Mike tells Sarah that America has sent the wrong messages and done the wrong things about obesity for more than half a century. Digressions include height (again), sweatshops and Julianne Moore. Sarah and Mike’s mothers both make extended appearances.
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Sarah: I was falling asleep last night, and I noticed this tendon or something in my foot twitching. And I was like, this is how it begins. Once you turn thirty, life’s like The Fly. First year, gradually deteriorating. And then you turn into goo.
Mike: Welcome to You’re Wrong About, the podcast where we circle back to things misremembered and unremembered. I don't know. That's fine.
Sarah: I like remembered and unremembered. Because there are things that we are wrong to not even bother remembering.
Mike: I'm Michael Hobbes, I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.
Sarah: I'm Sarah Marshall. I'm a writer for the New Republican Buzzfeed, for whom I am currently working on an article that I have been thinking about for five months and I'm finally ready to start writing.
Mike: That doesn't sound familiar at all.
Sarah: I feel like you're constantly writing something that you have completed in a reasonable non-Geological period of time.
Mike: This is going to ruin this for you because today we're talking about obesity for which I have been working on an article that just passed its one year anniversary.
Sarah: Oh, that makes me feel so much better.
Mike: Actually it's 13 month anniversary.
Sarah: So your article is pulling itself up on the edges of tables and standing and walking around.
Mike: I mean it's a little bit different today because we're talking about obesity, which is a societal phenomenon, but it's not necessarily a historical phenomenon. Usually we talk about things that happened.
Sarah: Right, right. And things that people were freaked out about in the seventies but have moved on to at least to other proxies for enduring fears. But this is an enduring anxiety that's had the same outfit on for forever.
Mike: We’ll get into this, but this is what I think is really interesting about “the obesity epidemic”. The original draft of this article that I've been working on for 13 months, it started out with the sentence, ‘the obesity epidemic is having a midlife crisis.’
There is something interesting about the obesity epidemic. For our whole lives, you and me, we've been hearing the same story about obesity, right? Every summer or whatever, new numbers come out and obesity is higher than it's ever been. Obesity is higher than it’s ever been.
Sarah: And there's the CNN footage of the headless, fat people walking around where we're not showing people's faces.
Mike: Yeah. There are studies on this, actually. It's always like a headless torso of somebody who is overweight and they're like carrying McDonald's, eating a burrito. It's the most stigmatizing possible way to present any kind of complex human phenomenon. Let's just cut their fucking heads off. And we don't need to deal with these people as people.
Sarah: Well, their heads have been placed on pikes at the entrance of various cities in California that want to discourage people above a certain weight to get in. Yeah.
Mike: So I think we should start out by, I know this is personal and people don't always like to talk about it, but can you tell me how you feel about your own weight and how you feel about obesity?
Sarah: I was always a really skinny kid and then got tall really fast and was pretty thin through high school, and just never had a period of like putting on more weight than is societally assumed to be healthy and never had the experience of people policing me. And my mom always when I was growing up, kept out of it. She never told me not to eat stuff. She never made me finish my dinner. I think she recognized that the compounded anxiety and shame that she'd always felt about food in her life was something she was not consciously passing on to me, which she was able to do, which is pretty cool. And also my body dysmorphia when I was growing up was all about height, because I was taller than everyone. I was over six feet by the end of eighth grade, which is weird because it's something that you can feel a lot of complicated stuff about. It complicates your feelings of gender based on the idea that women are supposed to be smaller. Men are supposed to be larger. So nineties.
But the weird thing about that is people will always remark about you being tall, but it's always with this idea of you've done something right. I've always thought that there's something interesting about how people, in the same way that we arbitrarily have this narrative that being overweight, being fat is like a sign that you have done something wrong, you've been disobedient, you've been somehow greedy or something. Arbitrarily it's it seemed negatively. Being tall is in a similarly arbitrary way seen as something that you must have done something right.
Mike: It's congratulations. That's why people feel comfortable commenting on it. Wow, you're tall.
Sarah: Yeah. I really made it.
Mike: Yeah. I have never remotely had that problem because I am five foot five. I weirdly was never self-conscious about my height, because I hit puberty really early so I was actually taller than all the other kids at the ages when I would have been teased about my height. And it was only junior, senior year of high school that everyone else shot up above me. And there was literally a moment in my senior year of high school for the first time in my life, someone said, blah, blah, blah, what do you care, pipsqueak, something about shortness. And I was honestly surprised. I was, I'm not shorter than you. And they stood up against me and I realized that my head was at their nipple height. And it was like this, like I literally had not realized that I was short until 17. It's one of those things where I probably should be self-conscious about, it because most people that are really short, men are self-conscious about it. But because I was never teased for it, I'm self-conscious about all this other shit. But the height thing, which is like the most noticeable thing about me, I'm just, for some reason, not self-conscious about it all.
But I was fat as well. I mean, for five foot five, I was between 175 and 200 pounds. It's not super, super, super big, but it was big. I didn't really get teased about being fat, because like you said, it's completely different for men. There are studies about this too, that the BMI at which women get teased about their weight is way lower than the BMI at which men get teased about their weight. That women have to be five pounds overweight and be what you fat pig. Whereas men can be like 40 pounds overweight and they're just, oh, he's stocky. You should play football. People don't construct it in the same way.
Sarah: Right. Because our bodies are for different things. Women exist to continually inspire lust. And if we slack off in a moment, then it's terrible.
Mike: But my mom was overweight my whole life and her whole life. So growing up, it was the defining feature of our family, was on every family vacation my mom would only let us take one photo of her. My whole growing up, I have maybe six or seven photos of my mom. Because she was so nervous about getting her photo taken. People used to make comments to us and cafes. My friends would make comments when she picked us up from school. I mean, this has been my foundational thing with weight is that I saw how incredibly shitty she was treated because of her weight. And I also saw how hard she was trying. I saw that she was 100% always on a diet, every waking moment of her life and my life she was on a diet. She would make us meat loaf, and then she would sit there and eat a bowl of carrots.
She was always doing something, and it didn't matter. She was always, she was a little bit bigger. She was smaller. She was always yo-yoing. She would do these weird grapefruit thing, or the cabbage thing, or Atkins, or Zone, or, you know, she was always on some diet and it always worked for a while and then it didn't, and she felt really bad about herself. And I used to feel ashamed of her. And then I used to get really mad when other people commented on it. It's just a very complicated thing.
And so growing up and now I've always had a huge chip on my shoulder for the way that overweight people get treated in society. I mean, it's really cliche to say this, but it really is the only minority group in America where it's okay to just make shitty jokes about people and to comment on them on the street. I remember being on a date once and we were walking from one bar to the other and we saw this larger lady walking toward us. And as she passed he goes, “Oh, her poor shoes.” I remember I was a little drunk, like drunk enough to be very forward. And I just said, “Fuck you, bye.” And I just turned around and I just walked home.
Sarah: That's amazing.
Mike: You feel comfortable making comments like that about fat people in a way that you don't for any other minority group. About people that you know nothing about. You don't know, maybe that woman used to be much larger than she is. Maybe she has a thyroid condition. Maybe she has emotional eating issues because her parents just died. You don't know anything about that person, and you feel comfortable just making this shitty throwaway comment.
One of the things I really notice is late night TV, they make the most hacky jokes about politicians or about public figures about their weight. Whenever anything about Chris Christie comes up, the joke is always, “Well maybe he put down the M&Ms.”
Sarah: And it's no, Chris Christie's just a bad politician. We don't need to bring his weight into it.
Mike: We have Seth Meyers or somebody talking about his ridiculous corruption and his like toadying to Donald Trump and all this awful morally disgusting stuff that he's doing. And then there'll be like, well guess he's too big. Or they'll make some 1950s joke about him. And you're like, is that really the worst thing about Chris Christie? His weight? I can think of 750 things about Chris Christie that are way more disgusting than his weight.
Sarah: Literally every other thing about him. And also the way that we're judgmental about people because of weight you can masquerade it as, I'm concerned about your health. And it's like no you're fucking not. Because no one has ever told me ever that they're concerned about my health and I'm very unhealthy. I'm sedentary. I eat garbage. I had a box of fries for dinner the other night. I’ve run a mile, this is true, I’ve run a mile once in my entire life and I hated it. And then I was like, I'm out. This is terrible. I don't get it. I'm never doing that again. I never do cardio. So until people start concern trolling me, then like they don't get to concern troll anyone who's overweight.
Mike: Well, that's the thing for this article I interviewed probably 50 people. Many of them people at various levels of, I hate the word overweight because then it implies that there's some weight you're supposed to be, which is such bullshit. But it's so hard to talk about this issue without saying fat, which really hurts some people's feelings. I know overweight, which is inaccurate or these weird euphemisms, like large or curvy or stocky, which are kind of like patronizing
Sarah: Right. Full figured. Which kind of just suggests someone has big boobs
Mike: I kind of like ‘larger’ actually. But anyway, I interviewed a lot of larger folks for this article, and one person that I interviewed was saying, what is the LDL cholesterol number at which it's okay to treat me like shit. If you sat next to somebody on a plane and he was talking to his wife on the phone and he's oh, my test results came back, I'm at high risk of heart disease. If that person was skinny, you wouldn't immediately be like, ”You piece of shit. I don't want to sit by you anymore.” It's only when it shows on your body that you care about anybody's cardiovascular disease risk. We don't walk around asking people their resting heart rate and shit. It’s only if somebody is big.
But this is a good lead in to the first and maybe the major You're Wrong About, about obesity, is that 30% of overweight and obese people medically, BMI considered, 30% of overweight and obese people are metabolically healthy. They are fine. They have exactly the same metabolisms that everybody else does. Their resting heart rate is fine. Their diabetes risk is fine. 30% of them. 24% of people who are not overweight or obese do have fucked up metabolisms. So telling somebody's health by their size, it's one of the worst ways to do it. If you want to know how healthy somebody is, you need to take their blood and shit. You can't look at somebody from across the restaurant and be like, “Oh, they're so unhealthy. Oh, their life span is so short.” There's a very good chance that you were wrong about whatever your presumption is.
The second thing though, it's also totally irrelevant because there's this debate among the medical community and all these debating and dueling studies, is body fat itself a health risk, or is it just like diet and exercise that is a health risk? But who cares? Because frankly losing weight is impossible. We all sort of know this it's a cliche, right? 95% of diets fail. We all know that diets don't work.
Sarah: My understanding of it, and this is probably wrong in a bunch of ways, but my simplified understanding is that your body reaches its highest weight, and then for the rest of your life, if you lose weight from that, it will be trying to get back to that weight again, or trying to get back to that fat content.
Mike: It’s an evolutionary adaptation. Right. It makes sense for us as a species to hold onto weight because that's how you deal with periods of famine, whether it's a daily famine or a weekly feminine, monthly famine, it makes a lot of sense for us to hold onto weight. And then of course there's huge individual variation in how the body holds onto weight.
I interviewed a bunch of endocrinologists for this, and there's 50 different things that the body does to keep you from losing weight. Your body temperature goes down, your hunger hormones spike, the hormones that tell you when you're done eating, your satiety hormones, those turn off. So basically, you'll eat a whole meal and then you'll just be hungry as if you haven't eaten because your hunger hormones are going nuts, and your satiety signals aren't working.
So I talked to a lot of people who got gastric bypass surgery. And one of the reasons why gastric bypass works is not actually that your stomach is smaller, it's because it totally reboots your entire hormone system. So a lot of the folks that I interviewed who had gastric bypass, they said I've never felt full before. This is the first time I’ve ever been full. I've literally been hungry since I was 18.
Sarah: Oh, that's horrible.
Mike: I am 400 pounds. I know that my weight is making other people treat me terribly, but I'm fucking hungry all the time. And so for me to eat 2,000 calories a day means I am hungry every waking moment.
Sarah: My mom did an amazing job with this, when I was a kid, she never made me eat when I wasn't hungry. She never made me finish the food because she put it in front of me. If I was like, “I'm full”, she'd be like, okay. And I’m full all the time. If I'm at a restaurant, unless I'm eating a salad or something, I basically never finish my food. And I worry that people are like, what a good self-abnegating person. And it's no, I just get full really fast and then I'm going to be hungry again in two hours. But it's just, that's the way that my body works.
Mike: The thing is it's really hard to deal with individual variation. One of the endocrinologists I interviewed, the way he broke it down for me, is that first of all, he said that the whole calories in/calories out thing is total nonsense. Calories in/calories out is as credible among endocrinologists as climate denial among geologists. That none of them really believe in the calories in/calories out thing.
And the way that he talked to me about it, which I thought was really interesting, the average American we're supposed to eat 2,000 calories a day, right? That means over the course of a year, you had 730,000 calories. According to the calories in/calories out model, 3,500 calories is a pound. So if you eat 3,500 calories extra, you'll gain a pound. If you eat 3,500 calories fewer, you'll lose a pound. And so every single diet is based on this principle. If you eat fewer calories, you will get smaller because of thermodynamics. But he was pointing out if you're eating 730,000 calories a year, a 1% deviation is 7,300 calories. So that's two pounds. So if you are gaining or losing less than two pounds a year, you are deviating less than one percent in your calorie consumption for the entire year. No one is that good, right? Nobody's Fitbit is counting within 1% every single day.
But what he says is there's automatic regulatory systems. Basically, if you eat a little bit too much at the Thanksgiving party last night, your hunger hormones the next day, will tell you to eat a little bit less today. If you exercise more, your energy hormones, you'll just have a little bit less energy the next day and you won't tap your foot during the meeting as much as you usually do. And a lot of these things aren't really day to day, but they're week to week and month to month. So your body, if you eat a little bit more, your body will actually burn off more calories. And if you eat a little too little, your hunger hormones will spike, and you'll eat a little more. And so the idea that we're just calorie machines, you eat and you expand and you get bigger or smaller, doesn't take into account this extremely complex, extremely dynamic system by which you just regulate yourself.
So one of the things that I thought was really interesting about the history of the obesity epidemic, is people talk about how we also sit at our desks, we don't do farm work anymore, we all sit in our cars, we don't walk anywhere. That is all true. But all of that happened before 1980, and obesity rates didn't budge until 1980. Think about the changes in American society between 1880 and 1980. It's profound. Everybody's leaving farms. Everybody's moving to cities.
Sarah: I feel like the fifties is when we got really sedentary and when sort of office jobs rose to the cultural supremacy they have now.
Mike: Exactly. And yet obesity rates didn't do anything until the 1980s. And so what the studies show is that at the population level, as we moved less, we ate less. American calorie consumption went down significantly from 1940 to 1980 because we weren't working as much so we didn't eat as much. Our natural regulatory systems kicked in. Without anyone thinking about it, without anybody going on a diet, we just all automatically quietly started eating less. And so what happened in the 1980s was that the food supply changed. So the food supply started to dysregulate us. So there's all these studies now about how diet quality, not quantity, is actually what causes diet-related disease. Eating refined grains, eating a lot of added sugars, like added sugars throw off your satiety signals. If you're already full, you can eat something more if it’s sugary. Like you eat all of Thanksgiving dinner and then the pie comes out.
Sarah: I love how you learn the science and you're like, oh, that's why dessert is a thing. That's why we've been doing this for thousands of years. It all makes sense.
Mike: Basically the food system changed. and there's all this research about globalization and about the WTO and about the way that food started to get processed a lot more. And I don't like that term because tofu is processed, and yogurt is processed. Processing just means you transform it from one thing into another. But it's this kind of hyper processing or they call them ‘super potent’ foods. Foods that have no fiber, tons of added sugars. Basically, you barely have to chew them, and they go straight into your digestive tract, and they just get absorbed really quickly. Things like Oreos, Twinkies.
Sarah: The first thing I think of as a Twinkie, because you practically inject it right into your bloodstream.
Mike: There just became more and more of these foods that are just really, really, really easy to digest and easy to absorb and keep eating. And what they basically did was just rejigger all of our biological systems to put our set point higher and higher and higher and higher. And so for some people that shows up in their weight, and for some people it doesn't. So it's really important to make the distinction between weight and health. Eating lots of Twinkies and not moving very much is bad for you.
Sarah: But it can't be bad for me, Michael, because I'm not showing it physically. And so I'm just going to live forever and I'm virtuous and thin and it's fine. Even though I had a plate of bacon and syrup for breakfast, right before starting this episode.
Mike: The way that one person put it to me, who I talked to, she said that we sacrifice health to focus on weight. There's kind of these overlapping circles. Eating bad food and not moving is bad for you. Some people who eat a lot of bad food and don't move, some of those people are fat and some of them aren't. But we've been focusing on the way that those people look rather than our fucking food supply, which is super poisonous. Nobody's looking at hey, maybe we shouldn't have cheeseburgers and french fries in school lunches. Maybe that's not a great idea. Whether the kids are fat or thin, maybe they shouldn't be drinking Cokes. But it's only with the fat kids that we’re like, hey, maybe you should lay off the coke.
Sarah: And then thinking about just how people's ability to get fresh foods or produce of any kind has become almost impossible in so many areas. It’s like once again, our Keyser Soze capitalism has appeared at the margins of this story.
Mike: There's basically three reasons nothing has happened on obesity and why we keep fucking it up. So all this stuff about the set point and losing weight is impossible, we knew this in the 1960s. All of the science that we know about obesity, this is not recent. That cliche, that 95% of diets fail, comes from a study that was published in 1959. In 1969 there was a study that showed that if you lose 3% of your body weight, your metabolism gets 17% slower so that you'll put it back on. That was 1969. We fucking knew this. We knew about gut microbiomes. We knew the mental toll of losing weight and putting it back on. We've known for 70 years that what we're doing about the obesity epidemic isn't working. And we've known for 70 years that America is not going to become a skinnier country. No country on planet earth has reduced its obesity rate ever.
Mike: We can become a healthier country, but we're not going to become a skinnier one.
Sarah: The pillows don't say you can never be too rich or too healthy, do they. Although maybe they should.
Mike: It’s amazing that we have just ignored this for so long. And that you're like, when you tell people we're not going to become a skinnier country, they reject that like a transplant. They're just like, what? No, come on.
So the first reason why we have fucked this up and keep fucking this up is basically doctors. Doctors are terrible. If you interview anyone of a certain size, they will have four stories each of how doctors were terrible to them. One woman I interviewed was in a fucking train accident where she dislocated her shoulder and she gets to the ER and the doctor goes, “How long have you been this big?” She's like, “I was in an accident, what does it have to do with anything?” Another one went in for her allergies, again, nothing to do with her weight whatsoever. Doctor comes in and asks her, “How did you get like this?”
Sarah: Oh my God.
Mike: And then he's giving her all this shit. She's like, what should I do about my allergies? He's well, try eating more fruits and vegetables and try exercising more. And she's like, these don't sound like allergies tips. And then she goes, well, what do you tell your thin patients when they come in with allergies. He's like, oh, I tell them to stay away from grassy fields during the day and I tell them to take Zyrtec. And she's like, okay, why don't you tell me more of the tips you give thin people. This is her tactic for dealing with doctors is just to ask what you are telling thin people.
Sarah: You're not allowed to have allergy medication if you're above a certain BMI, because if you have to walk around sneezing as punishment, then you'll be motivated. This is what I can't get over. This idea that well, if we make life really painful for people, whether they're poor or overweight or whatever, then they'll be forced to change because they’ll know that everyone hates the way they are. And it's like, I don't think that works.
Mike: Yeah. Because most overweight people have no idea that society doesn't like them. So it's important that their doctors who they trust. The most bananas one I heard was this woman who has been overweight her whole life, and at 17 she goes into the doctor with migraines. And she got referred to a neurologist and she had to go to a bunch of different appointments for her migraines. And every time she went in, her neurologist would be like, you need to lose weight. And she was like, I'm six foot and 165. I actually don't need to lose weight. I'm actually fine. And then her neurologist goes, well, you'll need to lose weight if you want to get pregnant. And she's 17.
Sarah: It's the trifecta. It's mean, untrue, and irrelevant.
Mike: One problem is that they're mean. If you survey doctors, they have the same attitudes about fat people that everyone has. They're no more enlightened on fat stigma, how important it is to be nice to everybody. That's one aspect of it.
Another aspect of it is basically just they don't know what they're doing. I mean, if you ask fat people what sorts of things doctors have done to them over the years, one guy interviewed, his doctor would tell him to eat a head of lettuce for dinner. That's exactly the kind of diet, all this cabbage soup, grapefruit, all these bullshit diets, those are exactly the kind of diets that are the most likely to fail, obviously.
Sarah: Because they're mean and insane and you know that you're punishing yourself.
Mike: And there's no such thing as a maintenance phase of a diet. So many people that I interviewed said that doctors would put them on these completely insane diets, 500 calories a day. This is World War II rations diets. It's completely insane. And then they'd be like, oh, once you get to a lower weight, your body will adjust, and it will get easier. Science, again, since the 1960s, we've known that the opposite is true. The more weight you lose, the harder it is, and the more your body is going to tell you that you're starving. You're going to have no energy during the day. You're going to feel like shit. Your brain is going to be foggy. It doesn't get easier as you lose weight, it gets harder. And yet, doctors are telling people that it's going to be easier. Someone you trust is telling you that you should be able to eat a head of lettuce for dinner, and that it's your fault if you come back having not lost enough weight or having lost no weight or really struggling.
So almost everybody that I interviewed had been put on these insane diets by their doctors. And then when they come back and say, look, it's really not working. I've plateaued, or I'm hungry all day and I can't work, I can't write emails because I can't focus on anything other than food. And their doctor's well, just power through. You just gotta keep powering through and then your body will adjust.
These are medical professionals, but for 60 years we've known that this isn't true and they're telling them the same things. One of the doctors that I interviewed, who's one of the woke doctors on this, is like the way that doctors treat obesity has not changed since the 1960s. There are no new techniques. They're not giving any different advice. One thing that he said, he's an eating disorders clinician, and one thing that he said that was really interesting is what doctors should have been doing for the last 60 years is giving people realistic expectations. If people go into their doctor and say, “Hey, I'm going on Atkins, I'm going on this grapefruit diet, whatever”, their doctor is the one who should say, “Look, you're not going to lose more than 10% of your body weight.”
Sarah: You're just not.
Mike: And what you should think of is whatever a diet tells you is the maintenance phase, that's the diet. The diet is what you do for the rest of your life. This idea that you're going to get down to whatever your high school weight, these terms like you get the momentum or you like jumpstart, your weight loss, there's no medical science to back that up. Some doctors were actually selling slim fast shakes, he told me.
Sarah: Oh, of course they were.
Mike: So instead of telling people, oh, you can do this only eat 500 calories a day. What they should've said was just look, change your lifestyle. Find something that you like doing exercise wise. If you're really into tennis, play tennis. If you're really into walking, go walking. Find something you can do the rest of your life and please don't think of your weight. Don't think of yourself as a failure. Just live the healthiest life you can, and maybe you will lose some weight and maybe you won't, but this is the way the human body works. And all you can do is try to be the happiest person that you can be at whatever weight you're at. But doctors never do this. Doctors only get 14 hours, an average of 14 hours, on nutrition for all of medical school. So they're not learning any lifestyle stuff. They're also not learning any soft skills. I interviewed this guy that trains doctors on how to be better.
Sarah: Like how to be nicer?
Mike: Yeah. Because they don't learn any soft skills. All they're learning is biology inmedical school, typically. And so he's teaching them to listen to their patient. These things that shouldn't be state of the art but are. And so he says doctors, there'll be talking to a low income mother of five who has two jobs, and all her kids are unhealthy and they're drinking Coke and stuff, and he'll be like, “You know, I really know what it's like to not have time to cook.”
Sarah: Oh my God. No, you don't.
Mike: And of course oftentimes doctors use that as a way of forming empathy. And this guy was telling me that, I mean, all humans should know this, but definitely doctors should know that that's the worst way to build empathy, to be like, I'm the same as you. Because it just contrasts. You're not the same as me. And so it's much better to just be like, man, that really sounds frustrating. Let's work on some stuff to help you get your kids healthier food. Without bringing yourself into it. Because it's like, you went to Yale and you run triathlons. Maybe we don't have the same life. Maybe don't emphasize that aspect.
Sarah: Yeah. If you're operating from that template of my life as a busy doctor who sometimes doesn't feel like cooking my blue apron dinner, you come at it with this approach of, I have tiny obstacles in my life but I overcome them through willpower. It’s like, is that the same thing?
This also makes me think of Herman Tarnower, the doctor who invented the Scarsdale Diet, which I think was that you just ate a lot of grapefruit. Mainly he was having an intricate affair with a very repressed headmistress of a fancy girls boarding school. And I think after he spurned her, she shot and killed him and got more sympathy in the press than she otherwise would have. Because so many women had done the Scarsdale Diet and wanted that fucker to suffer.
Mike: One of my revelations from this was talking to both my mom and a lot of the other people I interviewed actually said the same thing. They were like, in my twenties, I was 20 pounds overweight. And so to lose that quote unquote, last 20 pounds, I spent my twenties doing more and more extreme things. So I would lose 30, gain 20, lose 40, gain 50, and they do this yo-yo thing for 10-15 years, they're focused on food all the time. They're having basically eating disorders, whether they're diagnosed or not, but low grade eating disorders. And then they look at themselves at 35 and they're 80 pounds overweight. And their relationship with food is shot. Their self-esteem is shot because they feel so bad about gaining the weight back. Why am I such a piece of shit? I can't even keep this weight off. The entire society is telling them that this should be easy for them. Their bodies should be adjusting. Their doctors, no matter what they go in for, are telling them to lose weight again. When, if they had just been “20 pounds overweight” in their twenties and just been okay with that, they would all be fine.
I just had a long conversation with my mom about this, where she said, no one ever told me that I could just be a little bit bigger. I should just try to eat well and exercise and live my life the best that I can. And if I'm 20 pounds bigger than my mom wants me to be, then I'm just going to be that and live my life. Whereas now, the self-esteem, all the time you waste, all the weird diets, all this stuff, it's so much worse for people than being where they are.
Sarah: And all of the time. Like all the pictures of my mom that I grew up looking at from the sixties and seventies, she always to me, looks like Allie McGraw with big boobs, basically. She was hot for all of the years that I know that she spent doing that same thing, trying to lose or keep off the last 20 pounds. Yeah. I’m just thinking, what if one day you were just like, this is what I weigh. And I mean, that's why it's so wonderful now that we're like in this fuck you, I'm not dieting, a bikini body is body with a bikini on it, has appeared. How did that take as long as it did?
Mike: I mean, that goes into the second reason why basically nothing institutionally has changed on the obesity epidemic, stigma. This is crazy, the stigma against larger people is going up.
Mike: We're now at the point where 66% of the population by the BMI scale is overweight or obese, 66% of the population. And a greater percentage of the population reports that fat people are lazy, that has been steadily increasing.
Sarah: I would say that's because we're all congenitally, as Americans, self-loathing. Self-loathing is something that we, as humans, are quite programmed to do. And I think in America, we're very much encouraged to the way our society works exacerbates that. So the more of us are overweight, the more that manifests as stigmatizing hate because we hate ourselves.
Mike: Well, truly, what's really especially tragic about this is that first of all, the phenomenon of minority exposure doesn't apply. So if you have a gay cousin, you're going to be more likely to be okay with gay people. That doesn't apply for fat people. You're like, oh, my sister is fat, but fat people are still lazy. My sister might not be, but you maintain the stereotype. You're like, oh, fat people are disgusting, and my sister has like a medication that she takes that made her gain 30 pounds. But everyone else is really lazy. And the even sadder thing is that fat people are just as likely to report that fat people are lazy. If you ask me about gay people, I’m like gay people are the best. Ask fat people and they're like, oh yeah, everyone who's fat is really lazy, including me. Because we all get the skinny people propaganda our whole lives. And we're hearing from our doctors, we're hearing from our families, we're hearing from everybody that we should be skinnier.
And one reason why, is weight status is a very different minority group. There's a couple of unique aspects of weight stigma. And one of them is that when you survey fat people, where's the worst stigma, we think of fat people being bullied for their weight is something that happens at restaurants, it happens on public transport, and that does happen. But most fat people say that the worst experience of stigma they've ever gotten are from within their own families. So it's one of the only minority statuses where you can't get away from it. You can't escape it. If you're getting bullied at school, you can't come home and get a hug from your parents. Oftentimes you come home and your parents are like, why are you eating that you fat piece of shit? And so many people I interviewed for this article brought up their parents within five minutes. I say hey, tell me about your eating history. Tell me about your weight history. And they're like, my mother was a dieter, my mother used to hide candy around the house. My mother told me, oh, you'd be pretty if you lost 10 pounds. It just makes me really sad.
That's one of the ways that not only is it severe the stigma, but it's also very internalized. It's much more internalized than other forms of stigma. As well as the family thing, it also is the number one reason that kids get bullied at school, more than race, more than gender, more than poverty, more than anything else, kids get bullied for their weight. Most schools don't do anything about it. I interviewed a bunch of people whose kids had been bullied at school. And they say this is a problem. The teachers were like, oh, well, if she lost weight, she wouldn't get bullied. No one says that for any other status.
Sarah: Oh my God. If I were redesigning the human species, which I hope to get the contract for any day now, fingers crossed, I would try to do something about the propensity for victim blaming, because we just love doing that. It's bad. Yeah. I'm curious about romantic partners too, right? Because if you are gay and antagonized and then you go and you find a partner, you're not going to sit there in bed being like you disgusting fag, right. But if you are overweight, if you're in a relationship with someone who has absorbed that societal stigma and it's projecting stuff on you about it, there's no escape. And this idea of just not even feeling that you're attractive to the person that you're sleeping with. No one deserves that.
Mike: I found a survey of fat people where 89% said they had been bullied by their spouse. And I also interviewed a lot of people who had stories of this. So there was a study, a qualitative study I read, where they were interviewing people about this. And one woman said she didn't like to be naked in front of her husband. Another woman that I interviewed said she spent her twenties basically just sleeping with loser dudes because she thought someone being attracted to her was a depletable resource. And that she was so disgusting that this guy, I have to keep this guy because I'm so disgusting that no one will ever be attracted to me ever again. That was just the way that she went through her twenties. And she's of course only realizing this now. She didn't realize how much that was ingrained. She eventually ended up dating somebody who was really abusive, who used to tell her that she was disgusting and would tell her if you leave me, who is going to take you?
Sarah: Oh my God.
Mike: He was abusive. She eventually ended up leaving him, which is great, but she believed him at some level. That's what she said to me, that she believed that she was not worthy of love. She believed that she would never find somebody else. So I guess I'm just going to stay with this guy who hits me sometimes, because if he leaves me, this is the last guy that's ever going to be attracted to me.
Sarah: Yeah. And we're so ready to believe that there's something basically wrong with us.
Mike: This one woman I interviewed, she says her hardest thing eating wise is when she goes to these social events, like family reunions, or like pool parties with her kids, she has four kids. And she was at one of these things and there's a buffet at these things and she was loading up her plate and her mother said, should you really be eating that? This was in her early twenties. And so ever since then, she's been scorching really self-conscious at these things and thinking that everyone is looking at her and oh, there goes the fat person dishing up the lasagna. She's always aware of this in her head.
And so what she does is she doesn't eat at these things because she wants to be this impeccable fat person that everybody wants her to be. So she's always on her feet. She doesn't want anyone to see her sitting. She wants everyone to see her being really happy. That's what she feels the pressure to do. And then at the end of these events, there's always leftovers. So she packs up the leftovers, they all divvy up the leftovers and then she goes home, and she eats all the leftovers by herself in the dark because she hasn't eaten in 12 hours.
Sarah: Because she's fucking hungry. And she deserves to eat.
Mike: She's been basically feeling shamed all day. It's like holding a light weight above your head. At first, it's easy, and then it becomes excruciating over the hours. She's essentially been flexing a muscle for 12 hours and then she goes home, and she does this binge eating at night thing and she feels terrible about herself. And the whole next day she feels terrible. And then that increases the bingeing. And I think one of the greatest and most pernicious myths about this is that we have to shame people for their weight.
Sarah: If we don't shame people for literally everything that they don't conform to then how can we expect them to hate themselves enough to change? Right. That seems to be what we've all agreed on as a culture.
Mike: You hear otherwise very smart people say things like, oh, shaming works. We have to shame people so that they change their behavior. It's helping them. It's this really paternalistic, really patronizing, horrible thing. And every study on this has found that when you shame people for their weight, you increase their desire to lose weight, but you don't increase their ability. Losing weight doesn't become any easier because someone's really mean to you. 89% of larger people say that immediately after experiencing stigma, they want to eat. What makes you stress eat more and comfort eat more than everybody hates me. And one of the endocrinologists that I interviewed said that we're all like attuned to stress, right? Running from a tiger. We all have all these like adrenaline and cortisol systems that kick in when we're under stress, but we're also social creatures. So something like running from a tiger or jumping out of an airplane, these spike your stress hormones, but being socially shamed, being rejected, spike them more.
So it's actually worse for your stress system to feel rejected, to feel like everyone is watching you, to feel like you're being judged, is extremely stressful. And one of the effects of stress hormones is it spikes your appetite. Your body wants energy because your body is like, well, I'm about to have to run from a tiger so I'm going to need energy later. So what I need is to eat as much as I can as much calorie dense food as I can. So it actually turns off your satiety hormones. It actually makes you, or it makes it easier to overeat when you're under stress, which is the most cruelly ironic system, right? It's just not fair.
Sarah: The human body is just a piñata of cruel irony, I feel.
Mike: One guy that I interviewed, he was walking across a parking lot after work and this car drove up next to him and shouted, go on a diet, and then peeled away. And he got straight on the bus and went straight to Jack in the box. He just needed comfort, he felt really rejected at that moment. And that was the thing that his cravings were shouting, screaming at him to do. And so this idea that we must shame fat people, we must be mean, is exactly the opposite of what the science tells us. And again, we have known this for decades.
Sarah: Well, and do you think that that speaks to maybe a subconscious sort of ancient human herd feeling where we are telling ourselves this line of I have to help this person by relentlessly making them feel terrible about their bodies, but really we know that if you shame someone into hating everything about themselves and continually undergoing these stress responses, which I also would imagine are not great for your health in the long run, if you're forced into fight or flight all the time for no reason.
Mike: Oh, totally. Yeah.
Sarah: Right. But really, if you're doing that to someone, then the message that you are giving them is, why don't you go fucking die and that people are going to do that if you do that to them individually, and as a society and in our tribal lizard brain, that's what we maybe deep down, know that we're doing and what we're psychologically pushing people towards.
Mike: And this is what people should know, being bullied for your weight has nothing to do with your weight. So kids who are bullied for their weight are twice as likely to attempt suicide regardless of their weight. So this is really important. There's all this literature about people who perceive themselves as overweight are much more likely to have heart disease, much more likely to overeat, much more likely to binge eat, much more likely to feel bad about themselves, much more likely to not go out in public. It's actually extremely bad for you to be bullied for your weight, no matter what your weight is. And so the people that are defending this idea of oh, we have to shame people for their weight, you're literally creating the problem that you're pretending to solve, right? Bullying people for their weight, even if they have normal BMI 22.5, perfect normal BMI, bullying them for their weight will make them unhealthy. Which is when you talk about, but it is really fucking obvious.
Sarah: But we have to just spell everything out apparently.
Mike: And this is one of those things, being self-conscious is really bad for you. So many of the people that are interviewed say that they've never been bullied. They'd never had a stranger shout across the parking lot of them. They've never had actual comments, but they're aware of it. One of the women I interviewed is like a CEO. She runs a tech company and she said that whenever she's at a meeting where there's food, there's bagels in the middle of the table or whatever, she freaks out. She's like, if I reach for one, everyone's gonna be like oh, the fat lady wants a bagel. Typical fat lady. If I don't reach for one, there'll be like, oh, why isn't she reaching for one? Is she trying to slim down? It's basically activating these stereotypes whenever she's around food. And so being aware of yourself, being aware and asking those questions all the time, it's really fucking bad for you. It's a form of stress and a form of watching yourself all the time and being really nervous about it in the same way that chronic poverty is stress on people. We find this with gay people, too, that being in a closet is really bad for your stress system. It just fries all of these internal circuits that keep you healthy, because you're basically operating a low level panic all the time and it's extremely bad for you.
Sarah: Because you're living as a pariah.
Mike: One of these women said that she's flexed waiting for the next bad interaction to happen. Right. Whenever she orders food at a restaurant, she's looking around. Okay, who here is going to talk shit, who here is going to point at me and tell their girlfriend, who here...but she's just watching the environment around herself all the time.
Sarah: Yes. It's like being on the secret service and you're just trying to have a meal in a restaurant. I mean, Jesus.
Mike: Also institutionally, this is the most depressing thing. Institutionally-
Sarah: This is the most depressing thing?
Mike: I’m sorry. Because I'm always interested in institutions, right? You're not going to change society, but you can change institutions.
Sarah: I'll do society and you do institutions.
Mike: There’s only one state that prohibits discrimination on the basis of the weight, so it’s legal to fire people for gaining weight. A Texas hospital famously just posted ads that said we don't hire fat people. That's legal. You're allowed to do that everywhere, but Michigan.
Sarah: Good old Michigan.
Mike: And we all know that that's discrimination. Because don't end discrimination, right. But it sends a message that the powers that be think that this is a bad thing, right? In the same way that like gay marriage did not end discrimination against gay people, but it's a sign of okay, the country has moved on. It is not okay to discriminate against gay people anymore. Or at least it's on that path, there's nothing on that path for fat people. There's nothing saying, hey everybody, this isn't okay. Most state anti-bullying efforts, school bullying efforts, states have anti-bullying policies, none of them mentioned weight. Even though weight is the number one reason people get bullied. Yeah. A couple of the mentioned books, but there's nothing explicitly stating it is not okay to believe people on the basis of their weight. And I talked to this public health researcher, and she said she's not aware of a public health campaign worldwide that has attempted to reduce weight stigma.
There's a million public health campaigns that are like, eat your vegetables and don't drink Coca-Cola blah, blah, blah. There's never been one ever that is like, Hey, maybe be nice to people regardless of their body size. So there really has been no attempt to change this, no one has tried and it's really difficult for civil society to form around this issue because of internalized stigma. So a lot of people that are fat don't identify as a member of a group that they want to do something to change, right? I, as a gay person can join the HRC and be like, I want to campaign for better anti-discrimination laws, but there are a couple of groups that fight for better fat acceptance, but they're really small and it's really difficult to recruit people because people are still in this mindset of, oh, I'm fat because it's my fault.
Sarah: Because they don't want to come out as fat.
Mike: Coming out as fat is a huge deal. A lot of the people that I talked to have gone through this process with their families. I talked to this stigma researcher. We're having this long interview and we're talking about stigma and research and stuff. And then eventually he mentions, as a gay man, and I’m like, I am also a gay man. All of a sudden, we were like, hey. My journalist thing went down, and his stigma researcher went down, and we just had a chat, and it was really enjoyable.
Sarah: Like you're rolling down the windows and you’re stopping at the same light. You're like, hello.
Mike: I was like, okay, now let's be real. As a gay guy, I come out to people as gay constantly. Right? Whenever you meet a new person, you have to navigate what does this person know about me? How am I going to present myself? But you can't come out as fat, right? Because people can see it on you. And he said, coming out was never about visibility, coming out was about telling people that you're not going to apologize for it anymore. That is what gives you the psychological benefits of coming out, basically telling your parents, I don't actually care if you hate gay people or not, but I'm not going to hide my sexuality from you anymore, there's nothing wrong with my sexuality. And he says it's really, really, really hard for fat people to do that because a lot of the stigma that they're getting is from their parents, right. Their parents are also fat, or their parents are really, really, really stigmatizing. And so it's really hard to say to your parents, Hey, let's not talk about this. I interviewed a couple of people that said that they have actually said to their mothers, do not mention how I look when I see you. Don't say you look good. Don't say you gained weight. Do not comment on my looks ever, but that's a really fucking hard conversation to have.
Sarah: Yeah. And I feel like overweightness, fatness, whoever you see it, that stands in for people as the greatest sins you can commit as an American. Being selfish, being greedy, not working hard enough. And that these are the things that as Americans that we are conditioned to think of as the worst things you can be. You have to make that leap, I don't care where I am practicing not caring what you think about me physically. And I also don't care that you think this means I'm lazy or greedy or whatever, I don't know. Because you have to reject an entire lifetime of received wisdom about what it takes to be a good American. It’s very hard. I mean, and you need support from the people in your life to be able to do that and that's what you're getting denied.
Mike: So this brings us to the third reason why nothing has been done about obesity in seven years, which is inequality. As you mentioned earlier, the cost of healthy foods, I found a study on this, healthy food costs, calorie for calorie, 10 times more than unhealthy food. And the gap is widening. So healthy food is getting more expensive. Unhealthy food is basically staying the same. Unhealthy food is un-fucking-believable cheap. We all know this.
Sarah: Oh, we've all been to Walmart.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. It's like when you look into the numbers, we think, I think in the background of obesity, it is a problem of affluence, right? People have too much, it's rich white ladies in their SUV's. But when you look at the numbers, dude, it's a symptom of inequality. The numbers on diabetes rates, black people have twice the rate of stroke. They’re three times more likely to die of diabetes. So even people who have diabetes, black people have it worse.
Sarah: Because we can't afford to maintain.
Mike: Yeah. Even at the same weight, black people are 12% more likely to get diabetes than white people. At the same weight. So all of this comes back to cost and structure. If you look at who is getting diabetes, all of these rates of cardiovascular disease have basically started to level off among white people since the early 2000s. Obesity rates, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, droves, all this stuff is plateaued among white people. And it's still going up among the poor, ethnic minorities, and the uneducated. These are the groups in America that need help. So much of this is really about availability and cost. I mentioned school lunches earlier, who is eating school lunches, who is eating school breakfast? Poor kids. Who is making their kids a nice kale salad in Tupperware? It's rich kids. When you look into the numbers, it's like really fucking obvious that this has nothing to do with weight and everything to do with just what food is available and who gets to walk to the grocery store, who gets to walk to work, who gets to take decent, frequent, reliable, public transport, who is stuck in their cars for an hour commute each way, because they live way out in the suburbs. And so this idea that you're fat because you're lazy or whatever, that's not who's fat in America. The people that are fat in America are people that don't have any decent food available.
Sarah: And are working continually.
Mike: And work two jobs and can't feed their kids. I think I've talked on here before, about how food stamps don't cover quote unquote prepared foods. So you can't buy a sandwich with food stamps. You can't even buy one of those rotisserie chickens that they have at the grocery store for eight bucks, you know those roasted whole chickens, cause it's prepared, it's hot. You can’t get any hot food with food stamps. And so if you're somebody who doesn't have a time where you don't have an oven and you have kids, that's a fucking great thing to feed your kids.
Sarah: Rotisserie chicken is a human right, okay.
Mike: And then there's just the kind of overall costing with food stamps that they just don't cover very much food. Same with WIC, women and infant children, it just isn't enough. And so what are you going to do when you don't have much money, you're going to scrimp and save, and you can buy the pound cake at the store. It's 79 cents for this giant thing of pound cake, and of fucking course you're going to do that. You're going to get boxed macaroni and cheese.
Sarah: You’re going to buy the bag cereal. You're going to buy ramen. Yeah. Yeah.
Mike: There's studies where they've done these things where for food stamps, they'll give you like two bucks, if it's healthy food for every book that you spend, it'll magnify your food stamp spending. And lo and behold, people spend more money on healthy food. People eat healthier. They've done all these studies on when the cost of food goes down, what happens to healthy purchases versus unhealthy purchases. And again, lo and behold, when the cost of healthy food goes down more people buy healthy food. Nobody wants to feed their kids top ramen five nights a week.
Sarah: Oh, no. Poor people do want to feed their kids crap because they're intrinsically bad and evil and that's why we have to slowly kill them all. I'm pretty sure that's the agenda that I was raised to learn.
Mike: Yeah that’s on all the billboards. Yeah. So one thing that's really interesting is there's this concept. I don't know if you know this concept of food deserts, that there's basically places in America where they're just aren't grocery stores. There's nowhere to buy food.
Sarah: I've lived in some of those. They are trippy.
Mike: Yeah. So have I, actually. I was interviewing a researcher who works on these and she said that what's actually a more useful concept is food swamps, not necessarily that there are places where you cannot get healthy food, it's that there are places where terrible food is super cheap and super available. And so it just puts people in this bind every time, do I want to walk farther and spend more to get broccoli? Or do I want to go around the corner to like the fish and chips place?
There are all these studies to put farmer's markets in poor neighborhoods, but first of all, farmer's markets are expensive. Second of all, only one in eight Americans actually shop at the nearest grocery store. The vast majority of Americans, rich Americans, go farther to go to Whole Foods and poor Americans go farther to go to the grocery outlet. They go to cheap places. So most of us are not buying based on proximity, most of us are buying based on the quality of the foods and or the cost of the foods. But what is the point of putting a Whole Foods in a poor neighborhood? What is yogurt at Whole Foods? It's eight bucks for a thing of yogurt. Like no one... come on.
Sarah: The point of it is to incite class warfare, I think.
Mike: And invite more rich people to change the neighborhood and invite more rich people to that neighborhood.
Sarah: It’s like look, we have all of your favorite stuff.
Mike: One of the more heartbreaking studies that I read for this was about all of these efforts. There's a bunch of communities, there's a hundred different cities around the country between I think it's 2005 and 2015 that tried banning fast food, which is like a good thing to do. Don't have any shitty fast in your neighborhood. This is good. When rich, white neighborhoods try to ban fast food, it's all about neighborhood character and keeping the mom and pop stores in our neighborhood, and let's keep traffic down, and let's make sure everything is walkable and cute. And those almost unanimously passed. The city councils are like, yes, let's maintain neighborhood character. That sounds great. So they all ban fast food.
Then you've got poor black neighborhoods, this happened in south LA, that are like, our kids are really sick. We need to ban fast food from our neighborhood for health reasons. And everyone comes out of the fucking woodwork and is oh, it's the nanny state. Oh, you're telling kids what to do. It's social engineering. And so only about a quarter to a half of these bans pass. This is what happened in south LA. It became extremely controversial, a bunch of parents wanted to ban shitty food. And everyone fucking lost their minds and wrote op-eds for the LA times to be like, we can't horn in on like our small businesses, blah, blah, totally disengaged, right?
Sarah: Because rich people are allowed to make decisions for themselves and the health of their communities and non-rich white people just aren't.
Mike: Right. It's another one of those things that when you're looking into it, you find that the most effective obesity interventions aren't obesity interventions, there are things like sidewalks, public transport. There's a study in Charlotte, North Carolina, where everybody in the neighborhood started getting an average of three times more exercise when a light rail stop opened in their neighborhood because what do people do? They give up their cars and they start taking the light rail. And what do you do? You walk 15 minutes to the light rail, 10, 15 minutes home. Hey, you just got as much exercise as you're supposed to get. That's what they recommend. About 30 minutes a day.
Sarah: We used to have a free light rail in Portland, and I would walk to and from that stop every day and it was like a two mile walk and then they started charging for it and I stopped taking it that way. And so did a lot of other people.
Mike: Well, there you go. Exactly. All of these ideas of let's do a fucking farm to table app or whatever. It's not really helping.
Sarah: What if we have more stuff for insufferable, rich people. Surely that will tip the scale.
Mike: I mean, I just keep thinking about, you know I worked in human rights for years, with all the sweatshop advocacy in the early nineties. Nike, sweatshops, Indonesia, whatever. All this advocacy, what it basically did was it created a two tier global labor system where if you work for Nike in Indonesia now, it's actually one of the best places to work because of all this advocacy. Nike hires private auditing firms. They hire dozens of people because they have a reputation to protect. You and I would not want to work in Indonesia in any factory, but if you have to, it's way better to work for Nike than it is to work for one of the Taiwanese companies or the Korean companies, or one of the domestic Indonesian companies that have no labor standards whatsoever.
So what we did in that system, all that advocacy really achieved was it built a two tier system where the rich actors have much better labor conditions, but the labor conditions as a whole, haven't really improved. It's not clear there's any fewer sweat shops now than there were in the nineties. In fact, there's probably more. So we didn't change the defaults, we just created a two tier system. We're doing the same thing, I feel, with food. All of this advocacy around availability and around organic fruits, it just entrenches this Elysium system that we have. Rich people can go to Whole Foods and get this lovingly picked cantaloupe that was not grown with any fertilizers, and it was tucked into bed every night. But that doesn't change anything at the grocery outlet, that doesn't change anything among cheap bodegas at the corner that don't have any fruits and vegetables. We're not changing anything, we're just creating a two tier system so that we can eat better food.
Sarah: And probably be more hysterical about people who aren't eating lovingly prepared cantaloupes all the time, because I think the way that we can be about eating are all organic, all grass fed, hot house, whatever, things, the more we intensely regulate our control over our own diets, the more judgmental illness that facilitates for people who don't or can't put that kind of energy into their food. And people who feel if they eat a piece of cooked food or, or something that has GMOs in it, that they're going to faint dead away. It's getting farther and farther divorced from the reality of a country where people literally cannot survive if they're going to have that attitude about what they put in their body.
Mike: This is the thing I always have an intense stress response whenever I hear people say that we need to teach people about their food and tell the story of their food and learn where their food comes from.
Sarah: Ah, the story of the food.
Mike: Which I think comes from a good place. People are being good hearted and I get that, but people don't need to know where their food comes from. I don't know where my food comes from. I don't know where my toothpaste comes from. I don't know where the little fan that I just bought because it’s hot in Seattle, I don't know where that comes from. What I need is the confidence that I don't need to know where that shit comes from to know that it's safe.
Sarah: You don't have to be living like Julianne Moore in Safe, where anything that you don't know what cow it came from and how it got to you, that you can trust the system to not be feeding you a slow drip of poison, unless you're hypervigilant about knowing which farm your chickens are laying their eggs out.
Mike: And again, people are time poor. I don't want a world where single mothers with three kids have to read every fucking label at the grocery store to see if there's added sugar and weird dyes and their food. I want a system where somebody can go into the grocery store and buy something and be confident that it's going to be good for them. If it says natural on the label, they can be confident that it's not going to have a bunch of bullshit added to it. And so we need to make the system less work rather than more work.
I feel like most of the advocacy that happens around the food system is just on making more labeling stuff and more certifications when I don't want to do that much work when I go to the grocery store. I don't think other people should either. I think healthy food should be the cheap food. And so a lot of this goes back to the way that things are subsidized. A lot of that goes back to the way that things are regulated. These ideas with food stamps and with other ways of targeting the poor for just better food and making that easier, let's just help people feed their kids well. Let's support them in doing that and figure out what people need to feed their kids well, because most people want to feed their kids good food. No one hates their kids and wants to feed them bad food. Everybody wants to feed their kids good food. So it's just a matter of, how can we help people do this? And I don't see any political movement to actually try to help. I just see a lot of weird shaming and people talk about taking soft drinks off of food stamps and stuff like that, which we should all be drinking less soda. But I don't like this idea of shaming people and like making food stamps more restrictive. I'd rather support people in buying the healthy thing rather than make it harder to buy the unhealthy thing.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. Support versus punishment. This really has made me think about, for the first time ever, realizing that I have a relationship with my body where I trust my body when it says we're hungry. I go, oh, we're hungry. It's time to eat something. I need nourishment. And I will answer that call and do something about it. And I've never had the feeling of having to not trust what my body was telling me or to treat it or just to relate to my body like I'm a cold war spy and it might be a double agent and I don't know when I have to think over everything it says to me. I'm just like, okay, body, cool. And just the idea of just how much energy that I have been saved from being robbed of because of that. This is another lesson of Jesus Christ, Sarah, your life has been fucking easy in this way that it's incredibly hard for so many other people. And you got to use that energy for something, so we might as well save society, I guess.
Mike: Well, I'll end with something on that note. Which is basically one of the things I realized interviewing people, because I interviewed a lot of people that had lost weight successfully as well, was that everybody becomes an evangelist for whatever works for them. If you lost weight with a vegetarian diet, you're like, oh, everyone should be a vegetarian. If you did it with Atkins, you're like no one should eat carbs ever again. It's very difficult for us as humans to just acknowledge that hey, you know what, what worked for me might not work for everybody and maybe I'm typical and maybe I'm not. Try a vegetarian diet. If it doesn't work for you, move on.
It's really hard for us to realize how our bodies are not like other people's bodies. And so one person who has struggled with their weight their entire life and figured it out when they were 55, what works for them, that's not necessarily you going to work for someone who has never struggled with their weight and only started gaining weight when they were 50. Some people love this low carb shit. Some people love this low-fat shit. Whatever works for you. But the most important thing is to realize that your relationship with food is by definition, individual. Other people's weight, other people's food, what other people are eating, leave them alone. You don't know anything about the person at the restaurant who is 300 pounds and sitting across from you. You don't know anything about that person's life. So leave it off. Don't be mean to them.
Sarah: Don’t intervene in a stranger's life, unless it's to say something nice to them. Not necessarily that they're hot because that can be threatening. Just be nice in a way that you are reasonably confident is not going to be scary. It's very easy. And I feel like we have this idea too of, what if I'm too nice to someone? What if I'm unconditionally loving and I'm really encouraging someone to do all these bad behaviors and really, I need to keep them in line by strategically punishing them. And you know what? No. Let's go save you some time. It's never going to work that way. You can never be too nice to people.
Mike: Be nice. That's a good note to end on. We're finally ending on a happy note.
Mike: We did it!