Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes, the hosts of the maintenance phase of the podcast, will make you rethink everything you know about nutrition

Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes, the hosts of the maintenance phase of the podcast, will make you rethink everything you know about nutrition

In each episode of “Maintenance Phase,” a two-year-old podcast that tackles shoddy nutritional research and anti-fat bias, hosts Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes try to outdo each other: Who can find the grittier opener?

“Welcome to Maintenance Phase, the podcast that would never film you across the street showing only your body and not your head,” Hobbes begins an episode about the dubious origins of the so-called “epidemic” of obesity in the 1990s.

“There’s actually research on this specific thing,” Gordon replies. “And we will totally [bleep]talk about.”

“The only places in American life where you see many headless torsos are local obesity news segments and Grindr,” says Hobbes. “As a gay person researching this issue, I know this format very well.” They laugh.

The runaway success of “Maintenance Phase” is due, in large part, to Hobbes and Gordon’s report, which presents incisive critiques of fad diets and nutritional statistics in profane and amusing jokes.

Both began their careers in the voluntary sector. Gordon was a community organizer focused on LGBTQ+ rights, while Hobbes worked in international development. This sense of mission led them to report.

Gordon blogged anonymously as “Your Fat Friend” for five years before going public when his first book, What we don’t talk about when we talk about fatwas published in November 2020. Hobbes has done investigative reporting for publications like HuffPost and the New Republic for a decade and co-hosted another podcast, “You’re Wrong About,” with Sarah Marshall from 2018 to 2021.

The first two connected on a 2018 HuffPost talk Hobbes wrote about the myths surrounding the obesity epidemic. (Side note: Both prefer to use the word “fat,” which is a mere descriptor, to “obese,” whose scientific veneer, Gordon says, hides a whole lot of disapproval.) Gordon read his published paper and was impressed by his alternation a scathing and compassionate view of how the medical establishment reinforces perceptions that obesity is a moral and personal failure.

Just before the pandemic hit, the two first met over dinner and talked long into the evening. They broke up. They agreed with each other. What would it be like, they decided, if they recorded their conversations?

If the podcast feels like two friends telling jokes and sending outrageous clips to each other for the other to read aloud, it’s because that’s how Hobbes and Gordon operate. They take turns picking a particular topic for an episode — the rise and fall of Snackwells’ low-fat cookies, for example, or the psychological abuse children suffer in fat camps — then spend a few weeks doing solo research. Then Hobbes, who lives in Berlin, and Gordon, in Oregon, record an hour-long conversation. The researcher leads the conversation, while the other person responds, adding their own informed comments to the discussion.

Despite the spontaneity, the “Interview Phase” has become a master class in how to critically examine research studies and dietary claims. Gordon and Hobbes point out the flaws in population-based nutritional studies and explore the dubious history of concepts like calories and body mass index. They track down the origins of commonly cited statistics about the obesity epidemic. For example, Hobbes recently learned that the idea that obesity and diabetes rates would lead to lower life expectancy rates for children today was invented. In 2002, a well-known pediatrician dismissed this statement in a newspaper interview – despite the fact that he had done no research to back it up – and soon the US Surgeon General cited it as fact. .

The problem with claims about the health effects of being overweight, they frequently claim, is not that obesity is associated with higher risks for certain health conditions and higher death rates. They don’t question that. However, doctors and researchers, not to mention thinner people, too often assume that obesity is the root cause of health problems and not a symptom. “We’ve been told this extremely simple story about obesity for so long, it’s really hard to see it any other way.” Hobbes says in one episode. Researchers downplay systemic racial bias, poverty, lack of health insurance — all factors that have major impacts on health — because they haven’t investigated their own hypothesis that fat people should be thin.

Not only does “Maintenance Phase” appear in the top rankings for health podcasts, over 38,000 people now support them via Patreon, allowing Hobbes and Gordon to focus full-time on their podcast projects and writing. Gordon says she has received a flood of emails from obese people who are relieved to hear a discussion about nutrition and obesity that works from a basic humanity base.

“I’m a big believer in public health and I really try not to promote the science of denial or other forms of conspiracy on the show,” Hobbes said. “But most of what we know about food and health comes from studying populations. Individuals are much more complex. You can’t tell how healthy someone is by looking at them, and you certainly can’t make them healthier by telling them they should look different.”

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