For an Antidote to Diet Culture, Try These 6 Podcasts
January is to diet culture as November is to pumpkin-spiced beverages. Every new year, after the excesses of the holiday period, millions of people make resolutions to overhaul their eating habits, spurred on by books, apps and experts, all promising the secret to lasting weight loss.
But science increasingly suggests that most diets are at best ineffective, and often counterproductive, promoting a cycle of restriction and indulgence that doesn’t result in lasting change. And the body mass index, commonly used to determine whether a person is of a healthy weight, is gradually being seen as outdated and arguably a scam.
If you’re looking for an antidote to traditional ways of thinking about diets this January, these six podcasts will help you overhaul your approach to food, question some of your assumptions and develop a gentler attitude to living healthily.
Aubrey Gordon has been writing anonymously about her experiences as a fat person for many years, under the pseudonym Your Fat Friend. In 2020, she started this show with Michael Hobbes (the longtime co-host of the hit podcast “You’re Wrong About”), taking a skeptical and often subversive approach to discussing the wellness industry. Some episodes focus on a food item like the low-calorie ice cream Halo Top, or entities like Weight Watchers or the weight-loss reality show “The Biggest Loser.” But the most memorable installments delve into bigger subjects like anti-fat bias and the pitfalls of using the body mass index as a measure of health. This is essential listening for anyone who’s ever been in the grips of the diet industrial complex, and wants to get deprogrammed.
Starter episode: “The Body Mass Index”
As the title suggests, this show aims to counteract many of the harsh, self-critical messages that people absorb about their bodies. Rebecca Scritchfield is a registered dietitian nutritionist who has centered her counseling practice around rejecting body shame and traditional diet goals. She brings that same gentle, humane approach to her monthly podcast, which is explicitly billed as a show about health, not weight loss. Scritchfield’s advice is deceptively simple: She encourages people to stop seeing food through the lens of reward vs. punishment, and to instead try eating intuitively. With a back catalog five years deep, there’s an episode dedicated to just about any topic you could want, including the fat acceptance movement, diabetes and the ways chronic dieting can affect mental health.
Starter episode: “Bernie and Rebecca Discuss Emotional Eating”
‘Keep Calm and Cook On With Julia Turshen’
One of the best ways to combat toxic diet culture is to reconnect with your love for food itself — the flavors, the texture, the process of cooking. The cookbook author Julia Turshen (her latest is “Simply Julia”) is here to help with this comforting interview show. Guests have included writers, chefs and celebrities like Antoni Porowski from “Queer Eye.” “Keep Calm and Cook On” is a great reminder of how food intersects with just about every other aspect of life, including mental health, relationships and race. So although Turshen is ostensibly speaking to her guests about cooking, the conversations are always intimate, vulnerable and wide-ranging.
Starter episode: “On Baking: Roxane Gay”
‘I Weigh With Jameela Jamil’
Four years ago, the actress Jameela Jamil (“The Good Place”) started a social media movement called “I Weigh.” The title is tongue-in-cheek — Jamil’s response both to the Kardashians, who were promoting diet products at the time, and to a broader cultural obsession with female weight. With “I Weigh” and the spinoff podcast, Jamil encourages women to disregard the number on the scale and instead focus on a more abstract version of their “weight” — a concept that takes into account their strengths, their accomplishments and all the things that make up who they are. The podcast features Jamil interviewing women in various fields about everything from menstruation to the best way to spot a liar. Jamil is now an advocate for what she calls “body neutrality,” and though the podcast isn’t explicitly about body image, the theme recurs in many of her interviews.
Starter episode: “Beanie Feldstein”
‘In Bad Taste’
Over the past decade or so, numerous documentaries have promised to uncover “the truth” about the health impact of various foods. But many of these films appear to be biased, lacking in nuance or based on shaky science, encouraging viewers to make radical changes to their diets — like give up sugar, go keto or forsake animal products — in order to achieve true health. Hosted by Pixie Turner, a nutritionist, and Nikki Stamp, a cardiothoracic surgeon, “In Bad Taste” cuts through the noise to identify which films are worthwhile. Each month, Turner and Stamp focus on a different documentary, giving them plenty of time to thoroughly analyze whatever claims are being made. Even when they’re tearing a documentary to shreds, their insightful conversations somehow manage to stay warm, and it’s always clear they’re motivated by a real passion for countering damaging nonsense.
Starter episode: “The Magic Pill: Nothing Magic About Keto”
Bon Appétit’s latest podcast is a light, entertaining weekly dose of food conversation that largely steers clear of diet talk. Instead, each episode focuses on a different culinary question. Some are prosaic (is an air fryer really worth the counter space?) and others are more abstract (should you change the way you eat for someone you love?). The podcast tackles the question of the week with help from Bon Appétit staff members, chefs and the odd celebrity guest.
Starter episode: “What Does ‘Healthy Eating’ Even Mean?”