A dieting book or a how-to guide for an eating disorder? Pourquoi pas les deux ?
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Aubrey: This is a very play the hits one.
Michael: It's one of the few episodes we've done lately that people want to hear.
Michael: As opposed to us forcing it up on them.
Aubrey: Quote attributed to the guy who brought you Worm Wars.
Michael: Yeah, the numbers on the worming episode are in.
Michael: They are not good.
Aubrey: Listen, I'm thinking about a Twinkie Defense part 2, don’t worry about it.
Michael: What do you have for le tagline?
Aubrey: The tagline this week is just liberté, égalité, garbagé.
Aubrey: It feels like we're going to get real French and it's going to be some real trash. I don't know for sure. I don't know this book.
Michael: It's going to be problématic.
Aubrey: Well, I'm Aubrey Gordon.
Michael: I'm Michael Hobbes.
Aubrey: If you would like to support the show, you can do that at patreon.com/maintenancephase or you can get t-shirts, mugs, totes at TeePublic. Both of those are linked for you in the show notes. And if you would like to keep listening, we would love to have you
Michael: So, what do you know about this book, French Women Don't Get Fat?
Aubrey: I've just heard the title a bunch of times and sort of rolled my eyes at it. I've never picked it up. I don't have it in the diet book collection. I became aware of it at a time in the 2000s, 90's-ish. There were just a lot of white liberals who are like, "Europe really has things figured out."
Aubrey: So, there was a big sort of Europe worship thing happening. But I think was mostly about parental leave, vacation time, and about fair wages and about workplace kind of stuff and social services kind of stuff, which is not wrong. But that got painted with a very broad brush of like, "Europe is better than us in every way."
Michael: This was published the year that I moved to Europe. So, I think-- [crosstalk]
Aubrey: Was it really?
Michael: I was one of those people. I'm like, "Ooh, the bike lanes? I want to go where the bikes are."
Aubrey: So, that's my relationship to it. I'm broadly aware of it. It smells fishy to me.
Michael: It smells like an old [unintelligible [00:02:14] that has been kept in the closet.
Aubrey: [laughs] The closet.
Michael: That's the last one.
Michael: I'm sorry.
Aubrey: You're really out crocodile dundeeing yourself.
Michael: I wanted to do like an all-purpose. It's not quite a content note. But it's more like I'm going to mispronounce everything in this episode. I should also give an actual content warning that this book is really a how-to guide to have like a pretty worrying eating disorder.
Aubrey: Take care.
Michael: I went to the National Eating Disorders website and looked at the warning signs and numerous things that she prescribes are actual clinical guidelines. Something's up. So, if that stuff is triggering for you, or you just don't want to hear it, very understandable. Go listen to the Worm Wars episode, be the first one. The author of the book is named Mireille Guiliano. She is in her 50s, when the book is published. She grows up in rural France. She starts studying English in high school. She falls in love with the language. She ends up studying abroad in Massachusetts. She moves back to France, goes to the Sorbonne, becomes a UN translator.
Michael: And moves to New York, where she meets her husband who's American. She somehow gets a job at a champagne trade publication. This was back when journalism was a functioning industry and people could get jobs.
Aubrey: Like a publication about champagne?
Michael: About like the champagne industry.
Aubrey: Whoa. All right.
Michael: It appears that very short lived though. She becomes the first employee of-- Are you familiar with the brand Veuve Clicquot? It's like a champagne brand.
Michael: It's a super high-end brand that's owned by Louis Vuitton.
Michael: She ends up working her way up to the CEO. So, at the time that she writes this book, she is the CEO of this-
Michael: -high-end champagne company.
Aubrey: What a weird turn.
Michael: You could already tell that we're going to get a lot of out-of-touch advice, from a rich lady. [laughs]
Aubrey: Yeah, for sure.
Michael: It's kind of been wiped from our memories now. But this book comes out in 2004, and it's like a huge sensation.
Michael: This book sold three million copies. She was featured on Oprah. Of course, she was on Good Morning America. She did like a huge, like year-long press tour for this and the number of think pieces about this book, and actually fairly positive reviews of it, that I was able to find is really remarkable. This was not a controversial book when it came out. The discourse was around this issue was so different back then. And it was just like, "Here are some tips from this French lady and how to be French."
Aubrey: It's fascinating to me that in the 90s, we had this very overt and very concerned conversation about the prevalence of eating disorders. And then in the 2000s, all these diet books came out that were just full how-to guides on eating disorders.
Michael: It's fascinating, I know.
Aubrey: Like the wildest most extreme diets followed this period of just like, "Oh, no, it's gone too far." But I think the "oh, no, it's gone too far got pinned to magazines and models more than the diet industry or anything else.
Aubrey: So, a lot of garbage crept through in that time.
Michael: I also think so much of this comes back to tying eating disorders to a particular way of looking and like a particular outcome.
Michael: Even on this warning signs of eating disorders stuff that I was reading last couple weeks, a lot of it is like, you weigh less than hundred pounds or something.
Michael: It wasn't really focused on behaviors, like fat people can also have really worrying eating disorders and really worrying like physical symptoms, but not be 85 pounds,
Aubrey: Yeah, at the height of my eating disorder, I would say I lost about 80 pounds, maybe more. But in order to qualify for having anorexia nervosa, you have to underweight BMI. I had to be a fraction of a fraction of my former self in order to be seen as having an eating disorder. Nobody's concerned about fat people not getting enough food.
Michael: I don't know if you remember this, but I remember the wave of similar books that came out after this so. After this became a massive bestseller there was Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat.
Aubrey: Argh. Fuck you, France.
Michael: There's also one called Mediterranean Women Stay Slim Too. It's just a bad--
Aubrey: "Hey, guys, don't forget about us."
Michael: "Just we here."
Aubrey: "We are also thin."
Michael: That feels like the no pigeons to the no scrubs of French Women Don’t Get Fat. It's all I can think about.
Aubrey: Estonian women eat in moderation.
Michael: Yeah. [laughs]
Aubrey: A lot of people make a lot of claims about a lot of nationalities ladies. I don’t know.
Michael: Okay, so I am going to send you the first two paragraphs of the book.
Aubrey: Ooh, we're just going in on the intro, huh?
Michael: I feel it's good to get some flavor. What kind of book? How does it feel to read this book?
Aubrey: "Whatever the state of Franco-American relations, admittedly a bit frayed from time to time, we should not lose sight of the singular achievements of French civilization." Ooh.
Michael: I know.
Aubrey: "Until now, I humbly submit, one glorious triumph has remained largely unacknowledged. Yet it's a basic and familiar anthropological truth. French Women Don't Get Fat. I am no physician, physiologist, psychologist, nutritionist or any manner of "ist" who helps or studies people professionally. I was, however, born and raised in France. And with two good eyes, I've been observing the French for a lifetime. One can find exceptions as with any rule, but overwhelmingly, French women do as I do. They eat as they like and don't get fat, Pourquoi."
Michael: So, this sets the stage for a number of patterns that we're going to see throughout this book. The writing is weird, it's not [chuckles] all that well written or clear what she's saying. She uses a lot of parenthetical phrases, and she just rambles sometimes. And she also uses an unbelievable amount of French phrases in this book for no particular reason.
Aubrey: But, Mike, pourquoi.
Michael: [laughs] It feels there was some sort of contractual arrangement where it's like you have to remind them that you're French once per paragraph.
Michael: She will be like, "When I was studying in college, I would often da, da, da some French phrase," and then in parentheses, it'll be like, "Walk down the sidewalk."
Aubrey: Why? Why would you not just say-- what?
Michael: So, what do you think generally about this?
Aubrey: I mean, I fucking hate it.
Aubrey: Well, listen. The second paragraph is not really doing her any favors. "I'm not a doctor, I'm just a person with eyes."
Michael: Yeah. [laughs].
Michael: She's very open about the fact that this book is just based on her.
Michael: I read this extremely shady feature story on her that was published in New York Times after this became a bestseller. It says, "The book is a confection that she whipped up over summer and fall weekends. 'It's very easy,' she said, 'there was no research.'" We know, Mireille, we know there was no research.
Aubrey: Wow. The number of diet books that have zero citations.
Michael: I know.
Aubrey: Meanwhile, if you write a book about anything to do with like, maybe dieting isn't the best? Maybe fat people are okay, and we should be nice to them. You got to be sighted to the hills, you have to prove the shit out of your case. I just find this really fascinating to know that this massive bestseller was just like, "Nope, not researching, no."
Michael: "Didn’t need stuff, didn't learn anything first." She also is weirdly open about the fact that this is a book for fellow rich people.
Michael: This is all from the intro. She says, "Well, my stories and lessons can be of benefit to anyone, this book is intended primarily for women being based solely on my experience as a woman. It's not only for Americans but for women throughout the developed world who faced career pressures, personal stress, globalization, and all the traps of 21st-century society. And it is not for those whose weight is an immediate health risk or who require a medically prescribed diet. I speak specifically to women who need to lose up to 30 pounds, which is a great proportion of the population."
Aubrey: I think this feels very similar. I'm getting big Karl Lagerfeld diet vibes.
Michael: Yeah, I was thinking that too.
Aubrey: Right, which is just like, "This is for rich, thin people to become even thinner."
Aubrey: On the one hand, I appreciate the candor and directedness and directiveness to the audience in the book. On the other, I think that a book like this carries a cultural impact that is way greater than the people who read it with care and comprehend and sort of taken every sentence. So, I appreciate that there's a directness in there that this isn't for fat people. But on the flip side, it then gets out into the world and a bajillion people see it or hear about it, and then recommend it to fat people or use it as a way to be shitty to fat people or whatever. I mean, I guess it's better to be direct about this stuff. But also, that feels weird and icky.
Michael: Another thing that she is honest about in ways I also feel weird about, is she does not mention health in this book at all. There's no mention of diabetes, there's no mention of heart disease, all this sort of stuff, that paragraph that you get in every fucking book that mentions fatness, like, the cost of the health care system. She doesn't care.
Aubrey: Hang on. You know why she doesn't care?
Aubrey: She doesn't care because she should have written a book called French Women Get Universal Health Care.
Aubrey: You know?
Michael: She's very open in this book as Karl Lagerfeld was in his book. This is about being attractive. That's it. And you hear this from accounts of fat people in France as well, that it's just like, "Oh, well, you're not attractive to me." And people don't even really bother couching it in, like, "Oh, I'm concerned about your heart health," or whatever, it's just like, "Oh, I don't like looking at you." In the same feature story, where she talks about how she's like, "I'm a wealthy lady, and I didn't do any research for this book." It says, "There is a steely discipline behind her pleasure-loving approach. One of the main goals of staying slim is to remain appealing to men. And this is hard work. A Frenchman wants his wife to be very elegant, very thin, she said. It's never said except in the silence. There is pressure, a woman works on herself." She's just saying it. It's like this is to be hot for men. She also talks elsewhere about like, "To advance in my career, I needed to be thin."
Aubrey: Not untrue, unfortunately, not untrue.
Michael: Again, it's these mixed feelings where it's like, yeah, that's what we're talking about. In 95% of conversations about fatness, we're talking about looks. People want to look a certain way.
Aubrey: Yeah. I'm having my own moment with this, which is that anytime someone comes to me with a sort of faux concern or sincere concern based in bullshit. It is always my hope in that moment that they would just be honest with me and themselves and just be like, "I don't like looking at you." And then I could say, "Why do you need to say that to me?"
Michael: Yeah, that's a "you" problem, that's not a "me" problem.
Aubrey: Totally. At the same time, what we have here is someone who is just copping to that and going, and I don't care. I'm just like having a moment of reflection on, like, "Is that really what I wish for?" [chuckles] Because, what I really want for them to do is go, "Oh, wait, I'm saying I'm doing this thing. And I don't want to be that kind of person." That's what I'm actually aiming for. And a necessary precondition for that is for them to own their own weird bigotry on this stuff.
Michael: What's amazing to me is she doesn't remark upon any of these pressures in any kind of normative way. She's just descriptive. It's like, "Oh, you have to be thin to work in corporate America." I mean, on some level, yes, you do. Those are real pressures, and it would be weird to deny that they exist. I'm sure that there are people who are like, just eyes wide open, are like, "I need to be thin to be an executive at this company." I'm sure that there are people like that. But also, like, I would respect people who do that much more if they were like, and it's bullshit.
Aubrey: Yes. And also, she is a CEO.
Michael: I know. That’s another thing.
Aubrey: Yes, she has a board, she has a public image to keep up, yes, she has whatever else. But I'm also, you are everybody's boss. So, there is a version of this book that she could have written that was like, "You know what? There's all this pressures and I worked my way to the top, and then here's everything I did to dismantle those pressures and make sure they didn't exist anymore, at least in my company." This is the thing that I find so fascinating about diet books, in general, is that there's always some level of acknowledgment of anti-fatness. There is never any comment on like, and here's what we could do to fix those broken systems. It's just always like, "So, you got to get on the treadmill and stay on the treadmill." You're like, "No, it's not. It's fine."
Michael: We already have weird thoughts more on like Page 7.
Michael: This is the final paragraph of the first chapter. This is a little proto version, of course, the discourse that is now dominant in diet books. Like, "This isn't a diet."
Aubrey: Yeah, "It's not a diet. It's a lifestyle change. It's a detox. It's a cleanse." It's uh-huh. The answer is never dieting in the American sense, but rather little alterations made steadily overtime. When we do lose the excess weight, not only does the effort seem painless, the results are much more likely to last. If my fellow Americans could adopt even a fraction of the French attitude about food and life, don't worry, you don't have to sign on to the politics too. Managing weight would cease to be a terror and obsession, and reveal its true nature as part of the art of living. Oh, my God, your body will equalize-
Michael and Aubrey: -to its natural proportions.
Michael: I know.
Aubrey: [laughs] I mean, woo. Yeah, this is like king, It's not a diet. It's a lifestyle change.
Michael: Yeah, and also, this is a clearest articulation of the like, it's easy. All we're talking about is we're reconnecting our relationship with food. It's going to turn out to be great, you're going to lose all this weight, and you're going to have a more holistic life, you're going to rediscover like quality ingredients and stuff. She presents it as a win-win.
Aubrey: You're going to live in a set of a food network show.
Aubrey: You'll just be surrounded by produce, freshly, like, magically pre-risen bread and all that kind of stuff.
Michael: Yes, so now that we've gotten the thesis, I want to take a brief detour to just talk about the fact that the premise of this book is wrong.
Michael: I feel like we should at least discuss it.
Aubrey: Yeah, acknowledge the existence of fat French people.
Michael: Yeah. So, I looked this up, at the time of the publication of this book, 55% of Americans on the BMI scale, which is bullshit, all the normal caveats apply. 55% of Americans were overweight or obese and 35% of French people. So, 55% in America, 35% in France, is that nothing like, no, it's a pretty significant difference. But also, it's not 100% America and 0% in France. We're talking about the same phenomenon, but just at different scales, basically.
Aubrey: Right, and the publisher is not going to stand for a title, that's like two-thirds of French women don't [laughs] [crosstalk] really takes the wind out of its sails.
Michael: Okay, so now we're going to dive back into the book, Chapter 1 is called, "The Beginning. I am overweight."
Michael: Red flag. We are already in red flag territory.
Aubrey: I don’t love it.
Michael: She grows up in France in the 1960s. It doesn't appear that she was a fat kid at all. But when she moves to America on exchange when she's 16, she starts gaining weight. And so, I am going to send you a excerpt.
Aubrey: Okay. "For all the priceless new friends and experiences I was embracing, something else altogether, something sinister was slowly taking shape." Jesus. "Almost before I could notice, it had turned into 15 pounds more or less and quite probably more. It was August, my last month before the return voyage to France. I was in Nantucket with one of my adoptive families, when I suffered the first blow. I caught a reflection of myself in a bathing suit. My American mother, who had perhaps been through something like this before with another daughter, instinctively registered my distress. A good seamstress. She bought a bolt of the most-lovely linen and made me a summer shift. It seemed to solve the problem, but really only bought me a little time."
Michael: What do you think?
Aubrey: Wow, something sinister.
Michael: This does seem like the sort of major trauma of her childhood.
Aubrey: Another way to say this is, "Oh, I didn't realize I was gaining weight, and I learned I was gaining weight." That's what happens in this passage. That's another way of saying that.
Aubrey: It look like a moment of recognizing that last passage is this author talking exclusively about her own body, and also projecting really intensely powerful messages about what it means to gain weight or to become a fat person. Like describing this as a monster or the shark in Jaws. Something else altogether, something sinister was slowly taking shape. That is some wild language to use to describe a very normal human experience of weight fluctuation.
Michael: Super normal.
Aubrey: That's a thing that lots and lots and lots of people experience. When you're talking about your own experience, and you talk about it in this kind of way, there's something lurking in the shadows coming for you, that also sends a message to your readers about how they're supposed to think about their own bodies, or how you might also be thinking about their bodies. So, this just feels one of those real powerful moments where I'm like technically, this has been written in a way so as to be unassailable. I'm just talking about my own experience. And also, the language that's being used here is so powerful, so moralizing and so-
Michael: Wait, till you see how much worse it gets in this book, the message [crosstalk] in this book.
Aubrey: Oh, no. I feel like I'm going classic like wasting my outrage too early.
Michael: I know. Save your energy.
Michael: Get a protein bar.
Michael: So, because it's the 60s, she takes a boat back to France. And she talks about on this journey, she's like worried what her French friends are going to say to her when she gets back and they see that she's gained weight. And she says she's been writing them letters, but she hasn't said anything about the weight gain. And she says she deliberately only sent them photos of her face. So that her friends wouldn't see how much weight she's gained. And then she gets to France and her father meets her at the pier or whatever when the boat pulls up, so this is another excerpt.
Aubrey: Okay. "Since he had not seen me for a whole year, I expected my father who always wore his heart on his face would embarrass me. Bounding up the gangway for the first hug and kiss. But when I spied the diminutive Frenchman and his familiar beret, he looked stunned. As I approached, now a little hesitantly, he just stared at me. And as we came near, after a few seconds that seemed endless, there in front of my brother and my American shipmate, all he could manage to say to his cherished little girl come home was, "You look like a sack of potatoes." Another way to say that one is, "My dad was a real dick about it."
Michael: It sucks.
Aubrey: That's fucking awful.
Michael: It's sucks.
Aubrey: And also, holy shit, imagine if he had an actually fat daughter.
Michael: The way that these books normalize, like, really terrible treatment of children, it's really worrying to me, because she presents this as almost like "come to Jesus' moment." This was the thing that like, broke her out of her complacency. She says she spends like the next three days crying. She feels terrible. She's mad, the family's doing this trip to Paris together and she basically can't enjoy herself. She downplays that. She's like, "Oh, he didn't mean it to be mean, he was never all that tactful. He was just surprised, and he was expressing his surprise." You're sending a message of like, "Oh, you know, sometimes people say stuff like this to their kids." No, it's really not okay under any circumstances to speak to your kid this way.
Aubrey: It's terrible. I think it's really fascinating to me that all of this stuff is offered up in this book as then you just need to diet, not then you need to talk to your dad about how he talks to you and reconsider what your relationship looks like right now. Or, then you write a passage in the book about like, "This is a totally unacceptable way to talk to your kids. And I wish it hadn't had this effect on me, but it did," and blah, blah, blah. There are so many ways to slice this. Diet books when they present moments like this, pick the single way that will result in no accountability for the person or people who are saying these awful things to people and passing judgment on other folks' bodies and so on and so forth. It's gross.
Michael: And no reflection.
Aubrey: No reflection.
Michael: No cause to be like, "Hmm, should I say this to a child?"
Aubrey: Yeah, no.
Michael: But then she ends up moving to Paris, eventually. She graduates from high school, moves to Paris, starts attending the Sorbonne, and she keeps gaining weight after she moves to Paris by herself. She says, "At 5'3", I was now overweight by any standard and nothing I owned fit. Not even my American mother's summer shift. I had to flannel ones, same design, but roomier made to cover up my lumpiness. I told the dressmaker to hurry and hated myself every minute of the day. More and more my father's faux pas seemed justified."
Aubrey: Jesus Christ.
Michael: She's clearly internalizing all this weight shame, because she lives in a really fat phobic society and her dad is really mean. And so, she's just feeling increasingly desperate. And her parents eventually somehow link her up with a doctor in Paris, who is going to help her lose the weight. She doesn't give the doctor's real name, but she calls him Dr. Miracle.
Michael: And the rest of the book is basically like his plan for her. She says, "He relinked me to my essential Frenchness," or something. But it's essentially just like the diet plan that this doctor put her on when she was 16.
Aubrey: This is very Karl Lagerfeld diet?
Michael: I think that there's something really interesting about how many of these books are written by people who were thin their whole lives and then gained a pretty small amount of weight temporarily, and then lost it. And then immediately just spend the rest of their live-- this is a woman in her 50s, giving people advice on how they should do it, too.
Michael: But that's not the universal experience of fat people. A lot of people are just fat their whole lives.
Aubrey: How you lost the freshman 15 is not going to make me into a thin person.
Aubrey: You and I have talked about sort of this phenomenon of like, formerly fat people having the capacity to be extremely anti-fat, as strong or stronger are thin people who were once fatter than they wanted to be.
Michael: Yeah. [laughs]
Aubrey: For a brief period of time.
Michael: For a very brief period.
Aubrey: Some of the most arrogant and incurious weight loss advice I get is from people who were like, "Once I weighed 10 pounds more than this and I took it right off."
Michael: There are a lot of people who are like, "Yeah, I went on vacation for two weeks and I gained 10 pounds and then I came home and I lost it and here's how." And you're like, "That's not."
Aubrey: Right. It's just like, "I started going back to the gym and ate the way I was before vacation."
Michael: Right. "I did go back to my previous lifestyle."
Aubrey: Yeah. Totally sure.
Michael: Are you ready to hear Dr. Miracle's plan?
Aubrey: Oh, God.
Michael: Step one of this plan is, for the next three weeks, she is supposed to write down everything she eats.
Michael: Her doctor doesn't say that she has to change anything, "But just keep a log."
Aubrey: "Hey, teen, with crushing self-esteem issues related to your body. Don't change anything. Just write down what you eat."
Michael: This is one of the first little tiny clues that this is going to get weirder as we go along. She says, "To know how much you're eating, to know what to write down in this food diary, you should start weighing all of your food on a kitchen scale."
Aubrey: Yeah, this is some old school Weight Watchers nonsense.
Aubrey: Get on your little scale.
Michael: So, that's step one. Step two is to jumpstart your weight loss. The way you do that is a weekend of eating nothing but leek soup.
Michael: 48 hours.
Aubrey: This is wild. So far, we've gotten sort of Weight Watchers stuff. We've gotten a little dash of cabbage soup diet, just a little short crash cabbage soup diet, but this time, with leek, so it feels vaguely different.
Michael: It's very funny in the section of the book earlier where she talks about, "Fat diets don't work." She specifically mentions like the cabbage soup diet, "Can you believe women in the 70s were eating cabbage soup?" And it's chapter, turn page.
Aubrey: It should have been leek soup. We all know that.
Michael: So okay, let me send you this fucking leek soup because it sounds absolutely miserable.
Michael: This is the recipe.
Aubrey: I love a good vegetable soup and it seems like a thing that would not be hard to make delicious.
Michael: No. Look, Aubrey, [chuckles] click on the jpeg.
Aubrey: Serves one for the weekend.
Michael: [laughs] For the weekend.
Aubrey: Ugh. Cleans the leeks, and then you put the leeks in a large pot and cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes. Pour off the liquid and reserve. Place the leeks in a bowel. What?
Michael: That's the whole recipe.
Aubrey: So, you're just drinking leek water.
Aubrey: It's a tea. She's making tea out of leeks.
Michael: Look at the ingredients. Two-pound leeks, no salt, no butter or olive oil, to sauté the leeks beforehand.
Aubrey: No garlic even, no nothing.
Michael: No spices.
Michael: You're drinking like boiled leeks. This is not even like meaningfully soup.
Aubrey: This is every meme about a crash diet and every meme about white people food all at the same time.
Aubrey: All that she could do was be like garnish it with mayonnaise. And then it would be-
Michael: I know.
Aubrey: -the ultimate white people food. I mean like this is unreal. Oh, God.
Michael: I listened to a podcast called By the Book, where both of the cohosts tried this diet.
Michael: Both of them were crying [chuckles] in their first take.
Michael: It's quite a good episode actually, I'll link it in the show notes. So, you're essentially just not eating for 48 hours, so like you can't really function, and all of the book here, let me send you the section of the text after this--[crosstalk]
Aubrey: Oh, cripes. "Pity those who don't love the sweet taste and delicate texture of leeks. Eventually, you probably will."
Aubrey: Oh, this is like a fucking kidnapper. "The juice is to be drunk, reheated, or at room temperature to taste. Every two to three hours one cup at a time. This will be your nourishment for both days until Sunday dinner when you can have a small piece of meat or fish four to six ounces," don't lose that scale yet. "With two vegetables steamed with a bit of butter or olive oil and a piece of fruit. Both versions are so good and such an adventure for most palates that you will have a hard time seeing them as prison rations." What the fuck? Who's-- what?
Michael: So, it's like this is just fully deranged. It's just a weekend where you feel like absolute shit. Also, there's no such thing as jumpstarting weight loss. Any doctor, any diet plan, anything that tells you about kickstarting weight loss or hit the ground running or something. This is not how bodies work. All that happens in this weekend where you're eating nothing but leek soup. Both of the cohosts of this podcast lost, I think, one of them lost three pounds, one of them lost four and a half pounds, like, yeah, you lose weight when you don't eat anything.
Aubrey: You know this from when you can't keep food down.
Michael: Exactly. So, this is not any magic going on here. But you gain 100% of the weight back within like another two days as soon as you return to eating normally. A lot of that there's water weight that just comes right back on. This is not meaningful weight loss. So, all you're doing is you're setting yourself up for failure. There's no point in doing this.
Michael: So then, after you've done this, the goal of the next three months, this is called Recasting, is to relentlessly go through your food diary, and to look at all of the little cuts that you can make. For her, that she was walking to school and she often didn't have time in the mornings to make breakfast, so she would grab a pastry on the way to school. And then she would grab a pastry on the way home from school. So, for her, it was like, "Okay, those are the cuts that I can make. I'm eating these unhealthy pastries; I should start making breakfast at home." She starts out is like, "Okay, the chocolate that you're eating at midnight, cut that out," whatever. This is fairly standard advice in these kinds of books.
Michael: But then she also says that when you find things that you want to keep in your life, things that really do bring you pleasure that aren't extraneous, or that you don't feel bad about the next day. She says, "What you should do is start reducing them incrementally. If you're drinking juice, juice has calories in it, so you should start diluting it with water." That's her metaphor for cut out the things that aren't really giving you pleasure. And then the things that are giving you pleasure, just make them worse.
Aubrey: Yeah, totally. Make them less pleasurable.
Michael: Yeah. She says, "Over time, you will discover what is obvious to French women, there can be an almost ecstatic enjoyment in a single piece of fine dark chocolate that a dozen Snickers bars can never give you. On that subject, please also eliminate all chocolate loaded with cornstarch, corn syrup, artificial flavoring, artificial coloring and too much sugar." Again, she's just basically telling you to eat less. If you enjoy chocolate, did you know that you can actually just eat one square of dark chocolate?
Aubrey: This is the Oprah, "I love bread," ad. Everything in moderation, blah, blah, blah.
Michael: But it sounds reasonable at first, it's like, okay, we're going to cut your life down to things that really give you pleasure. It's like a Marie Kondo thing. Like, this brings me joy. We want to reconnect ourselves with the joy of food. And then it's like, a couple paragraphs later, she's like, but even the things that bring you joy, you should just eat less.
Aubrey: Then get rid of those, too. Yeah.
Michael: Right. You're reducing everything to as little as possible.
Michael: I don't think this is the way that French people eat. The marketing of the book is like, we're reconnecting you with food. How can I eat like butter, and pastries and all this stuff and still lose weight? But then once you actually get into the meat of the book, she's like, "Eat less of this, eat half the pastry."
Aubrey: Yeah, "And then eat less than that. And then eat less than that."
Aubrey: There is this sort of concept of eating disorders that is just like one day, a person, usually a young white woman wakes up and is just consumed with the desire to be thin and will do anything to become as thin as possible. I'm sure that some folks experience that it's just like something happens. It's a bolt of lightning. They're all in. For me, it was absolutely a slow slide like this. That was like, "Oh, I cannot eat until 11:00 AM. What if I could make it until 1:00 PM? What if I could wait until 4:00 PM? What if I could make it until 7:00 PM? This gamifying and narrowing and narrowing and narrowing was the nature of my eating disorder. To see someone spell all of that out as recommendations is really intense, to be like, "Then you should do this." And I'm like, "I did that and it was bad."
Michael: This is what's incredible to me. The rest of this chapter is basically just a list of varying degrees of eating disorder behavior. She says that her doctor's first tip for her was because she's eating these pastries two and from school, he told her to not bring enough money with her to buy pastries at school. Only bring enough with you for the train ride, and maybe a cup of coffee at school, which is like this is an era before credit cards and stuff. She literally doesn't have money when she's at school all day.
Michael: He also says that she should walk a different route to school every day, so that she's not tempted, because she's smelling the pastries, so then she wants to go and buy one. He says that she should only go to the store and do the shopping for one to two days, which I don't know, I do that, [chuckles] but that's mostly out of laziness.
Michael: He says that she should only buy what she needs for like a couple of days, basically, so that she doesn't have any food in the house. He tells her to give up processed foods because she doesn't know what the portions are. It's harder to weigh something at a restaurant, whereas you can weigh it at home.
Michael: And then, she has this whole thing throughout the book of using different plates. So, if you're having chicken and cauliflower, you shouldn't have the two foods on the plate at the same time. You should eat the chicken on a plate, and then you should go and get a new plate, serve up the cauliflower in like a nice presentation way, and then eat the cauliflower. You shouldn't be eating two things at the same time.
Michael: She literally has a section called Ritual Rating. [chuckles] It's just like one of the signs in eating disorder.
Aubrey: Oh, God.
Michael: It says, "Eat only at the table, only sitting down, never eat out of the cartons. Use real plates and decent napkins if you have them to emphasize the seriousness of the activity. Eat slowly, chew properly. Do not watch television or read the paper. Think only about what you are eating, smelling and savoring every bite."
Michael: She's has a whole thing on portion control. She says, "As a rule, half a pound of anything in one sitting is too much, cut back gently, especially if your problem is too much of a good thing. Salmon is a wonderful health food. But if you need to have half a pound to feel content, you need too much. Keep the scale handy and reduce ounce by ounce until four to six ounces seems like a satisfying amount to you." So, you're ritualizing your eating, you're monitoring your own eating, you're thinking about food all the time. I can't walk to school the same way I walk there yesterday, so I don't get a pastry. When I'm at school, I'm probably fucking starving because I don't have any food that I can buy. I only have this thing that I weighed out meticulously that I can eat. It's just like, this amount of fixation on food is really worrying.
Aubrey: Yeah. We're in full eating disorder territory.
Michael: And then, she ends the chapter with a recipe. There are a lot of recipes in this book, most of which look okay on the surface. The recipe that she ended the chapter with is a crustless apple tart, which is like, whatever. An apple tart without crust, I make quiche without a crust all the time because the crust is like the pain in the ass of making quiche is the crust.
Aubrey: Yeah, it's just scrambled eggs in a pan. It's great.
Michael: It[?] whips. Yes.
Michael: So, she wants you to cut up four apples and put them in a tart pan, normal, fine. Four apples, she uses one tablespoon of sugar.
Michael: This tart serves four, it's got one tablespoon of sugar. She also tells you, I cannot believe this, she tells you to serve it on cabbage leaves.
Michael: Instead of the crust.
Aubrey: What kind of dystopian nightmare.
Michael: She says, you don't have to eat them if you don't want to, and they're there for decoration.
Michael: But also sounds like it would look like shit, there's like burnt cabbage leaves at the bottom.
Aubrey: Watch Top Chef, ma'am. Inedible garnish is not welcome.
Michael: [laughs] I know.
Aubrey: Now, I feel much clearer on this. She's just on a mission to ruin food. [chuckles]
Michael: That's the thing.
Aubrey: What if the food was bad?
Michael: I know.
Aubrey: But you can have as much of it as you want.
Michael: So, the next, this is the first three months. This is the recasting. And then we get to the maintenance phase, the sort of for the rest of your life rules basically.
Aubrey: I'm guessing they're reasonable, followable, and scientifically proven.
Michael: [laughs] Again, it's the same sort of thing, where it's basically just like relentless restriction.
Michael: One of her main things that she goes back to is always eating three square meals a day only, never have a snack. She says, "Never be hungry." I mean, that's absurd, because obviously you're hungry because you've already cut things back.
Aubrey: Yeah, what are you talking about?
Michael: But what she means by this is like, never skip meals, because then you're just going to end up eating more the next meal. She also has a whole thing where she's like, it's okay to have a cheat day. If you're out with friends, don't be a weirdo, you can eat what everybody else is eating. But then she immediately says like, because you're going to compensate for it tomorrow.
Michael: She says, "It's simply a matter of taking from Peter to pay Paul. When you add an indulgence, make a corresponding reduction to compensate. Add another half hour of walking the next day. Skip the cocktail, pass the breadbasket. Just as you become attuned to where your greatest pleasures come from, you will also have to come to know which compensations work best for you."
Aubrey: Jesus Christmas.
Michael: So, you're eating normally around your friends. And then the next day you're like, ruthlessly restricting yourself to compensate. So, you're hating your disorder from your friends is basically what that amounts to.
Aubrey: Which is part of having an eating disorder for a lot of people and is like hiding it.
Michael: Or going out walking for hours the next day to burn it off and feeling guilty about it, right?
Aubrey: Good Lord. This sucks.
Michael: This fucking sucks, dude.
Aubrey: Breaking a real radical conclusion on maintenance phase. This is bad and people shouldn't do it.
Michael: Don't read this book. So, the only saving grace of this book, this book is 273 pages long the copy that I have.
Aubrey: Good Lord.
Michael: At this point in the book, we are on page 71. We've gotten her personal story. We've gotten her tips for the first three months. Her tips are maintaining this for the rest of your life. So, the rest of the book is filler.
Michael: There is nothing else.
Michael: We are a quarter of the way into the book.
Aubrey: Oh, my God.
Michael: The rest of the book is, there's this chapter titles, but it's basically just "How to do food like a French person."
Michael: She has this whole thing about how to shop at the market. And she tells this abysmally boring anecdote about she wants to surprise her husband because he's flying in from Paris. But she has to work the next day and she doesn't have time to cook and she wants to get him his favorite breakfast. So, she goes to the market and she's looking at melons. And then she's talking to the melon person about ripeness, and then she buys a melon when it's not ripe, but then two days later, when he arrives, it is ripe and it's the perfect breakfast.
Michael: And it's like, yeah, I know how ripeness of food works.
Michael: I don't know why you're telling me about this.
Aubrey: Mike, last week, I got an avocado and it was as hard as a rock. And then I just left it on the counter for a couple of days. And then it was perfect.
Michael: Good story, Aubrey.
Aubrey: Beginning, middle, end, riveting.
Michael: I was tempted to read you a bunch of excerpts from this because I cannot convey to you how fucking boring three-quarters of this book is. It's not even an eating disorder or diet tips. It's literally she has a whole thing on spices. And she's like, "Cinnamon is good and desserts, but also, they use it in Moroccan cooking for main courses." You're like, "Right. You're just telling me about spices now."
Michael: This is just Wikipedia entry on a cinnamon.
Aubrey: "Cardamom is real good if you put it in the pie crust, you're never going to eat again."
Michael: You know what? Interesting.
Aubrey: Cool facts.
Michael: She does a whole fucking chapter where she explains the concept of soup.
Michael: She's like, "It can be a starter or it can be part of the main or it can be a side for a meat dish." Right, Mireille, I've had soups, I'm familiar with the concept of soups.
Aubrey: I feel like I get how soup works, lady.
Michael: It's so weird. And then she has a lot of recipes. I don't think editors test these recipes. Most of the recipes are fucking trash.
Aubrey: Oh, my God. Mike, we're entering my favorite part of every diet book, which is absolute garbage recipes.
Michael: It's incredible for me.
Aubrey. Like I love them so much. Give me your wildest.
Michael: Listen to the fucking Ratatouille recipe.
Michael: So, first of all, it's Ratatouille that serves 12, which is like just a lot of fucking Ratatouille.
Aubrey: That's a lot of slicing.
Michael: It's three pounds tomatoes, three pounds zucchini, three pounds eggplant, two tablespoons of olive oil.
Michael: [laughs] For nine pounds of vegetables.
Aubrey: Of eggplant plant?
Michael: I know.
Aubrey: Famously, the most absorbent vegetable.
Aubrey: Like you can use that shit as paper towels if you ran out.
Michael: So, this is just like dry vegetables. She basically says put all nine pounds of this, like chop it up, put it in a pan, and then just put it on low heat for two and a half hours.
Aubrey: I think it's baby food. I think we're in baby food territory.
Michael: It's just going to be much-- she basically says that like it comes out like a soup.
Michael: She also says you shouldn't put salt on your food because it lets you to retain water and look fatter, even if you aren't fatter, so we can't have that.
Michael: You're not even salting these fucking vegetables.
Michael: It just sounds really awful. And, again, you're basically eating vegetable water.
Aubrey: You're not adding fat or salt or sugar for reasons that she has explained. But she hasn't explained why there is no spices in anything.
Michael: [laughs] I know.
Aubrey: Why would you not put just a fucking pinch of cinnamon in that apple tart? So, now you're also just opposed to flavor because if its flavorful, then you'll want to eat it and you shouldn't want to eat it.
Michael: This whole section is just completely deranged. She does stuff about like you should laugh more, she has a lesson on yawning. Like it's important to yawn.
Michael: It's not instructions for an eating disorder. So, I'm like, "You know what, Mireille? Fine."
Aubrey: Sure, ma'am, people should yawn, I don’t know.
Michael: "Tell me how to yawn." She's obsessed with yogurt and she says you have to make your own yogurt because all the brands that you buy at the store have a bunch of additives in them, which is not true. But whatever, I'm sure homemade yogurt is better than the store-bought stuff.
Aubrey: I bet it tastes delicious. Yeah.
Michael: Yeah, I'm sure it's great. She has detailed instructions on how to make your own yogurt, with or without a yogurt maker, which is fairly impressive. She's the CEO of a champagne brand. So obviously she has 40 pages of how Champagne is the special thing that makes you happier and friendships whatever. It's her extolling the virtues of fucking champagne for page upon page. It's very weird to me, I read a lot of reviews of this book. Very few people mentioned the fact that it's at least three-quarters, just nothing. It's the experience of going over to your friend's house for the holidays or something and you sit next to weird aunt. And she just has ideas about stuff and a bunch of weird advice to give you. And most of is fairly harmless, and you're just, like, "Okay, I'm just going to listen to this person babble on."
Aubrey: Mike, at this point, you're just describing me. I'm just like a weird aunt who's around.
Michael: We should make a podcast with this woman. Yeah.
Michael: At one point, she lists the restaurants that she goes to in Paris. She's like, "I love oysters. When I'm in Paris, I go to Le Oyster.
Aubrey: La Oyster is not the name. [laughs].
Michael: Nailed it. It really feels this book was not edited and it really has.
Michael: It does have the sense of, "I wrote this on the weekends," of just like, "I think soup is really great. These are my favorite kinds of soups."
Aubrey: "I like the soups with no flavor or ingredients."
Michael: Right. [laughs]
Aubrey: Oh, my God.
Michael: But then, in between the lines, what you're getting is, this is a woman who can basically sit down on a weekend and write 140 pages about food and wine. And the place that she likes to eat, and the specific farmer's markets in Provence that she likes going to. But then all of her actual advice is this way to deny herself pleasure. It seems that she's spent her life constantly thinking about this.
Aubrey: Yeah, in some ways, I do wonder about this whole diet book being like a letter to her dad.
Aubrey: I did it. Look how much I did it. I did it so much. Do you know what I mean?
Aubrey: That stuff stays with people those experiences of body policing and unwanted comments and judgments.
Aubrey: I often wonder this when I'm reading diet books is like, how much of this is you continuing to differentiate yourself from either fat people, which is like all of them are that, and/or from some past bad experience of feeling someone else was judging your body to be like, "No, I did it the most. I'm the best at being thin."
Aubrey: "I'm the best at avoiding these judgments and you can't get me now, because I did it perfectly." Right?
Aubrey: I have a lot of compassion for it. And that unleashes a whole new wave of garbage people doing garbage things.
Michael: What I was really struck by reading this was how desperate people are for this stuff. That somebody can basically spend decades of their lives denying themselves one of their primary pleasures just so that they can stay thin. That's how much of a hold this stuff has on our society that an individual would do this and would effectively just live with deprivation. She talks about you have to make yogurt the night before, she makes sure to drink a huge glass of water 30 minutes before she eats every time. She goes for a walk before breakfast. She lives on the 15th floor of some building in New York, and she often takes the stairs up. She talks about like making her own copies so that she has an excuse to get up and walk around during the day. She's thought about this every single day for her whole life. And she's essentially prescribing this as this is what you should do.
Aubrey: Yeah, this is how you should live your life.
Michael: Right. Once, you really get down to it, this is a calorie restriction diet that you're on for the rest of your life.
Aubrey: Right, she's not counting calories, but it is very intensely about restricting calories by restricting high-calorie foods. And by restricting kind of all foods, just [crosstalk] a leek water.
Michael: And staying thin should almost become a part-time job that you have. It's this thing that occupies so much of your time. She says, "You should only eat out on special occasions; you should always eat in." I mean; I could lose 50 more of these. It's the ways that she has adjusted her life to remain thin.
Aubrey: If you're not eating out, and you're only eating in, eating out is often a social activity. That may also mean for her that she's like restricting her social opportunities or that that's what she's recommending to other people or that that's how other people are taking it. It's like, you can't be around other people when food is present, which is many of the times that we gather together as human, there is food present. This is calling for not just a reorganization of the foods that you eat, but a reorganization of your life and your connections to other people. And it just is so bizarre to market this level of restriction and judgment and everything else as easy breezy. "You're going to love the food. It's all the leek water you can eat."
Michael: Yeah, and just soggy apples with no butter sugar on them. It's just hot apples. So, the conclusion of the book, the final chapter, there's more and more of this stuff. She has a whole chapter on parenting advice, which I was ready for that to get real bad, but it's actually not that bad.
Michael: The only thing that I liked about the argument that she makes through the book is Americans have a toxic relationship with food and especially the way that we talk about food. She says that Americans have this thing where everyone's constantly talking about the diet that they're on. "I hate my body. I shouldn't have eaten that. I feel bad about it." The connection between sin and consumption, it's something that just runs through every conversation in American life and she's like, "It's weird to talk about food this way, food is good."
Aubrey: Right. Talk about food freely and openly and joyfully and then eat in a restricted joyless, painstaking way. [laughs]
Michael: She doesn't live by this rule at all.
Aubrey: No, it doesn't sound like it.
Michael: So that's basically the book. It's just 70 pages of how to have an eating disorder and then 150 pages of just, "Here's what food in France is like." [laughs]
Aubrey: Here's where cinnamon comes from. Yeah. [laughs]
Aubrey: Wow, it's such a bummer that this was such a huge hit.
Michael: I do think it's actually worth talking about the reception to the book and the aftermath of the book.
Michael: After it became a really big deal, there were some interesting rebuttals to the book. So, there was one in the New York Times in 2005, where the author says, "When I was a college student in France for a year, I also picked up a bad habit, a pack of cigarettes a day. That's what you do in Paris, sit in cafes, drinking coffee and smoking. I acquired a newly svelte figure not from chewing slowly through four-course dinners, supping on oysters or setting out fine China at every meal. The regime France, I learned was cigarettes. And it took me 15 years to quit. Merci beaucoup."
Aubrey: Wow. Yeah.
Michael: The rates of smoking between America and France are not that different, French people like 5% higher smoking rates. What's interesting about France is that smoking habits run through the economic ladder. So, in America, it's mostly poor people who smoke. Whereas, in France, it's everybody. And so, the argument that they make in this piece is basically that like, yeah, the thin, rich women with nice scarves that you see in Paris are not thin because they're following this advice, they're thin because they're smoking. There's also been a huge backlash to this kind of eat like a French person thing, in the form of pointing out that France is extremely fat phobic. In 2017, there was a memoir called a You're Not Born Fat, by a writer named Gabrielle Deydier. She talks about how, I mean, there's still this practice in France, where when you apply for jobs, you send in a photo of yourself.
Michael: Yeah. This is something that I've seen in when I lived in Denmark, this was normal, in Germany, this is normal. This is fairly standard practice across much of Europe. It's something that when I to the Europeans about it, I want to tear my fucking hair up, because they're all like, "Well, why wouldn't you send a photo?" And the only reason to send a photo would be to rule out people with headscarves, people that are not white, people who are fat.
Michael: What other purposes there for this?
Aubrey: To my mind, this is just open the floodgates for racism in particular.
Aubrey: And along the way, no fatties.
Michael: The problem with this is that size-based discrimination is actually illegal in France.
Michael: Which is good, but because you have to send in your photo with your fucking job application, you don't get to the interview stage.
Aubrey: Right, totally.
Michael: Gabrielle Deydier, the woman who wrote this memoir, she got a job at a preschool, she was teaching autistic kids. And the first day at school, she had a really fat phobic boss. And there were six kids in the class, and when she showed up, her boss said, "Oh, we have seven handicapped people with us today."
Michael: Right. And she was eventually fired from this job for "failing at her job duties." Her job duty being to lose weight because her boss wanted her to be thinner. So, she loses the job. The interview with her in The Guardian takes place at a fucking youth hostel, because she lost her job and she can't afford her apartment anymore. So, she has to move into a youth hostel.
Aubrey: I mean, this is all awful. And it also feels like such a weird-- it's really interesting to me that when folks marginalized fat people, the things that they reach for one of the key things that they reach for is considering them to be disabled.
Michael: Yeah, that's really interesting.
Aubrey: It's a fascinating and truly garbage tactic that both leaves fat people feeling like shit and also invite's people into weird shitty ablest arguments.
Aubrey: About like, "No, I'm not for these reasons," rather than being like, "Okay, how about you just be more chill to disabled people?"
Aubrey: What else do we learn from Gabrielle?
Michael: Well, everybody else who talks about this, I read a bunch of articles about her and they're like, "Discrimination against fat people is a very well documented problem in France. But also, obesity is linked to heart disease," and blah, blah, blah.
Michael: And all the boring health shit, and that's not really what she's saying. That's not really the issue that we're talking about here. No one is losing their job because their fucking LDL cholesterol levels.
Aubrey: It really feels people think it's like Bloody Mary where like, you say it three times, and she will appear or something. If you just say like, "Hey, man, be nice to fat people." And you don't also say, "It's a bad thing to be. It's really bad for you. It's bad for our country. It's bad for the world." Somehow, a bunch of people are magically going to get super fat out of nowhere.
Michael: Yeah, it's the same thing we see with trans people, where it's like, "What if we're too nice to trans people?" Let's dial it back. If you look at any statistics, and it's like, "Hmm, we're not that nice to trans people as a society." It's the same thing of like, Isn't this too much grace to show to fat people? Like, yeah.
Aubrey: Yeah, totally.
Michael: It's bad that she lost her job, and she's now living in a youth hostel everything. But what is her resting heart rate?
Aubrey: Let's talk about the downsides of human dignity.
Michael: [laughs] I know.
Aubrey: Why are we doing this? What if we could have a conversation about shitty behavior targeting fat people and just let that be a conversation about shitty behavior without going, "Well, but also, it's really bad for you."
Michael: Right. What if we could talk about conditions and other countries without boiling it down to these one-dimensional individual behaviors?
Michael: We keep getting these books, French Women Don't Get Fat and Japanese Women Don't Get Old and Albanian women don't get fine lines and wrinkles. And it's every single time people really want to draw out these like lifestyle things from it. It's like, "Oh, you should eat more olive oil," or, "Oh, you should like to work or whatever it is." And it would be really easy to make the case that French people are healthier than Americans.
Michael: French people have longer lifespans. They have lower infant mortality rates. You can easily make that case. But then whenever somebody tries to make that case, it's like, "And that's why you should eat salads."
Michael: But these really silly, life hacking one weird trick kinds of tips. No, if we're interested in the reasons why some populations are more healthier than others, it's going to come down to stuff like health care access, and inequality and stress.
Michael: But are we interested in health? Or, are we only interested in our own health?
Aubrey: Yeah. What would it look like to do that kind of more global thinking? No, no, no, we don't do that, we just get right back down to individual level stuff, in part because those are all the messages were being fed all the time. In part because that's how media covers it, in part because that's how diets market themselves. It is a really frustrating thing to be like, we could be having a much more nuanced and fruitful and productive conversation, and we are refusing that at every turn.
Michael: Wait, I have a zinger.
Aubrey: Oh, tell me a zinger.
Michael: I can hear the theme music in the background. I have to go fast.
Michael: We think we're getting intellectual debate, but in fact, all we're getting is leek water.
Aubrey: [laughs] It's totally leek water.
[Maintenance Phase theme music]
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