Dana

    Ah, macrobiotics. Couple years ago I ran into an old online friend again in a different online venue and we shot the bull. Turned out she had had a relapse of breast cancer. She was treating it with a macrobiotic regimen.

    She’s dead now.

    We’ve got a vegetarian neighbor who’s had cancer twice. I’m sure people get cancer eating all kinds of diets, but I believe if you don’t feed the tumors a load of glucose, you’re way better off.

    Reply
  8. nathaniel

    hey tom im just wondering if i can see all ur doctors info thats in the documentary and if i can ask u was the fast food industries apart of ur fat head documentary and isnt everything that we eat suposed to be in moderation cause if u eat or consume enything to much ull have health problems just saying why didnt u put that in ur documentary??? email me kingvideogame1996@gmail.com

    You can google the doctors — most have blogs. The fast food industry had no part in making Fat Head. I didn’t preach moderation because I believe some foods — such as sugar — should be avoided entirely.

    Reply

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