Podcast of the week: This opinionated and good-humoured show blends pop culture and academic research to debunk the junk science behind America’s $71bn weight-loss industry
‘Weight is the number one reason kids are bullied at school. And it’s generally something that we accept,” journalist Michael Hobbes explains in What’s Our Deal, the first episode of Maintenance Phase. Every other Tuesday, Maintenance Phase (subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts or Spotify) strides to the top of the high dive and launches itself into the toxic sludge of weight bias and fat-shaming.
From the outset, Hobbes and co-host “fat lady about town” Aubrey Gordon make it clear that weight and health are two distinct concepts that sometimes overlap, but sometimes don’t. Rather than employ a clinical description or coy euphemism, ‘fat’ is their word of choice, used in good faith.
In What’s Our Deal, Gordon notes that in the US, one-third of obese people have normal health markers and a quarter of skinny people have risk markers, yet society has collectively collapsed our definition of health into our visual assessment of weight. And for ‘health’, read ‘not fat’. She has been dieting irregularly since she was a teenager.
“The same thing always happened; I would lose a little bit of weight and then I would reliably gain it back and then some. The only explanation available to me is that it was a personal failure. That’s the only message we ever get. That if a fat person is fat it must be their fault. If people are shitty to you, sorry: that’s just what happens to fat people.”
The challenges that fat people face don’t come from a word, they come from the way we treat them. Decades of cruel and reductive stereotypes has painstakingly created cartoonish depictions of lazy bumblers and greedy guzzlers devoid of willpower. Hobbes and Gordon aren’t trying to transfer the stigma, but instead remove what they describe as the “blameiness”. Ireland has one of the highest levels of obesity in Europe, so while we may not have the same moral panic about weight here as in the US (where the show is based), the issues it highlights are nevertheless relevant to our society and culture.
In the US, weight loss is a $71bn industry. It is the serpent that eats is own tail: studies show that 95pc of diets fail, so the demand for protein shakes, tailored meal plans and expensive cleanses will never end. With 19 episodes under its whatever-notch-you’re-having-yourself belt, Maintenance Phase is a gleefully opinionated, good-humoured and well-researched show that blends academic research and pop culture to debunk the junk science behind health and wellness industry fads. One zinger episode drops after another. My favourites include The Wellness to QAnon Pipeline, which explores how the road to wellness can be a slippery on-ramp to conspiracy theories; and the shows about Goop, Dr Oz and Oprah Winfrey.
According to the State Of Mobile 2021 report, more than 71,000 new health and fitness apps were launched in 2020. Unlike most diet apps, this podcast genuinely can change an aspect of your life: your understanding of fatness and anti-fat bias.