Usually, I prefer to discuss individual episodes of a podcast, and down the line, I may choose to discuss specific episodes of Maintenance Phase; however, for today, I’d like to share my impressions after listening to most of their back catalog and provide some context for how I find myself interpreting their conversations.
Mike and Aubrey bring important and underrepresented (queer, fat and women’s) voices to evidence-based health and nutrition media, and I have a lot of respect for what they are attempting to achieve. They provide a clear counternarrative to the typically fattist cultural norms of health and fitness, both with data and personal anecdote, a powerful combination. AND I see some of the same shortcomings in their expressed points of view as I experienced writing in the body positive cultural space which I feel undermine the strength of their arguments.
Mike repeats the myth that 95% of diets fail, and that misinformation permeates interpretations of data around fat loss and weight loss. In references to fat loss research, they often assume a very narrow definition of success that allows for only maintenance of a so-called “normal” weight in order for it to count. It’s unfortunate, because philosophically I think we’re otherwise in alignment, but I find the repetition of these false narratives concerning and problematic. I agree with the concept that it is no one’s business but our own whether or not we choose to pursue a change in body size. I also agree that medicine and research currently puts the onus on the individual and implies moral standing to “good” and “bad” fat people based on if they are trying to change their size.
I come to these conversations from the perspective of someone who used to be a larger size and now does bodybuilding. It is implicit in my sport to manipulate body fat and overall mass. I don’t think everyone should be a bodybuilder. I don’t value people who look like bodybuilders more than others who do not. I’m not doing it to prove my awesomeness to anyone but myself. I believe in complete autonomy and treating everyone with respect. My sport is not for everyone anymore than basketball is for everyone. This blog will not be for everyone. If someone is higher bodyfat and curious about taking up lifting or doing behavior or mindset changes that might impact their size, they may find information here that might help them. But that isn’t my goal audience, because I’m not here to tell someone that they should be losing weight.
Unfortunately, it sounds like Aubrey is skeptical that folks like myself who believe we aren’t somehow holding ourselves up as “better” or “anti-fat.” In a recent (hilarious and otherwise wonderful) episode about Angela Lansbury’s diet and fitness advice from the eighties, she said something to the effect that folks like me who used to be fatter can be especially fat-phobic as they separate themselves from their former, fatter sizes. I have no doubt that this can be true, and maybe it’s even most often true. But I think it’s problematic to phrase it like a universal. And for me, I think I would have a hard time sustaining my healthy habits if they came from a place of chronic fear and self-loathing. Bodybuilding isn’t something I do to prove my self-worth; it’s my hobby.
It is my intent to hold up evidence-based resources to help with lifting sports, including physique sport. Science and evidence-based practice is imperfect, and both have a lot of anti-fat bias; I often agree with Mike’s critiques of medicine and fat loss research. However, I also believe we are seeing more folks in nutrition and fitness research addressing these issues, and I suspect I have more optimism than they do that it’s changing.
In their introductory episode, Mike and Aubrey talk about “thin people being ‘triggered’ by fat people” who live their lives being fat without shame. I am sure this is true. I have also seen the inverse, though, of fat people who are uncomfortable with their bodies who express that discomfort and fellow fat people implying that the only healthy solution is to learn to accept their bodies where they are at. To be fair, I do not know if the folks at Maintenance Phase would agree with this response or not. However, I hear many echoes in their conversations that suggest similar all-or-nothing assumptions about diet and weight loss.
My concern is that the solution to an extreme perspective, like someone thinking all fat people should be ashamed and trying to lose weight, need not be the inverse extreme perspective. I believe the radical alternative is to reject the binary and accept true body autonomy. We each get to determine what is best for ourselves. It isn’t our business what someone is or isn’t doing to take care of themselves. For one person, the solution is radical self-acceptance and letting go of physique goals. For another person, it’s slow changes to behavior and mindset that may result in a change in body composition. All outcomes that help someone live a fuller, happier life are equally a success in my book. To me, this means I fail to align completely with the body positive community and with the Maintenance Phase podcast, but I still see them as far closer to being allies than the shame-based diet industry.
I will continue to listen to Maintenance Phase. I have learned a lot from Mike and Aubrey’s conversations, and I am grateful that they are out there sharing another point of view, even if it isn’t one that I can entirely agree with. We need to hear from more people with diverse experiences to push against our assumptions and understandings of the world. I’m grateful for their openness and tenacity in sharing their points of view in a world that can be especially unkind and critical of diverse voices.
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