Maintenance Phase

Diet Book Deep Dive: “How To Take 20 Pounds Off Your Man”

May 10, 2022 Aubrey Gordon & Michael Hobbes
Maintenance Phase
Diet Book Deep Dive: “How To Take 20 Pounds Off Your Man”
Show Notes Transcript

This week, Mike and Aubrey take on a manual for creep behavior masquerading as a diet book. Along the way, we cover shopping guides, journalism salaries and the proper preparation of Cornish game hens. We love our curvy husbands.

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Michael: Welcome to Maintenance Phase, the podcast that wants you to be the best you, you can be.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: It's a self-help phrase.

Aubrey: In the context of this show that sounds very nefarious to me.

Michael: [laughs] Your hackles are up.

Aubrey: Mm. I don’t know. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: I'm Aubrey Gordon.

Michael: I'm Michael Hobbes.

Aubrey: If you would like to support the show, you can do that at You can also buy t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, stickers, all kinds of stuff at TeePublic. Both of those things are linked for you in the show notes. And today, Michael Hobbes, we are doing a diet book deep dive.

Michael: We are. I learned this three minutes ago, because we were supposed to record something else. [laughs] 

Aubrey: Yeah. I have changed topics for this episode twice.

Michael: I am the freshest.

Aubrey: So, today, we're actually going to talk about a diet book that our listeners probably haven't heard of. 

Michael: Okay.

Aubrey: It was not a best seller, it didn't have a bunch of celebrity devotees, the diet itself is not an innovation. It is a straightforward, low-fat, low-calorie diet. But it is an absolutely fascinating encapsulation of a bunch of cultural ideas about dieting, about being fat, and about gender, and sexuality.

Michael: God, is it the Phyllis Schlafly diet or something? 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: Where are you taking me.

Aubrey: Honestly, you're so fucking close. There is a [crosstalk] this book that I think Phyllis Schlafly would greatly enjoy. 

Michael: We're in good hands. 

Aubrey: The book is called How to Take 20 Pounds Off Your Man: A Life Saving Guide for the Man you Love

Michael: No. This exists?

Aubrey: This exists. It's stated, intended audience is wives, who think their husbands should lose weight. The central claim of the book is that, the author says, "She facilitated her husband's weight loss of about 35 pounds."

Michael: Does he know about this? Does he know that she wrote a book? [laughs] 

Aubrey: He wrote the afterword.

Michael: What?

Aubrey: And his doctor wrote the foreword. 

Michael: It's not often on the show that I get offended on behalf of straight men. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: This is offensive.

Aubrey: It is. What I'm going to do right now is, I'm going to send you a picture of the cover of this book and you are going to describe it to our listeners.

Michael: Ah.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: Okay. This has to be 80s, right, given the font. 

Aubrey: It's 1984. 

Michael: Okay. First of all, it's a fuck, ugly traffic light yellow. Just a bright, offensive yellow. And then it says, " How to Take 20 Pounds Off Your Man" and then there's a photo of a couple, and they chose a suspiciously attractive couple. They look like Barbie and Ken.

Aubrey: The photo on the cover is stock footage, Sears Photo Magic.

Michael: And then it's her, she's behind him and putting her hands around his waist, and she's got a tape measure, and she's measuring his waist. I'm trying to see, I'm zooming in to see what is the actual measurement. It says 19, but that can't be right. This man does not have a 19-inch waist.

Aubrey: No, I think they're using this measuring tape as a prop. I don't think they're actually trying to-

Michael: Yeah. It's not a real-

Aubrey: -get a measurement of this dude's waist. He really looks like he should be on L.A. Law.

Michael: Oh, I just noticed. Okay. And then there's a tagline on the photo like a little caption that says, "Surprise him with a svelte new body, his." [laughs] 

Aubrey: Yeah. That's right. I am also going to send you a little bit of copy from the front flap of the dust jacket.

Michael: How does this exist? 

Aubrey: Oh, my God. 

Michael: I'm so offended by this.

Aubrey: Here is a quote from the dust jacket.

Michael: Okay, good God. "If his health and actual lifespan are being threatened by his weight, and your Mr. Right has done little, or nothing to help himself, or keep you from premature widowhood, or reemergence on the single circuit, women, it's time for you to take charge. You don't want to have to take out the garbage yourself when you're 65, do you? You don't want to start worrying about getting a date for New Year's Eve. This witty waist shrinking book tells you how you can get your lovable teddy bear under control." Oh, God. It's also deeply stigmatizing.

Aubrey: 100%. What we'll see throughout this book is, the author, whose name is Suzy Kalter and this isn't really an episode about her. I think I'm much more interested in this book as an encapsulation of ideas about weight and gender. "I've decided you need to lose weight and I'm going to take charge of your size" is a repulsive way to treat people and also to be super real. It is our default way of treating fat people, especially very fat people. As a fat person, if I go out to eat, it is very common at the low end for people to stare at me while I'm eating, and at the high end for people to say something to me about what I'm eating. I have definitely had people take food off of my plates and be like, "You don't eat that." So, this is both totally beyond the pale and I think for many fat people it's also still the way we get treated now.

Michael: Yeah. I am going to be sleepwalking through this entire episode until we get to the part where he talks about this. I am so curious. 

Aubrey: Basically, I'm going to skip to what he says about it because his afterword is half a page. 

Michael: What?

Aubrey: Yes, it's tiny. 

Michael: What? 

Aubrey: Here's the meat of it. He says, "My wife's amazing, she's totally determined, she set her mind to something, and she did." It is the vibe. This is the quote. This is fully half of the afterword of what I'm about to read to you. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: "When I found I was still able to eat my homemade blend of cold cereal, I began to understand fully that it's not what you eat, but rather how much. When this revelation came, I felt like Einstein relatively speaking."

Michael: What?

Aubrey: "In fact, reading this book has stiffened my resolve. Stay tuned for making Mike marvelous Part 2 and hang in there. You can do it."

Michael: Oh.

Aubrey: "I did with a little help from my friend. Thanks," Suz.

Michael: Mike, blink twice if you're okay. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: Show me today's newspaper, Mike. 

Aubrey: He's just like, "Thanks, you did it." It's terrible. 

Michael: Oh. 

Aubrey: His voice, even her recounting of his voice is almost entirely absent from this book.

Michael: It's because they won't even let men speak anymore. It's wokeness gone mad.

Aubrey: Yeah. That's right.

Michael: Political correctness please.

Aubrey: PC culture has gone overboard.

Michael: My God. 

Aubrey: Just a little context. We're going to do a little context about the author, we're going to do a little context about the diet, and then we're going to dig in for most of the episode on, what are the core messages of this book? 

Michael: Yeah. What is her fucking deal? Jesus Christ. 

Aubrey: The author of this book is Suzy Kalter Gershman. She's published here as Suzy Kalter. She was a career writer and author. She wrote for People Magazine, for Ladies Home Journal, for Cosmopolitan, for Travel and Leisure. In addition to her magazine writing, she wrote a ton of books on a ton of topics. Perhaps her most popular series is a series of travel shopping guides called Born to Shop.

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Aubrey: In those travel guides, she tells you, where to find the best shopping finds in Hong Kong or Paris.

Michael: Okay.

Aubrey: And it's like, here's how to be a smart shopper, when you're traveling.

Michael: Back when journalism salaries allowed you to go places-

Aubrey: Oh, God, imagine.

Michael: -and do things. 

Aubrey: It is very carbon dated to the 80s. It is also carbon dated the 80s in that in addition to this diet book she wrote two other diet books, for which she is credited as a coauthor. Never-Say-Diet, and the Never-Say-Diet Cookbook with Richard Simmons.

Michael: I like that they're already doing the thing of like, "It's not a diet."

Aubrey: Never say diet. That's not what this is. This is-- [crosstalk] 

Michael: We are just trying to help you lose weight through lifestyle changes.

Aubrey: She talks throughout the book about how she's a naturally thin person, who has had weight gain plans in the past and has struggled to gain weight. She talks about how people used to call her Olive Oyl growing up from Popeye, because she was so skinny and that was a hurtful thing for her. She says, "All of that totally uncritically and doesn't do any reflecting on. Also, I wrote three diet books, a thing I've never had to do." 

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Aubrey: "Specifically, I've tried to do the fucking opposite of it, but I'm definitely an expert in weight loss."

Michael: It's like taking financial advice from somebody, who won the lottery or something. 

Aubrey: Yes.

Michael: It's like, "Oh, you don't actually know how to scrimp and save. So, you shouldn't be giving people advice on this."

Aubrey: You know what it is? It's every one of those like how I bought my first home before 25-

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Aubrey: -articles, where they're like, "My parents gave me a half a million dollars." [laughs] 

Michael: That's your advice. Be born to a wealthy family. Thank you. 

Aubrey: Great. [crosstalk] Good job. The diet itself is a very straightforward, low-fat, low-calorie diet for the purposes of losing weight. That's it. 

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Aubrey: There is a bunch of stuff in here about logging your weight every week. There is a bunch of stuff about making healthy swaps, so eating fish instead of red meat or brown rice instead of a baked potato. It is also straightforwardly about calorie counting. She recommends wives cutting their husbands calories to 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day. 

Michael: Okay.

Aubrey: Like I say, this is a very straightforward low-fat, low-calorie, whatever. The difference in this book is that, it's not written for the diet or it's written for the dieters' wife. She advocates throughout the book repeatedly that the husband should not know that he is on a diet. 

Michael: Oh, so, she's explicit about it. 

Aubrey: She's very explicit about it. 

Michael: This is a wife project. This is not a husband and wife project. This is like you imposing something.

Aubrey: Ab-solutely. So, I am going to send you a short quote from the back of the dust jacket, where she talks about this.

Michael: Oh. "Forget prayer, hypnotism, biofeedback, nagging. Here at last is the book, which shows how using stealth, subterfuge, trick and treat. You can painlessly save the man you love from unsightly and unhealthy pounds. Why is sneaky better? This weight loss plan works, because it requires almost no effort from your man. In fact, if perfectly executed, he will never suspect he's on a diet until he realizes he's got only one love handle left."

Aubrey: One love handle left is a very strange image.

Michael: Okay. So, this is literally like don't bother talking to him about it. Just like twit behind his back. 

Aubrey: Yes, absolutely. Like you, I assume that she advocates for telling him in the end. She doesn't. She advocates for telling him midway through after you've seen some progress, so that when he observes like, "Oh, my pants are fitting a little looser." She's like, "You're welcome. I did that."

Michael: Oh, When he has one pack out of six, you can be like, "Don't you like this?"

Aubrey: [laughs] Just one lone ab. 

Michael: If we're doing one love handle--

Aubrey: A pack of one. 

Michael: This is how you would treat a dog.

Aubrey: Yes. 

Michael: [laughs] When your dog has to take medication and you put the little pill into its kibble or whatever, this is what she's proposing.

Aubrey: Yes. This is what she's proposing.

Michael: The audacity not only of doing it, but writing a book bragging about it is incredible to me. Look at this dope thing I did and it's just awful.

Aubrey: It's truly fucking wild. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: She talks about, she's like, "Look, you don't have to do this my way. You can tell him, you can read the book together, you can do what you want. But for my husband, in my case, I knew I had to lie to him."

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: The exact phrase she uses is, "I knew that being sneaky was the only way to make this work."

Michael: Look, some of you might be in healthy, functioning relationships. But for us, this worked a lot better. [laughs] 

Aubrey: For us, where we're in a constant game of cat and mouse. 


Aubrey: Marriage like, "Fuck, man." 

Michael: You are marriage has zero trust. [laughs] 

Aubrey: Then she talks about why she did it this way. She has a point, where she just straight up lays out like, "Here's why." So, I'm going to send you that quote.

Michael: Okay. She says, "Here's why I definitely thought the ends justified the means. I clearly remember my mother saying that sometimes it's kinder to tell a white lie than to tell the truth. I'm very big on kindness. I wasn't at all sure Mike would cooperate if I laid my cards on the kitchen table. He'd been violently opposed to other weight loss methods and I had no hope that he might have changed his mind. I thought we'd both have something to be proud of when we had some results and nothing to motivate us until there was progress." [laughs] 

Aubrey: It's so gnarly. 

Michael: I love it. She's basically like, "I brought it up with him." He was like, "I don't feel comfortable and I did it anyway."

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Michael: And she's like, "Look, you might think this sounds really horrifying, but if I didn't do it, I wouldn't get what I want." [laughs] 

Aubrey: I knew he wouldn't say yes, because he's said no in the past.

Michael: Because he doesn't want [crosstalk] 

Aubrey: So, I needed to override his lack of consent, and his specific rejection of this specific idea, and I needed to force him to be thinner. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: She does talk about the stages that she went through while her husband was not losing weight. 

Michael: Oh.

Aubrey: And then she lists out a series of fucking direct interventions that she has attempted with him. 

Michael: Okay.

Aubrey: One is, she straight up nagged him and then called his parents until he was like, "Can you get my parents off my back about my weight?"

Michael: She called his parents? 

Aubrey: Yes. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: Then, when that didn't work, she called his doctor. 

Michael: What?

Aubrey: Then, when that didn't work, she took him to an exercise class, "But the instructor made fun of him, so, we quit."

Michael: So, everyone in his life is like, "This isn't a big deal" and she's decided to make it a big deal. 

Aubrey: She's organizing around him. She is making this [crosstalk] escape. She's engineering the entire environment around him to indicate that he is fat and that he needs to lose weight. She starts initiating fights with him. She says, "That was the end of our sex life." One of the things that she says when she starts fucking fighting with him and I'm like, "What are you doing?" She starts blaming herself for his size. Then she goes into a phase that she calls the Zen phase where she lets go for a while and she's like, "Actually, it's his decision." You're like, "Oh, maybe she's living in a place," where she's like, "No." 

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Aubrey: The final stage of these six stages is "fury and determination."

Michael: Okay.

Aubrey: "Zen was bullshit. If he couldn't do it, I could do it for him."

Michael: I love that she reached a point of maturity of just like, "It's his body, it's his autonomy," and she just breezed right past it.

Aubrey: Then she was like, "Just kidding. Burn it down."

Michael: [laughs] She's like, "I'm in charge here."

Aubrey: Why would I respect his boundaries when I could not do that.

Michael: Unbelievable.

Aubrey: So much of the book is about, how do you keep him in the dark? She has this whole section, where she talks about like, "Okay, you're going to be serving him less food. It's going to be slightly different food, but you don't want him to feel it's different and you want him to feel like it's a real treat, whatever meal he's getting." So, you should focus on your food presentation, and you should jazz up the dinner table, and set it really nicely. 

Michael: oh, okay.

Aubrey: I'm going to read this whole quote. It's a little bit long, but It's wild. "If your husband does ask, what the hell's going on, you can tell him any number of truths or half-truths and then in (or lies). You're taking a cooking class and are doing your homework. You saw the dish in a magazine and wanted to try it. You got bored with your lifestyle and wanted some cheap thrills. Your fantasy is to run a restaurant. You're trying the art of presentation out on him. I went for the, I'd like to run a restaurant routine combined with our life is so boring. He fell for it and now our life isn't quite so boring, because he's slimmer and divine looking."

Michael: Okay. All of that is gross. But I'm stuck on this thing that her actual plan, because we know that the reason why diets don't work is because people can maintain it for a little while, and they go back to their previous habits, and then they go back to their previous weight, because that's how bodies work. What she's proposing here is that, for the rest of his life, you decide to make fancy meals for him. You're chopping chives to sprinkle over top of the chili with the sour cream to make it look nice forever.

Aubrey: Yeah. Her thing that she tells him, she has a fantasy to run a restaurant. You have been married for how many years? 

Michael: Yeah, I don't. 

Aubrey: And now, all of a sudden out of nowhere, you're like, "You know what? I've always wanted to be a chef." That feels like a bonkers lie to reach for.

Michael: There's no way he didn't understand what was going on. There's simply no fucking way. 

Aubrey: Uh-huh.

Michael: If it's your husband, he's going to notice that we used to have dessert at dinner every night. Now, we don't have dessert. He's going to notice something like that. You can't cover that with chives.

Aubrey: This is like a masterclass in lying, but it's not, sorry, I should say. It's not a masterclass. It's not good enough to be a masterclass. 

Michael: It's not good. Yeah.

Aubrey: It's totally parent trap shit. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: She talks about a whole section that she calls the great kitchen lockout. 

Michael: Oh, no.

Aubrey: That whole section is about how to restrict your husband's access to food at home. She talks about, "Hey, you might have kids and you might have to have some kid foods in the house. If you do, hide those in a separate part of the house. Tell your kids where they are and make it clear to them that those foods can't leave that area of the house, so your dad doesn't find out."

Michael: Wait, what? Tell your kids to lie to your husband? 

Aubrey: Yep.

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: There are different strategies for how you control what your husband eats. She talks about a woman who "took weight off her husband by actually locking him out of the kitchen." 

Michael: Oh.

Aubrey: She put padlocks on each of the cupboards. While I find this expensive, troublesome, and indecorative, it did work for her. I prefer the modified lockout, which operates with words rather than hardware. I told my husband we were beset by some kind of greenfly.

Michael: What?

Aubrey: So, she's like, "We have an infestation we have to get rid of everything in the cupboards. We have to replace it all."

Michael: Again, you can only pull that trigger once. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: You can't just maintain that forever, a greenfly infestation, again.

Aubrey: Also, the other thing about the greenfly infestation thing and the completely wipe out all your cupboards, get rid of all of your food and replace all of it, that is so expensive.

Michael: Little expensive.

Aubrey:  What are you talking about?

Michael: And also, you're presumably going to restaurants together, where he presumably orders what he wants to eat. I'm assuming this man has a job and he probably eats whatever he wants for lunch. The only way to do this is to prevent him from consuming food in all of these other venues, too, which again, it seems if you're feeding him less at home, he's going to be more hungry and he's going to have an extra slice of pizza when he's out with his friends or whatever.

Aubrey: Michael, you're seeing all these things like she hasn't thought about them and given you contingency plans for what to do when he goes to the office-


Aubrey: -when he goes out to eat. [laughs] 

Michael: [laughs]

Aubrey: [laughs]

Michael: That's so darn. That's so darn.

Aubrey: This is discomfort laughing.

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: Because it is ridiculous, and ghoulish, and fucking horrible.

Michael: I'm so excited for the details of this plan.

Aubrey: She says that, "If you have told him." She has this whole thing where she's like, "Notify him a few days ahead of time that he's going to be going out to eat, so that he can "hoard a few extra calories."' 

Michael: Okay. 

Aubrey: He's essentially undereating or eating fewer calories in lead up to this, so that he can-- She talks about calorie budgeting in the book quite a bit. She's like, "He just needs to budget some more calories," which means eating less. She also suggests getting a copy of the menu from the restaurant, remember this is 1984. So, this is pre internet.

Michael: Yeah.

Aubrey: Get a copy of the menu from the restaurant, and then mark it up, and rank the top low-calorie choices, so that he has a list of what he can order.

Michael: Utterly deranged. I thought it was going to be order for him, which is super patronizing. But it's way less work than this. This is like a part-time job at this point.

Aubrey: Hang on, let me find this-- [laughs] Let me find this fucking quote. 

Michael: Oh, no. 

Aubrey: Earlier you mentioned like, "What happens when he goes to the office?" Here's her advice.

Michael: She says, "If you need assistance observing during office hours and let's do a little help, does he have a secretary or office chum? A woman will be a better help to you than a man and for heaven's sake, don't make it look like you're asking her to spy." I mean, you are asking her to spy.

Aubrey: "Tell me everything my husband eats in a day, but don't worry, you're definitely not spying on him and this is certainly not crossing any boundaries."

Michael: And then, what are you supposed to do with this information, too?

Aubrey: Right. So, like, "Say your spy says." Well, he had three pieces of pizza for lunch. He had a hamburger and fries or whatever. What do you do when he gets home? Even if you want to keep it secret, do you just not give him dinner?

Michael: Right? It's just going to be carrot sticks again tonight, sweetie. 

Aubrey: It's just awful. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: I think here's the other thing. Again, enlisting a coworker to monitor your partner is a thing that abusive partners do.

Michael: Yes. We have talked before on the show about how oftentimes when I hear things that morally offend me, my involuntary response is laughter, oftentimes. Because my emotions don't know anywhere else to go. The problem I'm having throughout this episode is that, this is straightforwardly abusive behavior. But there's something about a combination of this utterly reprehensible behavior. The total lack of self-awareness in describing that behavior and bragging about the behavior in how to? book that is genuinely challenging my brain and my body to know how to react. Because everything, I mean, everything we've talked about so far is completely indefensible, but it's fascinating to me that it's packaged as like, "Here's a self-help tip life hack." Call his office and spy on him like there's something so not funnily funny about it.

Aubrey: Right. All of these solutions, you're going to manipulate and control what he eats, you're going to enlist his doctor, his parents, and his coworkers. You're going to disregard what he specifically tells you about this specific thing, because you know best because you're the thin one. 

Michael: Mm-hmm.

Aubrey: This is a type of abuse that happens in intimate partner relationships, it happens in parent-child relationships, it happens all over the place that people think that it is a loving act to restrict the food, and try and manipulate the body of someone that they say that they love. I can't tell you the number of fat people who have written into me and told me about their parents putting padlocks on the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets when they were growing up. Or, a partner getting them a pair of jeans, that's two sizes smaller to motivate them. I absolutely had a friend in high school who thought that the supportive thing for her to do would be to keep a log of what I was eating. 

Michael: Ah, no.

Aubrey: Yes, abso-fucking-lutely. She was like, "I'm helping." It was also the late 90s, I'm in high school, there is zero counter messaging. And also, that friend of mine, her mom had modeled some of that stuff. 

Michael: Yeah.

Aubrey: This is a real hurt people hurt people kind of moments. You know what I mean? 

Michael: Yeah.

Aubrey: It feels very cliche to say, but it's also many of the people, who are enacting this kind of abuse have also been abused themselves, which is true of lots of abusive dynamics. It's part of the former fat people dynamic that we talk about, right? 

Michael: Do you remember what you said to your friend at the time, after she told you, she had been tracking your habits.

Aubrey: At the time, I really felt like, "Oh, she thought she was helping and it wasn't." I think if someone did that to me, today. I feel I'd hit the fucking roof if somebody did that to me.

Michael: [laughs] I wouldn't be able to hear you yelling, "Fuck off," from Berlin. 

Aubrey: Yes. From an ocean away.

Michael: Yes.

Aubrey: You would be able to hear my fucking unhinged wail.

Michael: I think one of the misconceptions about anti-fat bias is that the worst forms of it come from strangers.

Aubrey: Yes. 

Michael: We've all heard these stories of fat people having someone yell at them from a car or say something horrible to them in a restaurant or a grocery store. But when you look at the actual survey data, what actual fat people say is that the most hurtful forms of discrimination come from loved ones. It comes from family members, it comes from romantic partners, it comes from friends. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Michael: And I think one of the lessons from this form of abuse is that, when you're close with somebody, you have to be more careful rather than less careful.

Aubrey: Yeah. This is a book that is enlisting women in policing the bodies of their partners. Throughout the book, you get a real sense that she's like, "Also, you should probably do this for everybody." She talks about like, "Your duty as a mother is to not let your kids grow up to have "weight problems."' I think part of what makes this book so interesting to me and we'll get into this later is like, there is this belief that thin women pay the ultimate price for anti-fatness. That's how we treat it culturally. The worst thing you could do is call a thin woman fat, not treat a fat person like shit, right? 

Michael: Right.

Aubrey: You can see this in the amount of media that we get when Lizzo deals with anti-fatness versus when someone calls Britney Spears fat. We collectively center thin women's experiences. Thin women centered themselves, but they do that in a way that is totally uncritical of this shit, which is the ways in which they are actively policing other people's bodies, actively judging other people, and trying to manipulate them. These are absolutely abusive things to do. These are not things that you do when you respect someone's boundaries, these are not things that you do when you fucking love someone and want to treat them as an autonomous person. This is like Girlboss fucking diet abuse shit.

Michael: Did he write a book called "What to do when your wife is trying to kill you?" 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: It reminds me of, there's Munchausen syndrome, where you fake having illnesses. And then there's Munchausen syndrome by proxy, where you fake the illnesses of someone else like a child, or a friend, or whatever, so that you can spend more time with doctors. 

Aubrey: Yes.

Michael: This feels like eating disorder by proxy.

Aubrey: Total. 

Michael: You don't have one yourself, but you're imposing them on other people and you're appointing yourself the fat police-

Aubrey: Yes, absolutely. 

Michael: -for people in your life and especially, for people in your life whose food you control.

Aubrey: It's just wild. In this book, I found, I would say, six core messages. The first core message of this book which is just false is being fat will kill you. From the intro, she is very clear that being fat will kill you. She says, "Sure my husband lived for 35 years before he met me and possibly could have gotten another 35 without my help. But frankly, I was worried about him. I thought he was a walking case for general hospital, a living dare for heart attack city. I figured he'd kick the bucket if he didn't lose some weight and keep it off. You've got the same worry about your man, right? Probably, with good reason, it's time to take charge, woman."

Michael: [laughs] This is weird ending, but okay.

Aubrey: It's so weird. She's talking about a 240-pound man. She's talking about, that guy, just dropping dead before 65. Those are the terms that she keeps using.

Michael: Does she use any statistics at all or it's just the assumption that if obviously, he's going to die?

Aubrey: One of the statistics that she uses, this is, oh, we're going to get into some Michael Hobbes catnap, are you ready?

Michael: Zombie stuff. I want to hear zombie numbers.

Aubrey: "I read an unnamed survey in the health and fitness handbook that announced these shocking figures. Only 50% of the overweight women surveyed realize they were overweight. Only 25% of the overweight men realized they were overweight. Only 10% of those surveyed were planning to reduce. I don't know if this means that women have better eyesight than men, but it is a dramatic commentary on why your husband is overweight."

Michael: Oh, but that's a bullshit BMI stuff that there's technically, lots of people are overweight according to the BMI. But you wouldn't look at them and be like, "There goes a fat person." This is just the BMI being bullshit.

Aubrey: I think you might be going too deep on this thing.

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: The opening of this sentence is, "I read an unnamed survey in the health and fitness handbook that announced these shocking figures. 

Michael: Good point. [laughs] 

Aubrey: It's garbage. It's just like, "Man, half of fat women don't know they're fat and most of them aren't even trying to diet." 

Michael: Yeah, it's a BuzzFeed quiz. 

Aubrey: Right. And there's no citation, there's no footnote. She doesn't say, who wrote the health and fitness handbook. I tried looking around for a little bit and then I was just like, "This is from 1984 and I don't know what she's talking about."

Michael: Yeah, it's not. [laughs] You're not going to find it. 

Aubrey: I'm like, "Why am I fact checking this thing that is so clearly like absolute bullshit and she doesn't want you to fact check?"

Michael: But then, I think that what she's doing here with this death obsession is, her husband's weight is giving her ammunition for this level of judgement about his looks.

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: I think she just wants a thinner husband. This is a rhetoric that she's using to make herself not feel like a huge piece of shit for lying to her husband about this.

Aubrey: Yes, I can totally see that. And also, she does not mention at any point in the book, "Well, we had to come to Jesus with his doctor."

Michael: Right.

Aubrey: Here's what his risks were for heart disease or he had a family history of X and such thing. She does recommend, by the way, gathering your husband's medical history surreptitiously. Great.

Michael: [laughs] I didn't even know how you would do that, but okay.

Aubrey: I don't either. Even if she does believe that he's going to die as a result of being fat, this is a wild way to deal with that and it's probably not fucking true. She has offered us no evidence. Everything in this book is just like, "I noticed my husband behaves in this way and I think that means this. So, I'm going to change it by doing this." She talks about one or two conversations with him in the entire book.

Michael: Yeah. Because even if his health markers were objectively bad, that would obviously be a conversation that you would have with your husband about his own health. 

Aubrey: Yes.

Michael: What lifestyle changes are you interested in making, what are you able to do, how can I support you in that? People's health is pretty personal and people get to decide this stuff themselves. So, just like deciding that your husband is like a terminal case and you're going to fix it even after he's like, "No, thank you," is a move in a marriage.

Aubrey: There are a few times in the book, where she tries to bridge this idea and acknowledge the idea that actually your husband is his own person. So, I just sent you a quote about her approach to that.

Michael: Okay. She says, "Your job is not to run your husband's life. If he's interested in being in prime physical condition, that's his business. Your business is feeding him low-calorie, healthful foods, and keeping his weight at a safe level. I know you can mind your own business and help your man live longer." [laughs] 

Aubrey: None of what she's talking about is minding your own business.

Michael: It's just pure contradiction sentence to sentence. It's like, "That's his business, but your business is meddling in his business."

Aubrey: His business. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: That actually gets us to the second core message of this book is that, fat people's narratives of their own bodies are lies. She writes extensively in this book about like, "Oh, your husband's going to give you all these excuses." She has a whole section, where she talks about typical male excuses.

Michael: He's going to tell you, he's deeply uncomfortable with the act of manipulation that you're doing. Typical husband behavior.

Aubrey: Oh, typical male excuses. The typical male excuses are things like, "I'm not overweight. You're skinny, or this is protection against the cold, or that old favorite, I have big bones." A thing that I've truly never heard a fat person ever say. 

Michael: Yeah.

Aubrey: She does a little bit of, you and I've talked about this that I'm like, "You know, if you want to make a compelling case, part of the way that you do that is by acknowledging what other people might say and then you rebut it." So, here is her attempt to do that.

Michael: "Actually, I would like to say that my husband's body is none of your business. But that's not really the case, because if your husband's body is anything like my husband's, then you too have a problem. My husband is built like his parents, which is to be expected. Genetically speaking, he could never look like Abraham Lincoln or Ichabod Crane. But still, he could look like a thinner version of his parents and be a lot healthier. So, he comes from like big folk" and he said like, "I'm just supposed to be big" and she's like, "No, you're not."

Aubrey: I just sent you--

Michael: Oh, no.

Aubrey: [laughs] I just sent you, there's a chart. So, throughout this book, she has a number of worksheets where you're filling in-- She genuinely has one for like, "For a couple of weeks before you start, write down everything your husband eats."

Michael: Oh, my God. [laughs] You're monitoring your husband. 

Aubrey: We have not even scratched the surface of how much you're monitoring your fucking husband. [laughs] So, it's so rough. In the chart that I just sent you, she's got a weigh in like a weight charting thing over the course of the diet, over the course of 12 weeks is what she lays out. 

Michael: It's called "Chart, his progress." Chart, his progress. 

Aubrey: Okay.

Michael: And it says, "Day one guesstimate his current weight." And then, I guess, the end of this, she's calling the tell all day, you confess he weighs in. [laughs] I'm imagining how to tell my boyfriend that I've surreptitiously been feeding him less food to change the way that he looks without his consent, how I break that to him and also get him to step on a scale in [crosstalk]

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: The whole book is just a roadmap to disregard whatever objections your partner has and proceed regardless. There's no point at which she says, "Actually, if he says this or if he objects really strenuously, then you should just drop it." There's no point in what she even acknowledges. Maybe this isn't the right plan for you.

Michael: Even like perfunctory?

Aubrey: Nope, nope, nope. Do it no matter what.

Michael: Incredible. 

Aubrey: There's one point at which-- Well, actually, [laughs] there is one moment, where she acknowledges that and it is in our next section. 

Michael: Okay.

Aubrey: The next core message of this book is that, "If someone looks too fat, then they are too fat."

Michael: At least, she admits it. It's like, this is about physical appearance. 

Aubrey: Yeah, totally. 

Michael: This is about how people look.

Aubrey: She says repeatedly throughout the book that, if someone is "cosmetically overweight" then they are "medically overweight." 

Michael: What even are these terms?

Aubrey: Fully making chin up. So, here is one of her suggestions when she's like, "How do you figure out if you're too fat or if your husband is too fat?"

Michael: Oh, no. 

Aubrey: I just sent you the quote.

Michael: She says. "I've also heard of the mirror test, which is simple enough. You stand in front of a full-length mirror naked and take a cold hard look at yourself. If you are cosmetically overweight, you need to lose weight. This test has not worked for anorexics, please note, because no matter what they weigh, they still think they are fat. But I must assume you would not have bought this book, if your man was anorexic. Besides, most anorexics are women." Okay. 

Aubrey: Right. 

Michael: Okay.

Aubrey: In a fucking suggestion to get naked and stare at yourself in the mirror, and list your flaws, and decide if you're too fat. She's like, "Oh, also, you probably shouldn't do this if you're anorexic, but I assume you're not anorexic, because you bought this for your husband and you wouldn't buy it as if he was anorexic. Come on."

Michael: People with eating disorders, famously, never buy diet books. 

Aubrey: Honestly.

Michael: Now that all the people with eating disorders are gone. We can have a nice romp through this diet book. That's her logic. [laughs] 

Aubrey: The message here is, "If you, a thin person think that someone looks too fat for your taste, then not only do they need to lose weight, but you need to manipulate their behavior to make them thin. 

Michael: Right. It's a license. 

Aubrey: I would say, a core underlying message of all of this is that, a good partner manipulates their spouse.

Michael: Nice.

Aubrey: Like a core tenet of what she's arguing is, manipulation is critical to this and you're doing it, because you love him, right?

Michael: Mm-hmm.

Aubrey: She advocates throughout the book for monitoring your partner's food without telling them. Like, "I paid attention and I noticed my husband always had a snack at 10 AM with his coffee and then one before bed. So, when I was building out his diet plan, I made sure that he had snacks at those times, but I just made sure they were other things." She's also like, "I always made sure he had dessert and then you look at the list of desserts and it's like, "Oh, Weight Watchers frozen dessert thing or a half a pound of cherries."' 

Michael: Half a pound?

Aubrey: I will say also the other recipe that really stuck with me. I'm just going to tell you about the recipe now, because it's really something. Most of the recipes honestly look fine. They look like standard issue low-fat diet shit. There was one in particular, where I was like, "Absolutely not." And that recipe is a recipe for Cornish game hens. You roast the Cornish game hens whole, when they come out of the oven, you take the skin off, because it's the 80s], right? 

Michael: Oh, my God.

Aubrey: And then you top them with a sauce that is made of two ingredients. Those two ingredients are canned cherries and grape juice.

Michael: Wait, what? No, Aubrey.

Aubrey: You warm up some canned cherries? 

Michael: Aubrey.

Aubrey: You drain the canned cherries to rinse them off so they don't have the goo on them. Don't go wild, Michael.

Michael: That's the fucking typo, Aubrey. [laughs] That can't be real. [laughs] 

Aubrey: You put them in a saucepan. 

Michael: [laughs] That can't be real. [laughs] That's so gross.: It's like a melted popsicle on top of a fucking pigeon, that's so gross.

Aubrey: Anyway, get out your canned cherries and grape juice [crosstalk]. No, because the other thing is, this is all 80s diet foods. So, there's 100% a recipe in here for enchiladas that you make in the microwave and she's like, "You'll be amazed at how fast it cooks in the microwave."

Michael: Oh, no, Sweetie. You're not going to run a restaurant like that. [laughs] 

Aubrey: One of the core messages also is that, it is women's job to make sure that everyone is thin including their own husbands. There is a section, where she talks about, the header says, "Man fat as a feminist issue."

Michael: I'm dying to know what she says here.

Aubrey: She talks about how feminism was supposed to liberate us, but now, most of us have jobs and then we also have to come home and do all this work. She says, "Life is hard, but it's harder still without a husband."

Michael: Oh no. That's her angle?

Aubrey: That's her angle. 

Michael: Oh.

Aubrey: Somebody missed the entire movement. She in this book is talking to ostensibly street ladies, who are married to ostensibly straight men and is talking about, how women are responsible for men's weight, because women do the cooking and serve up the food. She talks about how at one point, she says, she gives him larger portions of food, because that's what you do with men. 

Michael: Oh yeah. 

Aubrey: And she says, "I cater to his food needs, because he's the King of the castle. Even independent women make sure the cabinets are stocked with their husband's favorite foods."

Michael: Why does this feel like this was written in 1937?

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: She has a job. She's a magazine reporter. It's weird that she's just accepting the fact that it's her job to treat him like, again, a dog that she's supposed to have all of his favorite treats in the house.

Aubrey: I would say overall, this book is as much a treatise on heterosexuality as it is on weight loss, genuinely.

Michael: You'd love it. 

Aubrey: Oh, my God, I fucking love it.

Michael: You got to use the word heteronormative in your notes like three hundred [laughs] times.

Aubrey: Oh, my God, the number of times that I typed out compulsory heterosexuality, Michael.

Michael: You're like queering the diet book.

Aubrey: I sure am. This is my undergraduate thesis. Here we go. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: This whole book is about this author's husband, but she does talk quite a bit about how it's a mother's job to make sure that their kids don't grow up to have "a weight problem." She talks about how when she met her husband, she liked what they both describe as his "pudgy body." She says, "I found his weight rather appealing and just as some women like to marry alcoholics and then "cure them." 

Michael: Oh, no.

Aubrey: "I was certain that under my tender tutelage, Mike's weight would either remain stable or be reduced."

Michael: She thought she was getting into a fixer upper.

Aubrey: Yes. She talks about being attracted to him and then she's also like, "And I was going to fix him. I was going to make him look different than the person I met." I was like, "This is so weird. Every part of this is so weird."

Michael: The closest thing to a defense of her as I'm comfortable doing, one of the extra layers of toxicity on top of this is the fact that women are blamed for the size of other people- 

Aubrey: Yes.

Michael: -in a way that is extremely gross, right? 

Aubrey: Yes.

Michael: Mothers will be blamed for the size of their especially daughters. 

Aubrey: Yes. 

Michael: But she's just internalized this and been like, "And that's why you have to make them skinny."

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Michael: As opposed to all the other ways that she could have reacted to that.

Aubrey: "I love my husband, and I married him when he looked like this, and I like how we looks."

Michael: Right. And if anyone gives you shit, be like, "Fuck you. I love my husband. I think he's cute the way that he is."

Aubrey: Yes. 

Michael: I love my curvy husband. 


Aubrey: Michael.

Michael: Write an Instagram post Suzy, 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: Put it on Instagram. [laughs] 

Aubrey: Yeah. There is no world in which she's just like, "Hey, maybe your husband's fine."

Michael: Yeah.

Aubrey: No, she's articulated this whole thing as this incredibly high stakes venture, where it's like, "If you don't succeed in manipulating him, he will die, and it will be your fault, and then your life will get harder, because you're going to have to take out the trash." 

Michael: Right.

Aubrey: She frames basically, almost all of the husband's eating that happens off the diet as binging.

Michael: Well, probably is. He's probably hungry all the time, this poor guy.

Aubrey: Right? She's like, "Yes, binging is a very natural response to restriction."

Michael: Yeah.

Aubrey: He is having a normal, natural response to, you are restricting how much food he has, he is accustomed to consuming a certain amount of food. He's not having that fucking amount of food. Of course, he's going to eat more than that. 

Michael: Yeah.

Aubrey: He might be hungry and eating to the point of satiety and she might be horrified at him eating enough food to feel full. We just don't know. But she has decided that this is self-destructive that it's a death wish, that this is going to lead to his untimely demise. It is awful and I hate it. 

Michael: It seems like, it would be like living in a prison living with somebody like this. Because one of the most belittling things you can do to a person is criticizing their eating as they're eating. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Michael: Are you sure you want to order that? I'm like, "Mm, are you can eat all of that, really?" Those comments stay with people for a really long time. They're incredibly hurtful. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: She's setting up a regime, where it's just like, "This poor guy is just under 24-hour surveillance."

Aubrey: You mentioned earlier like, especially, if this person has an eating disorder, this is extra ghoulish and what I would say is, even if they don't have an eating disorder, this is a pretty fucking good way to give somebody one. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Aubrey: When you comment on other people's foods, what you are doing is installing disordered eating practices and installing a bad body image for that person. What you are doing is, you are doing the work of creating destructive patterns for them, you are deciding for them that their eating is actually not disordered enough that they're not thinking enough about what other people are thinking about what they're eating. They're probably focused too much on like, "Am I hungry and what sounds good to eat and other bullshit measures like that?" It is a thing that because we have these really strong cultural scripts around allowing for and in some cases encouraging people to comment on other people's food choices, you don't really think about you are very actively creating issues for that person. I would say, "Even if you don't have an eating disorder, even if you're not at risk of developing one, even if those comments don't create all of that shit for you, if you are a fat person, they follow you everywhere regard."

Michael: Yeah. 

Aubrey: The number of fat people who I have talked to who are like, "Oh, I've started eating at drive thru's not because I want fast food or I like fast food, but because I can eat it in my car, where no one can watch me and stare and say nothing."

Michael: Yeah.

Aubrey: And I've totally fucking done this. You go to a drive thru, again, not because you're like, "Ooh, that sounds good today." But because you're like, "I can't fucking deal with somebody giving me shit about eating a meal right now. I just need to be able to eat the meat." 

Michael: Right.

Aubrey: When people pipe up about like, "Mm, you're eating this thing." I don't think that they have any fucking sense of the fullness of that picture and about how deeply dehumanizing it is to treat everyone with one kind of body type as your personal project, as your personal fixer-upper you said earlier, right? That's a horrible way to treat people.

Michael: But what if you wrote a book about it afterwards?

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: Would then does make it okay? What if you brag about it to the whole country?

Aubrey: Oh, what is your book about? 

Michael: [laughs] 

Aubrey: The central message, I would say, the core fucking message at the end of this book is, thin women, your judgments of people who are fatter than you are correct and your core failing is that, you haven't acted on them enough. Your bias is correct, your judgments are correct, if you're grossed out by somebody, that's an important instinct to listen to. If you think somebody's too fat and it's your job to make them thin. So, there is a complete displacement of any actually fat people in this book. There's a complete displacement of men, which feels weird. In a book about men, she's like, "Don't listen to what he has to say. You just listen to you as a way to be in the world." That is a horrifying way to me.

Michael: I like that she's treating men the way that male writers treat women. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: It's like, "What are their thoughts?" Uh, I'll just use them generalizations, that's fine.

Aubrey: [laughs]