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.
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.