Breaking Down the ‘Wellness-Industrial Complex,’ an Episode at a Time

Aubrey Gordon collects classic weight-reduction plan books. She has amassed nearly 100 titles, together with the 1973 quantity “Slimming Down,” written by Johnny Carson’s sidekick, Ed McMahon. “Slimming Down” — which featured chapter titles like “The Breadstick Conspiracy” and “Two Martinis Into Connecticut” — is the e book that started Ms. Gordon’s assortment.

And whereas the concept of mixology as dietary technique might sound absurd to a reader right now, Ms. Gordon mentioned that a lot of the present occupied with what’s now often called wellness is simply as “hilarious and wacky.”

On the podcast “Maintenance Phase,” named after the idea of sustaining post-diet weight reduction, Ms. Gordon and the journalist Michael Hobbes spend every episode exploring what they name the “wellness-industrial complex,” debunking well being fads and dietary recommendation.

While well being, weight and wellness are necessary points, a lot of what Americans perceive about them is definitely hole advertising, Mr. Hobbes mentioned.

“Most of us have confidence that we understand these wellness issues, but we don’t realize that we’re literally just regurgitating things that we saw in a Nike commercial,” Mr. Hobbes added. “And wellness is the perfect encapsulation of that. A lot of the things under wellness are just rebranded or misconstrued data being sent back to us by a company, basically.”

The Maintenance Phase podcast is sort of a yr outdated, and is listed as one among Apple Podcasts’ prime 100 exhibits. Credit…Maintenance Phase

Wellness has two definitions, Ms. Gordon mentioned: One is new language being utilized by weight-loss firms which have found out that “dieting is less popular than it used to be,” and the different lives as “a very amorphous term that we attach all kinds of things to.”

“Vitamin companies are selling wellness,” Ms. Gordon mentioned. “Mattress companies are selling wellness. Your work now has a wellness program. It’s sort of seen as this uncontroversial way to talk about health.”

The present is No. 1 in the well being and health class on Apple podcasts. Episodes investigating the weight problems epidemic and the problematic historical past of the physique mass index led the podcast to its first million downloads on the listening app final month.

Since the podcast started in October 2020, the hosts have examined in style weight-reduction plan meals, like SnackWell’s Cookies, Moon Juice and Halo Top Ice Cream (which is the 2010s’ reply to SnackWell’s, Ms. Gordon mentioned on that episode). They’ve executed deep dives into anti-fat bias, consuming issues and the roles each Dr. Mehmet Oz and Oprah Winfrey have performed in the weight-loss business. They have additionally investigated in style diets, comparable to keto, Weight Watchers, celery juice and the grasp cleanse (“You’re basically drinking very tart, very spicy sugar water,” Ms. Gordon mentioned). One episode even explored how the quest for good well being may even lead folks to QAnon and different conspiracy theories.

One episode of the podcast “Maintenance Phase” dives into the science behind a handful of manufacturers, together with Moon Juice.Credit…Samuel Bristow for The New York Times

In the present’s introductory episode, the hosts discuss how few health-focused podcasts are skeptical of wellness. For Ms. Gordon, 37, her skepticism grew out of her private expertise of “20-plus years of straight dieting and mostly staying the same size.”

“Being a fat lady and trying to do all the things that fat ladies are supposed to do took me right there,” Ms. Gordon mentioned. “I’ve been doing all the things, and it’s not really producing the result that I’ve been promised for, you know, the majority of my life. And I’m also seeing other people who have been in search of that promise for the majority of their lives also not getting what they thought was going to happen. At a certain point, you kind of got to go, well, maybe it just doesn’t work.”

For Mr. Hobbes, 39, who has executed intensive reporting on weight problems, watching his mom’s struggles led to an curiosity in weight fixation.

“It was, like, this defining thing of my childhood that she was always on some completely nuts, unsustainable diet,” Mr. Hobbes mentioned. “She was always trying so hard, like swimming five times a week and eating a bowl of carrots. The discourse around obesity was always like, well, they’re not trying hard enough. I know other people that are trying pretty hard and not succeeding.”

The present presents “relatively radical ideas about this issue,” Mr. Hobbes mentioned, however nonetheless tries to keep away from alienating listeners. One means the hosts do that is by turning the narrative on themselves, taking up subjects and concepts they’ve private expertise with.

“At some point we’ll do CBD,” Ms. Gordon mentioned. “I have been a CBD person, and I’ll be made uncomfortable by my own research. It feels important to the show and important to me as a person, to be like, we’re not actually above anyone. We’re not smarter than this. We’re not better than this.”

Ms. Gordon says she and Mr. Hobbes have almost 100 concepts for future “Maintenance Phase” episodes, a lot of them prompt by listeners.Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Ms. Gordon and Mr. Hobbes mentioned they obtain a number of constructive suggestions, however the emails they get from researchers and clinicians are a few of the most significant.

Lisa DuBreuil, a medical social employee at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, additionally operates a personal apply in Salem, Mass. She makes use of the weight-inclusive Health At Every Size strategy together with her purchasers, who embody folks with substance-use issues, consuming issues, psychological well being points and those that’ve developed issues after weight-loss surgical procedures and persistent weight-reduction plan.

She heard about “Maintenance Phase” on social media, and have become a common listener. She’s not listening to something she doesn’t already know, however mentioned she loves how the present makes these subjects extra approachable and “really fun to listen to.”

“To be able to have these kinds of resources and get information in an entertaining, interesting, but also very factual way is wonderful,” mentioned Ms. DuBreuil, who’s in restoration from an consuming dysfunction.

Ms. DuBreuil added that the concepts and analysis on “Maintenance Phase” are ideas that many ladies, folks of colour and L.G.B.T.Q. folks have been speaking about for greater than 20 years, however that “it is delightful to see new people discover it.”

Halo Top Ice Cream and its historical past is explored on one episode of “Maintenance Phase.”Credit…Richard Levine / Alamy 

Caitlin McDonald, a nonprofit administrator in Salt Lake City, mentioned that when she began listening to the present, it felt like being seen for the first time.

“It was just sort of a revelation,” she mentioned. “It was such a relief to be in a space where I was being talked about as a human, and not a number or a statistic.”

Scott Cave, who lives in the Appalachian Mountains area of Virginia along with his spouse and toddler, is a historic researcher and stay-at-home father. He began listening to “Maintenance Phase” after studying about it on Mr. Hobbes’s different podcast, “You’re Wrong About.” As somebody with a doctoral diploma in historical past, Mr. Cave mentioned he appreciates the means the podcast examines and evaluates major sources in a means that’s enjoyable.

In an episode on the weight problems epidemic, the present laid out a few of the penalties of weight stigma, together with folks’s delaying medical take care of concern of medical doctors’ workplaces. That resonated for Mr. Cave: Once, after injuring his finger, he went to an pressing care clinic the place he mentioned he was instructed: “We don’t think your finger is broken. It might be, but you’re very fat, so you should probably deal with that.”

As a outcome, Mr. Cave mentioned he spent years ignoring the signs of his autoimmune illness, simply to keep away from one other physician go to. “So I left with a big swollen finger and a real blow to my self-regard and my relationship with the medical profession,” he mentioned. “When they brought it up on the podcast, I realized, ‘Oh yes, I didn’t complain about my symptoms for a long time because they were wrapped up in the shape of my body, in fatness.’”

The pandemic has solely intensified America’s decades-long ethical panic about fatness, Ms. Gordon mentioned. But it has additionally intensified a counternarrative. She has seen extra conversations centered on physique positivity and extra well being professionals spreading the message that “it’s actually OK if you gain weight while you’re surviving a pandemic.”

“It’s been a really fascinating moment of everyone sort of processing their own body image stuff and their own weird beliefs about fatness and health in this very public way.”

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