The most common New Year’s resolution Americans make is to lose weight. For many years, that was Aubrey Gordon’s resolution, too. But one conversation with a friend led Aubrey to rethink the way we talk about fat people and weight loss. Now, as a fat activist, Aubrey writes about anti-fat bias and the physical and emotional realities of being a fat person in the world. This week she tells us why she went from writing anonymously on her blog Your Fat Friend to going public in 2020. Aubrey also pushes back on the idea of an “obesity epidemic” and argues that drugs like Ozempic are worsening anti-fat bias — both topics that she’s covered on her podcast Maintenance Phase.
Please note: This episode contains discussion of body image, weight loss, and eating disorders. If you or someone you know are affected by an eating disorder, get more information from the National Eating Disorders Association online or by calling their helpline: 800-931-2237.
The Sporkful production team includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Nora Ritchie, and Jared O'Connell, with production this week by Grace Rubin. Transcript by Emily Nguyen and publishing by Julia Russo.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- “Can You Dig It” by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- “Mouse Song Light” by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- “Get Your Shoes On” by William Van De Crommert
- “Saturn Returns” by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- “Child Knows Best” by Jack Ventimiglia
- “Hang Tight” by Hayley Briasco
- “Gust Of Wind” by Max Anthony Greenhalgh
- “On The Floor” by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- “Slightly Carbonated” by Erick Anderson
- “Feel Real Good” by William Van De Crommert
Photo courtesy of Beth Olson Creative.
Dan Pashman: Please note this episode contains discussion of body image, weight loss, and eating disorders.
Dan Pashman: So, Aubrey, important thing to just sort of like, clarify right here at the top ...
Aubrey Gordon: Yes.
Dan Pashman: Which is that in this conversation, I'm going to be calling you fat.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah! Please do! I hope that you do.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING] Yes, and I just want listeners who aren't familiar with your work to know that that is — that is the term you prefer.
Aubrey Gordon: That is my preferred term. We have attached a lot of weird baggage to the term fat. We use it to mean unlovable and unintelligent and undesirable and unattractive and a whole lot of other un-s. And at the same time, that is the size and shape of my body, right? [LAUGHS] So I use that in a truly neutral way, the same way that I talk about the length of my hair or my height, right? Like, it's just a fact about how I look.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters. I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Aubrey Gordon is a fat activist and best selling author, who writes about anti-fat bias and the physical and emotional realities of being a fat person in the world. She first wrote about these topics anonymously, on her blog Your Fat Friend. She expanded on them when she went public with her identity in 2020, with the release of her first book. Aubrey’s also the co-host of Maintenance Phase, a podcast that explores the history of popular health and wellness trends, and at times debunks the science behind them.
Dan Pashman: I wanted to talk with Aubrey in part to hear her story, and in part because this is our first episode of the new year. And the most common resolution Americans make each year is to lose weight. Aubrey says for a long time, that was her annual new year’s resolution, too.
Dan Pashman: What is this time of year like for you?
Aubrey Gordon: This is a time of year when I pay every streaming service for no ads.
Aubrey Gordon: Because I am a 40-year-old fat woman, and that means that I will get this like, endless onslaught of "new year, new you" kind of — “get your beach body ready,” right, like all of that kind of stuff really starts to crop up.
Dan Pashman: Right, right. And I feel like there's also this message that we get in January that is sort of like, you've been naughty ...
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And now it's time to atone.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. It's a fascinating thing that we think about eating as like, some kind of moral activity. There are other things that we need to do every day, like breathing and going to the bathroom, and we don't attach that kind of energy to those things, right?
Dan Pashman: Right.
Aubrey Gordon: This idea that if you are denying yourself you are closer to something more virtuous or more pious or more holy is something that has seeped into our culture past the point of people who are like, actively religiously observant. I mean, I think both of my parents are not particularly religious people. Neither am I. And they are still people who will describe things as like, sinful, right, [LAUGHS] will describe food as sinful or “I'm being good” or “I'm being bad” or what have you, right, which is just a very clear 1 to 1 on, again, that sort of connection between food and morality.
Dan Pashman: So that’s this time of year for you now. Tell me about your relationship with New Year's resolutions in the past.
Aubrey Gordon: [LAUGHS] I used to make them. I used to think they were like, a really good and important thing to do, like a moment of measurable growth in your life, right? And the top New Year's resolutions were always, I'm going to lose that last 20 pounds. I'm going to — this is the year! This is the year I finally get fit. As a fat person, it was never the last 20 pounds, right, quote unquote, in order to appear thin to the people around me. For me, that mark would be, I don't know, 200 plus pounds, right, which is a thing that takes years and isn't linear, and based on data we know doesn't work for an overwhelming majority of people who attempt it. So it just felt like an exercise in sort of self-flagellation for being the size I have always been.
Dan Pashman: As she says, Aubrey’s always been fat. In her first book, she writes about her experience growing up …
Aubrey Gordon: When I was in, I think maybe fourth grade, I went to a pediatrician who gave me a whole talk about how “I know pizza tastes really good, but you can't have pizza anymore and you can't have this anymore and you can't have that anymore.” And I was like, my mom's on Weight Watchers. We don't have pizza at our house. I don't know who she's talking to, but it's like, not me.
Dan Pashman: Aubrey says when she was a kid, doctors weren’t the only people who made assumptions about why she was fat, or had suggestions about what she should do differently.
Aubrey Gordon: You become aware very young as a fat kid that people really are like, paying attention to what you eat, and they will tell you things about what you're eating and what you should be eating and all of that kind of stuff. And what it ends up doing, really, at least in my case, was that it ended up encouraging me to, like, hide food and to eat in private away from other people because no matter what I ate, whether it was a food that other people thought of as virtuous or not, I would get a comment, right? Like “Hey, good job with the salad,” or I would get “Maybe you should get a side salad instead of fries.” I think people really, really think they're doing you a favor, and they really, really think they're helping without realizing that they're doing this, like, incredibly humiliating and sort of patronizing, condescending thing that is much more reserved for fat people, and it’s a way of sort of flagging, FYI, I'm still paying attention to how fat you are.
Dan Pashman: When Aubrey was 11, her mom signed her up for Weight Watchers.
Aubrey Gordon: I just remember going down into this — it was like a downstairs like, community center, AA kind of setting, right, sitting in a circle in folding chairs, confessing to your sins. They would weigh you in and they would keep a log of your weight, and they would loudly congratulate you so that the whole line of people waiting to get weighed in could hear how well you were doing if you lost weight, and if you didn't lose weight, they would say nothing, and you would just move along. So it was just like, everybody knew at every minute how everybody else was doing. But the thing that stayed with me the most was the way that people would talk about how their whole lives would change if they were 20 or 30 or 50 pounds lighter. People would say things like they'd finally get that promotion if they just could lose this weight, or the problems with their marriage would fix themselves if they were just more, what they thought was more physically attractive to their partner, right? Most of the people in that room were my age now. They were in, like, their 40s. And I think there was something about — it felt like being ushered into adulthood as a woman to be like, this is what your life is going to be like. [LAUGHS] You're going to bemoan your body and you're going to hate it. That's part of your job. And you're going to tell other people that you think everything will be different if you're thin.
Dan Pashman: Going to Weight Watchers also made Aubrey hyper-aware of the nutritional information in everything she ate. That wasn’t by accident — that was part of the point of the program.
Aubrey Gordon: So I was there for Weight Watchers in the era of flex points. There have been many eras of Weight Watchers. So I had, like, a little tag board slider where you would sort of account for the calories, fat and fiber in a food, and that would tell you how many points there were. So in middle school, I was calculating how many points are in a scrambled egg or in a handful of Cheetos or what have you. And I think for any listeners who have eating disorders, you know that once that calculus is in there , [LAUGHS], in your brain, once it starts kicking out those numbers, it's really hard to shut it off. So over time, I think that helped lay a foundation for later disordered eating in my life, no question. No question.
Dan Pashman: How do you feel in retrospect about your mom taking you to Weight Watchers when you were a kid?
Aubrey Gordon: I mean, I wish she hadn't, but more than that, I wish that that wasn't, like, the primary expectation of parents of fat kids in the '80s and '90s, right? Like, I just wish that that wasn't like, the measure of a good parent at that time. And it really, really was. If you had a fat kid, you needed to be seen taking that kid to fat camp or to Weight Watchers or to, you know, workout classes or whatever, right? Like that was seen as like, a core sort of duty of parents and I think still is to some degree.
Dan Pashman: At times all the attention on her body and what she was putting into her mouth made it hard for Aubrey to enjoy eating. But she does have some happy food memories.
Aubrey Gordon: I grew up in Portland, Oregon. I still live in Portland, Oregon and love it here. And I had then, as I have now, blueberry bushes in the yard. And I remember running around in the summer in the backyard having an incredible time, and you just stop for a snack and it was blueberries off of the blueberry bush. And that was one of the most delicious things I can ever remember tasting. Like, it was just like, yeah, second to none.
Dan Pashman: In her 20s and early 30s, Aubrey worked as a community organizer. But around 2016, a single conversation with a friend would lead her to shift her whole career, to the work she does today.
Aubrey Gordon: I had a good friend from college, and she and I had been talking about body image related stuff and body size related stuff, and I remember trying to talk to her about some places where she and I had really, really different experiences. We were both people who had features of anorexia, and I think the more we tried to relate about it, the more we saw how different our experiences were. That, you know, someone my size who seeks treatment for a restrictive eating disorder is more likely to get told, “You don't need treatment, it looks like you haven't missed a meal in a while,” than we are to get medical care, right, for a medical issue. And she and I just sort of kept missing each other. She was a thin person. I was a fat person. And we just — it wasn't a contentious conversation, but we just weren't meeting.
Dan Pashman: You were talking past each other.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, exactly. That's exactly right. So I decided to write her a letter about how I felt about it. And I sent it to a friend of mine to just make sure I wasn't being a jerk. [LAUGHS] Like, can you give this letter a read and make sure I’m not being the world's biggest jerk to a friend that I love and value? And he said, "I think it seems fine on that front, and maybe you should think about posting that somewhere where other people could read it."
Dan Pashman: I asked Aubrey to read some of the letter, which she titled “A request from your fat friend: what I need when we talk about bodies.”
Aubrey Gordon: When I talk about fat, I'm not talking about feelings or self-esteem or body image issues. I'm talking about the way individuals and institutions treat me and people who look like me. I need you to acknowledge that you and I have different experiences because I am fat. When you say that you shouldn't have eaten that lunch or dessert or when you announce your New Year's resolution to lose five, ten, 25 pounds, you are saying that you don't want your body to end up like mine. I need you to know that when you talk disparagingly about your own body and then you say, “But not you, you're beautiful,” your compliments are impossible to believe. That if you disapprove of yourself, vivisect your own body and then compliment me, I will remember how you talk about both of us. If you think of your own fat body as repulsive. I will believe you are also repulsed by mine. I need you to know that even with good intentions, you can still do harm. I need less sympathy and more solidarity. Less pity, more anger. Fewer condolences, more action. I need you to stop comforting me. I need an ally.
Dan Pashman: Did you get a response from her?
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, we had like, a lovely sort of series of conversations after that and stayed close for a number of years after that.
Dan Pashman: But did she eventually acknowledge the things that you were hoping she would acknowledge?
Aubrey Gordon: Yes and no. I mean, I think — I don't know that — there's like a level of understanding that you hope for as someone who's building a relationship with someone across some line of difference, right? Whether that's women building relationships with men and really wanting to be understood on a deeper level than is likely or whatever, I was having that kind of experience, and I think I was expecting more of her than I've seen from most people who aren't fat. So I think some of it was that my expectations were I hadn't checked them against my own experience. I'll say that. But I think what I got is fundamentally what I needed, which is just like, we're still friends, we're still good, we're going to keep talking about this. But at the core of that is, I love you and you're my friend.
Dan Pashman: Aubrey also took her other friend’s suggestion and shared it online under one condition.
Aubrey Gordon: I posted it anonymously on Medium under the name Your Fat Friend because of something that happens to fat people on the Internet all the time. Fat people with 50 or 100 followers on the regular get doxxed.
Dan Pashman: Aubrey was prepared for the worst; she wanted to protect herself. What she wasn’t prepared for was the scale of the response her post received.
Aubrey Gordon: It got, I think, like 40,000 hits in the first week, which just seemed to indicate that there was like, more of an appetite for more conversations.
Dan Pashman: Aubrey spent the next three years writing anonymously on Medium. She wrote about what going to the gym is like for her as a fat person, the challenges of shopping for plus-size clothing and the ways fat people are, and aren’t, depicted in popular media.
Aubrey Gordon: We don't get fat people in even like, stories of people working at restaurants or the post office or whatever. [LAUGHS] Fat people aren't even like, extras in a lot of things, right? We are just fully absented from the conversation, which is wild, if you go outside where there are fat people.
Aubrey Gordon: Right? Like, if you go to the grocery store, you will see more fat people than in a huge extras scene.
Dan Pashman: Right. Well, that brings me to one of my all time favorite headlines. I forget where it appeared, but early on in the days of reality TV when it was first taking off, I saw a headline that said, “If this is reality, where are all the fat people?”
Aubrey Gordon: Yes, oh, my God!
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Aubrey Gordon: How do I not know this headline?
Dan Pashman: Right?
Dan Pashman: Aubrey’s essays got a lot of views, which led to a social media following, where she used the same pseudonym. In 2019, she started penning a column for Self magazine, still maintaining her anonymity. Writing all those columns led Aubrey to revisit moments of her life as a fat person that she had forgotten, or blocked out, or just not fully understood at the time. The more she wrote, the more she came to see herself in a different light.
Aubrey Gordon: There's a thing that happens when you're a fat person and you talk about having an experience that fat people tend to have and thin people don't. Right? For example, at one point I was reseated on a plane because someone had like, a little bit of a fit about having to sit next to me. It felt hugely, publicly humiliating. Right? The entire plane is seated. The only thing that's happening is the one person sitting next to me loudly talking about how they don't want to sit next to me. So you just sort of feel everybody's eyes on you and you become acutely aware that you're, like, theater and not a person anymore. That people are watching you like they watch TV, but that nobody feels like, hey, maybe this is something to intervene in, [LAUGHS] or maybe this is someone who could use a little comfort, or something. Right? And when I got home and told many of my friends and family about it, their first questions were, “Were you doing something? What were you doing that made him do that?” And I think over time, you sort of internalize that. You sort of go, "Oh, I must have imagined it," or "Oh, I must have done something," or "Oh, you know ...", and I think the more that I wrote about things, the more I realized how hurt I had been by them, how many instances there were. It was a really hard process to actually, instead of sort of brushing off that hurt to actually go, "No, there's something real there, what's actually there?"
Dan Pashman: Coming up, Aubrey drops the anonymity, and takes Your Fat Friend public. Then later, she’ll share some of her 20 myths about fat people, and we’ll get her take on Ozempic. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. As we kick off the new year, I got to tell you, we have so much big news coming in the next few weeks. From a new podcast we’re about to launch, to a special series that’s a sequel to Mission: ImPASTAble, and a U.S. tour of live podcast tapings — the biggest tour we've every done. And there's more, so much more that I can’t start listing it all now. So if you want to make sure you don’t miss any of this goodness, please connect with our show. The best ways to do that are to follow me on Instagram @The Sporkful, and subscribe to our newsletter at sporkful.com/newsletter. Do either or both of those things right now while you’re listening, and you won’t miss any of the excitement we have in store for you. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: Okay, back to Aubrey Gordon. Aubrey spent several years writing under a pseudonym. Eventually, her columns earned her a book deal. On the eve of its publication, she revealed her real name online for the first time. Her decision was mostly a practical one.
Aubrey Gordon: It's very hard to do a book tour with a bag over your head.
Aubrey Gordon: I considered the Shia LaBeouf “I'm not famous anymore” bag ..
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
Aubrey Gordon: But did not go with it.
Dan Pashman: There was another factor: Aubrey originally stayed anonymous to avoid being doxxed, but by that point, despite her efforts, it had happened. Her full name, home address, even her social security number were all posted online. Aubrey says it was terrifying. She started spending more time at home and staying indoors. Compared to that, going public on her own terms?
Aubrey Gordon: It felt scary but not anywhere near as scary as involuntarily going public. [LAUGHS] Do you know what I mean? Like, it just felt like I could just sort of set down this big, cumbersome thing I'd been carrying around.
Dan Pashman: In 2020 Aubrey published her first book, entitled What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat. In it she takes a different approach than most books about fatness and body image.
Aubrey Gordon: It felt to me like almost any time I talked about my experiences as a fat person, the response that I would get from people who weren't fat was something like, I totally get that, I'm having a really bad body image day too. I'd be like, "That's not how I feel about my body!" This is all determined by how other people feel about my body, right? And I think what I wanted to do is write a book about implicit and explicit bias, not a book about, like, how to love yourself, which was kind of the only avenue at that point that fat people and particularly fat women were being given in media.
Dan Pashman: In her book, Aubrey writes a lot about the idea of body positivity, arguing that it’s not a helpful tool for fighting anti-fatness.
Aubrey Gordon: Listen, we totally should accept all bodies. [LAUGHS] That's a good thing to do. And, to me, it’s not even — if you're thinking about a staircase, it's not even like, the first step. It's like stepping over the threshold to get to the staircase. Like yeah, no, you shouldn't actively say terrible things about other people's bodies to them, that seems like we should all be able to agree to that, right?
Aubrey Gordon: So A, it felt like a low bar, but B, it felt like for some folks, it led to big, deep enlightening moments. But for many folks, it was just sort of changing what you said about your body, not necessarily changing how you treated it or how you felt about it. And it certainly, certainly didn't challenge people's biases toward people who were fatter than them, right?
Dan Pashman: I'm curious to hear your take on this because this is something I'm sort of like, you know, thinking through is like, on one hand, one of the problems with the idea of body positivity as it's sort of commonly understood today is that it makes no distinction between feeling fat and being fat.
Aubrey Gordon: Absolutely.
Dan Pashman: On the other hand, we're all subject to the same societal pressures. You know, we're all seeing the same media. And so even people who might not fit your definition of fat are still — still have to deal with some of the same pressures.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think — listen, what you're talking about is the pressures of like, having a body in the world, right? [LAUGHS] Like, I don't know that there's a person who has a body in the U.S. who's like, "No, man, I'm pretty good. I got this on lock. I feel great about how I look. Nothing to change. Done and done!"
Aubrey Gordon: Right? Like, I just don't — if that person exists, I don't know that person. Right? But I think it's a place where we — this is where conversations about like, structural barriers and other people's behavior and all of that kind of needs its own space, right? And the places that we get into trouble are when people do exactly what you're talking about, which is conflating the idea of like, feeling like you're not thin enough with the lived experience of being a fat person, right? That like, many, many, many people feel like they're not thin enough. Not everybody can get kicked off of an airplane when they have a paid ticket. Right? Many, many, many people feel like they're not thin enough, but only people my size make about $20,000 less a year for the same jobs. We've just got to be able to have conversations about body image and acknowledge that those are conversations about how we feel about ourselves. And we've also got to be able to have a separate set of conversations where we talk about how other people treat our bodies and how institutions treat our bodies and regard our bodies, right? And it helps everyone get the support that they need when we're just honest about which of those conversations is happening at what point.
Dan Pashman: Last year, Aubrey published her second book, entitled, “You Just Need To Lose Weight” And 19 Other Myths About Fat People. It became a New York Times best-seller. The book identifies four categories of myths. The first covers the idea that being fat is a choice.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. That's sort of our main way of thinking about fat people is just like, just put in a little more effort.
Dan Pashman: Take the stairs!
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, take the stairs. God damn. Take the stairs is like, the bane of my existence.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Aubrey Gordon: Like somebody walking up two flights of stairs is the difference between me being a size 26 and a size 6. Like, nice try, team.
Aubrey Gordon: But yeah, there is this idea that fat people just aren't putting in enough effort. And actually, what we know from studies about attempting to lose weight, particularly through diet and exercise, is that most people are able to lose weight for six to twelve months. Then, over the course of the next one to three years, that weight comes back. And then by five years after that, most people weigh more than when they started. That's not an accident, that’s like, an observable trend among people. And it has absolutely nothing to do with willpower and everything to do with biological signals designed to keep you alive.
Dan Pashman: As Aubrey explains, studies show that when we lose weight through calorie restriction, a bunch of changes occur in the brain and body which are our body’s attempt to return us to our previous, higher weight. Because from an evolutionary perspective, throughout most of human history, if you started consuming fewer calories and losing weight, it was a bad sign. It probably meant you were having trouble getting enough food, so your body’s reaction to weight loss is rooted in self preservation. When you start eating less and losing weight, it sets off evolutionary alarm bells. Some hormones spike while others fall, making you feel more hungry and less full, even after you eat. Your metabolism slows down, retaining fat to conserve energy. And perhaps most important, all these changes persist long after you stop dieting. So even if you lose a lot of weight, keeping it off means overriding your body’s hardwired, biological drive to survive for years, if not for the rest of your life.
Dan Pashman: There’s still a lot researchers don’t understand or agree on about why it’s so hard to lose weight, and why it’s even harder to keep weight off. What researchers do know is that for women like Aubrey, who are classified as obese, there’s less than a 1 percent chance that she’ll ever reach a quote-unquote healthy weight — healthy as defined by government standards.
Aubrey Gordon: Knowing that leads me to a bunch of different questions other than how do I get thin, right? It frees me up to be able to think about like, okay, well, I don't have to worry about that. What are my actual health issues and how do I actually treat those health issues rather than just trying to lose weight all the time? What are my actual issues in my relationships and how do I fix those? Instead of thinking I just need to be thin enough for people to accept me. Right? It frees you up to actually live your life more fully.
Dan Pashman: Another idea Aubrey challenges in her book is the whole notion that there is an obesity epidemic. She says it’s true that between the 1960s and '80s, Americans started gaining weight. There are a number of factors and researchers have not agreed on one clear culprit. The industrialization of our food system made food less healthy, and also cheaper, which led to bigger portions. So even Americans who avoided junk food started eating more of everything. This increase in consumption was accompanied by a decrease in physical activity. We spent more time in cars and sitting at desks.
Aubrey Gordon: But I think the main thing to know is that the point at which we start getting reporting about a "obesity epidemic" is after 1999. And the reason that that matters is that in 1999, we changed the thresholds and lowered them for who could be considered medically, "overweight" or medically "obese". Right? The lead on CNN — this is one of my favorite, not a headline, but a lead ...
Dan Pashman: Right.
Aubrey Gordon: Was “Millions of Americans woke up Wednesday overweight, and they hadn't gained a pound.” [LAUGHS] So the thresholds had been changed. The ways that doctors were interpreting who was fat and who was thin had changed. But when you see reporting even still to this day on the "obesity epidemic", you see a huge spike in 1999 to 2000 that makes you think a bunch of people got super fat.
Dan Pashman: One of the other myths that you take on in your book is the idea that being fat is unhealthy.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: This is one, Aubrey, I can imagine some listeners having a bit of a record scratch moment, and I can imagine people saying, yes, certainly we should not be prejudiced against fat people. We should not be shaming fat people. Aubrey, you make so many valid points about your experience and how these attitudes need to change.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And certainly there's a lot of junk science out there with regard to diet culture and fad diets, but if you set all that aside, isn't it still true on a basic level that if you are fat, you are more likely to develop certain negative health outcomes, and therefore shouldn't we try to help people not develop those outcomes?
Aubrey Gordon: I think the trick here comes with how we "help". The idea that we seem to have in our heads, is that every health effect that is a result of being fat is just a direct result of fat cells in your body. And actually, what we know is that anti-fat bias in doctors offices leads fat people to delay care not by months but by years, and that doctors will send fat patients away and say, "Come back when you've lost weight and then we'll talk about this health condition." Or famously, there was a woman named Rebecca Hiles who spent eight years looking for medical support because she was constantly short of breath. And the doctors told her that she needed to lose weight and that was just because she wasn't active enough and she just needed to get thin and that would take care of it. And when she found a clinician who would listen to her, she found out that she had lung cancer that had gone untreated all of that time, right?
Aubrey Gordon: There's a study that shows that fat people's blood pressure spikes when people say anti-fat things to us. Right? [LAUGHS] So that's one of the health outcomes that folks associate with being in a fat body. They assume that you just are too fat, therefore your blood pressure goes up. Therefore you have a heart attack or stroke, and therefore you die of those reasons, right? Not that. Actually, your blood pressure is really not helped by lots and lots of people telling you what to eat and how to look and why you did things wrong and why you aren't lovable or desirable and, you know, all of that sort of stuff. So I think it's less that there's no connection between body weight and health and more that that connection is used to justify absolutely garbage behavior, and that actually that may have as big or bigger an effect on fat people's health.
Aubrey Gordon: So, like, if you care about fat people's health, the thing to do isn't to tell them what to eat. The thing to do isn't to pity them. The thing to do isn't to offer them to be like, a gym buddy or whatever. The thing to do is work on anti-fat bias in yourself and the people around you. The thing to do is to advocate for equitable health care. The thing to do is join the National Association for Advancing Fat Acceptance's campaign to end weight based discrimination. It's still totally legal to fire someone from a job just because they're fat in 48 states. That's bananas, right? Like, the idea that all of that wouldn't also impact your health is some real head in the sand thinking.
Dan Pashman: In the year since Aubrey’s last book came out, there’s been a huge new topic in the world of weight loss and fat acceptance that I wanted to talk about with her.
Aubrey Gordon: We're going to the It Girl of the Year, Ozempic.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING] That's right, yes.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: So there's a few things that I'm curious to discuss. I noticed new ads on the commuter train that I take into New York City. I don't know if it was specifically for Ozempic, but it was for some kind of weight loss drug.
Aubrey Gordon: Sure.
Dan Pashman: And I don't remember exactly what the slogan of the ad was, but it was something to the effect of “It's not a shortcut. It's health care.”
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: I thought there was a lot to unpack in that ad.
Aubrey Gordon: Yes there sure is.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] It's operating on multiple levels. Like first they're saying it's not your fault if you're fat, and if you're haven't been able to lose weight, it's not because you're lazy. But there are medical issues and you need health care, and here's some health care.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. I do think that the ads for Ozempic and other GLP-1 agonists are like, the most interesting thing.
Dan Pashman: That's the medical term for the class of drugs that work in that way.
Aubrey Gordon: Mm-hmm. So that's like Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, Rybelsus, that whole sort of world. The thing that I have been surprised by most is sort of a lot of the naivete in reporting, right? Many, many folks do not lose dramatic amounts of weight on Ozempic and Wegovy and all of those. The numbers are considerably more moderated than the high watermarks that we hear, all of that kind of stuff. But there's also been a lot of very wishful thinking, sort of think pieces from thin people being like [SIGHS], we now all get it. Being fat isn't your fault. So we're all going to treat fat people better. And those think pieces are not coming from fat people, because speaking only for myself, as a fat person, what I have experienced much more is full-on strangers telling me I should consider going on Ozempic. Right? So like, it's been — the dial has turned up considerably on anti-fat bias in my own personal life, and that happens any time there's a big diet craze, any time there's a big "weight loss breakthrough", folks think, “Oh, we can stop thinking about this thing because there aren't going to be fat people anymore.”
Dan Pashman: Is that how all this sounds to you?
Aubrey Gordon: Yes, absolutely.
Dan Pashman: That there won't be — like that's the underlying message of the good news of Ozempic, that there won't be fat people anymore?
Aubrey Gordon: Oh, I don't even think it's the underlying. I think like, there have been many headlines that are things like — and cover stories that are things like, "The end of the obesity epidemic?", right? Where they're just like, we won't have fat people anymore. And as a fat person, it doesn't feel great to hear the whole country having a party because they think they're not going to have to look at you anymore. And again, I would say that I hear from somebody about it, just in my own personal life, like maybe once a week. Somebody says something about like, "Oh, have you considered it? Have you duh-duh-duh?" And I think all of those people genuinely think they're doing me a favor and it feels horrible. Because what that person is saying is, I'm looking at you, I don't want to have to look at you any more. I think you're going to drop dead immediately. And we got to fix you. Here's how we're going to fix you.
Dan Pashman: How would you describe your relationship with food today?
Aubrey Gordon: Oh! I would say that I, on my best days, approach food with a great deal of joy and curiosity. Like I don't know if there's anything I like quite so much as trying a flavor combination that my mind can't wrap itself around. The Jeni's everything bagel ice cream. Did I buy it? Yes, I did.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, that one. Yeah. What did you think of it?
Aubrey Gordon: It tasted a lot like a bagel and a lot like ice cream. And my brain never reconciled those two things.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I love Jeni's.
Aubrey Gordon: Amazing.
Dan Pashman: You, know, I ordered it, and I love — I think she has cream cheese ice cream in a different — there's another flavor, maybe the skillet cinnamon roll has some cream cheese frosting situation in it. I don't love everything bagels.
Aubrey Gordon: [LAUGHING] Well, that would be a non-starter.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING] But I still couldn't resist trying it. And at the beginning I was like, "Wow, that's actually good. I might like this more than an everything bagel." It started to get a little too weird for me, but I was glad that I tried it. And, you know, I'll try anything Jeni cooks up.
Aubrey Gordon: Same. And I will say, on good days, I would say I am, like, really enthusiastic and excited, always, to try things I haven't tried and all of that sort of stuff. And on bad days, I, to this day, struggle with like, eating regular meals and that kind of thing. Like it continues to be a challenge. But it's a — it's a real weird mismatch between my feelings about myself when I eat and how much I love and am excited about trying new foods, you know? Yeah.
Dan Pashman: What's something you ate recently that you really enjoyed?
Aubrey Gordon: Oh, man. Okay. Okay.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Aubrey Gordon: This is not something that I ate recently and really enjoyed, but it's a thing that I'm looking forward to immensely. I'm about to go to Los Angeles for a little bit, and the thing that I've been most looking forward to every time. Mexican fruit cocktail. Everytime, it's going to be delicious. Going to Otium, Timothy Hollingsworth's restaurant. It's always going to be delicious. There are a number of places. But the thing that I have been most looking forward to this time is #19 at Langer's Delicatessen.
Dan Pashman: Ooh. What’s the #19?
Aubrey Gordon: Pastrami, light rye, sauerkraut, American cheese for some reason, Russian dressing.
Dan Pashman: So it's like a ... It's like a sort of a ...
Aubrey Gordon: It’s like a Reuben with American cheese for some reason. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Yeah. It's like a bastardized Reuben.
Aubrey Gordon: And it is beyond. It's so phenomenal, I can't even tell you. I'm very excited about that.
Dan Pashman: And next time I'm in L.A. I have to try that because I love American cheese.
Aubrey Gordon: Oh, man.
Dan Pashman: I'm a huge defender of American cheese. Sometimes I'm on public radio and if I mention that I like American cheese, you know, the switchboards light up.
Aubrey Gordon: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: There's all these public radio people who can't handle it. “It's not even cheese.” Shut up! It's cheese and it's amazing. It's the most perfect melting cheese on the planet and may be our country's greatest contribution to world culture. And we should all be enjoying American cheese.
Aubrey Gordon: I love it. How about you? What's your thing that you ate recently and enjoyed?
Dan Pashman: Ooh. What did I eat recently and enjoy? So I have had a tradition with my kids that every holiday season we make Buckeyes. You know, like the peanut butter ball covered in chocolate.
Aubrey Gordon: Yes!
Dan Pashman: The recipe that I use, I, like, quadruple the amount of chocolate it calls for because I like a nice, [Aubrey Gordon: Mmm.] thick, chocolaty shell. And I think that you want, when you dip the peanut butter ball into the chocolate, the recipes will typically say, "Hold it over the pot and let most of the chocolate fall off," so you get like, a thin light coating. But I say, no. I want a lot of chocolate. And then you quickly place it down on the wax paper on the baking sheet. And what happens when you put it in the fridge to chill it is that you get like a little chocolate skirt.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And that's extra crunchy.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. It's crunchier than the chocolate around the top of the peanut butter ball. And then you sprinkle a little fancy salt on top and you get crunch and salty and creamy. Oh, man. Sorry. Aubrey, you got me excited now. [LAUGHS]
Aubrey Gordon: Buckeyes are delicious and genuinely they are on my list to make this week for a friend of mine.
Dan Pashman: Awesome.
Aubrey Gordon: So it's getting me very excited and motivated to actually make this.
Dan Pashman: All right, good, good.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dan Pashman: Well, here's to Buckeyes.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah!
Dan Pashman: That’s Aubrey Gordon. Her podcast with journalist Michael Hobbes is Maintenance Phase, and her latest book is You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People. If you want to learn more about anti-fat bias, Aubrey’s Fat Reading List is a great resource. You can find that on her website, YourFatFriend.com.
Dan Pashman: Next week on the show, have you noticed that there are just a lot more different types of products in the grocery store than there were a few years ago? From nut butters to yogurts to seltzers, it’s dizzying, right? It turns out a lot of the driving force is data, gathered from your frequent shopper card, cameras in supermarkets tracking your movements, and more. We'll explore with a trip to a supermarket next week.
Dan Pashman: While you’re waiting for that one, check out the Reheat we dropped at the end of last year featuring two of the nerdiest food scientists slash cookbook authors out there — Nik Sharma and Harold McGee. That’s up now.