tw: disordered eating talk in this first section ~~
I did not want to watch Will Smith try to lose weight. His YouTube series, “Best Shape of My Life,” is a sort of uneasy double-talk: He’s trying to confront his impulse to attention-get and people-please, yet he’s turning himself inside out in an extremely public way about all these pretty raw issues. Focusing on “weight loss” through extreme diets and workouts also feels increasingly retro, like wearing a denim vest.
But I know that 48 percent of you are about to decide that your New Years Resolution is to lose some weight, so it feels like it’ll be instructive to break down what happened to him, and importantly, why it didn’t work. Four takeaways:
He (or his trainer) is tragically confused about the difference between “weight loss” and “being in good shape.”
Will Smith set out to get in “the best shape of his life,” which he immediately decides means he needs to lose 20 pounds. Smith and his trainer (who Smith endearingly calls “A-ron”) spout words throughout like “sustainable” and “gradual.” Yet Smith jumps right into the deep end with a four-day-a-week weight lifting split as well as cardio every training day (or maybe… every single day. It’s unclear). Smith makes the classic mistake of thinking “I feel bad” and “I don’t like how I look” means “I need the number of pounds on the scale to go down.” (According to the Avocado Principle of body composition, this is how you can end up losing precious muscle).
While I don’t expect Will Smith to know everything about bodies, I can’t believe a trainer would look at Will Smith in this day and age and say, "what this guy needs is to 'lose weight.” Even if we allow for a workout goal of “better conventional aesthetics,” that does not go hand in hand with Weight Loss. I also can’t believe he would stand there silent while Will Smith verbally lashes himself after every weigh-in. If Will Smith can’t get a good, empathetic trainer who understands that, then truly none of us are safe.
He’s miserable and incredibly harsh to everyone, including himself.
This is his face after one of his early weigh-ins.
Writing his book is obviously making him emotional (excavating your personal traumas is extremely difficult!), but his harsh outbursts at himself and others aren’t reserved for the writer’s room. He dresses down the camera guy, the trainer, and most of all himself. "I'm at a calorie deficit and I'm in here crying every day, writing a book,” he says late in the journey. Yes; too harsh of a calorie deficit will do that.
He gives up.
It might be for the drama of the series, but he cuts the weight-loss experiment short because he’s miserable. I mean not to be rude, but doy—the severity required to do the amount of what you’re doing is too much! At one point he says, very insightfully, that his capacity for discipline means he can force himself to do anything, and he’s only just starting to question how often and how harshly he wants to wield that as a tool. This is interesting, because many wish for more discipline in order to do things like what Will Smith is doing. But it is almost as if those who have that discipline eventually realize that’s not how they become okay with themselves.
It didn’t have to be this way.
What could he and his trainer have done differently? They could have focused more on the desire to “feel in good shape” and meditated quite a lot more on the word “sustainable.” If they had, they might have just gradually introduced workouts, and ramped him up slowly if he wanted more intensity. Again, if we allow for an aesthetic goal, he probably did not need to be in a calorie deficit at all, thanks to the process of body recomposition. Surely he lost more “weight" being in a deficit, but instead of finding a nice and enjoyable life balance, he ends up forcefully rejecting the whole thing and calling it off.
Saying you want to feel better by losing weight is like saying you want to become rich, so you're going to put all your life savings in crypto. This is a bad idea because crypto is wildly unpredictable, unlikely to work out in the long run, and just the latest shell-game plaything with which the extremely wealthy and resourced can extract wealth from the less wealthy and resourced.
But like crypto, we are often using weight loss as a proxy for much more complex needs and wants. Do you want to be rich because you want to actually be rich? Or do you want to be rich because everyone says you should be rich? Could you ever actually be rich enough? Do you want to be rich, or do you just want to feel secure on your own terms and like you are, to choose a euphemism at random, taking care of yourself? It’s almost as if trying to be rich is an attempt to seize control over an aspect of your life where you are dealing with consequences that are beyond your control. That sounds not entirely unlike trying to “lose weight” in a system where so many aspects of our health are beyond our control.
The very last thing anyone should feel about their body is hopeless. But a key part of avoiding that is not trying to locate hope in the wrong place. I’m sure many who intend to make a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight might read this and say “RIP to Will Smith but I’m different.” I know what it’s like to feel a gritty, white-knuckled exceptionalism in reaction to the oracular body-positivity gurus who say “It’s not about how you look, it’s about how you ~~~feel~~~.” I would have thought resentfully, “bully for you; you either already enjoy hot privilege or you have somehow never had to care about being hot, and therefore can’t possibly understand how badly I need to lose weight For Myself." And to those people thinking those thoughts, I say, okay, I understand, see you back here next year.
~Discord Pick of the Week: You should scroll back in the #general-chat channel to Nov. 30 for planner chat, because there are some really good links not just for regular planners but for workout-tracking notebooks as well. ~
This is a fun mini-doc about two strongmen who eat a TON of food six times a day and have comically low and deep Andre-the-Giant-style voices. They live in the north of Scotland, which, based on thin genealogical evidence, I consider to be also my homeland. It also scratches the the general itch I have of “anyone doing extreme physical feats should be preceded by a normal person” (in this case, YouTubers) “trying to do the thing literally at all.”
Pain is not always injury. Some pain is fine! Total avoidance of pain in life is not a good or helpful goal.
Related to the top section of this letter, man, everyone has been knocked off their axis about their bodies during the pandemic, including and especially young people.
I missed this NPR LifeKit interview with the Four Thousand Weeks guy the first time around, and I haven’t even read the book, but between just absorbing that concept and the Annie Dillard quote about how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, I am experiencing unprecedented levels of clarity about doing less of the dumb bullshit I do every day instead of the things I want to have done in the grand scheme. Four Thousand Weeks guy also has a nice little digression in there about doing a maintenance amount of things that matter do us, instead of trying to do extreme hyperfocus at the expense of variety and sanity.
I do not watch Dancing with the Stars but I extremely enjoyed these two Iman Shumpert dances. Also, I didn’t “get” Jojo Siwa before, but I get Jojo Siwa now! Look at her PICK UP her DANCE PARTNER SEVERAL TIMES I am FLOORED!
What subscribers got last week: I unlocked this post where I’m trying to figure out how I developed a good relationship with physical activity; I’m told it has helped others think about how their relationships to physical activity were formed long ago.
A post shared by The Gains Gods (@thegainsgods)
The event of Jack Dorsey stepping down as CEO of Twitter, for me, turned into revisiting his likely disordered eating behaviors.
In that same vein, we love Oprah but man, she loves her some absolutely bunk diet and weight loss quackery. All I want is like 15 minutes with Oprah to talk about how Dr. Oz is the devil incarnate! A fun thing I like to remind people in the case of Dr. Oz is that achievement does not equate to integrity: Dr. Oz was on the board of Columbia Medical School at the same time he was telling people that African mango seeds cause weight loss.
Now this is just a fire headline: How $4 billion Noom co-opted the language of eating-disorder recovery to sell weight loss. Noom’s cheeks: obtained!! Once again, Noom’s bad advice is free everywhere.
An absolutely can’t-miss parody of the inanity of the Joe Rogan podcast from Jeremy and Rajat.
I would say read this piece except I’m sick to death of talking about abortion. I’m just sick of trying to isolate the bad guy and how they are wrong, sick of "meeting people where they are" and “having reasonable conversations” about this thing that is so obviously a net good for society and objectively not a moral crisis. Society needs a new way to deal with the hand-holding “reasonable conversation” Overton window that isn’t “progressives trying to 'have the conversation' until they are blue in the face.” I’m blue in the face. I’m done! Sick of it!
My favorite writer of all time no cap started a Substack. My favorite writer of all time no cap, whose primary subject matter is “heart wrenching dystopia," started a Substack. My favorite writer of all time no cap, one of whom's fairly central theses is “beware the emotional manipulations of technology,” started a Substack, the stated purpose of which is to engage with his readers. You can’t pull one over on me, George Saunders, and make me believe anything other than I am now living inside a George Saunders story. I think George Saunders’ response to this would be “when WEREN’T you living inside a George Saunders story?” and it would send chills down my spine and well my eyes with tears.
I am frantically reading The Lost Daughter, which is only $2 right now, in anticipation of the Olivia Colman movie. Many are saying “you don’t have to be frantic, your Kindle says the book is only two hours long,” but they don’t know my capacities for not paying attention, falling asleep, or watching TV instead! I used to read so much, what happened!
Ok that’s it from me, I love you thank you let’s go—