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Food and fitness journalism is broken. We are fixing it.

Introducing Truth Be Told, our attempt at setting health journalism right.

Shashank Mehta
7 min read • 
20 August 2022

Hey, there. I’m Shashank, founder of The Whole Truth (TWT), India’s first 100% clean-label food brand. With immense pride (and some nerves), we are launching Truth Be Told (TBT), a weekly food and fitness publication. 

We intend to make TBT the most trustworthy source of personal health journalism in India. This source doesn’t exist. And it needs to.

Let me explain.

I. How it started

Reconcile this.

Health and fitness is a 1.5 trillion dollar industry. That’s ten times the size of the movie business and four times the cell phone market. It’s huge, and it’s growing at 2x global GDP. This means many folks are consuming many products and services, hoping to live healthier lives. 

And yet, health markers are worsening. Two in five adults are overweight. The obesity rate has tripled since 1975. More than 400 million people have diabetes, a four-fold jump from 1980. It’s now the eighth leading cause of death. 

What explains this paradox? We want to be healthy, a massive industry exists to make us healthy, and still, we’re failing. 

As a 110kg, 19-year-old, I didn’t know these stats. I just knew I wanted to lose weight, be fit, and remain so forever. How naive.  

In the following decade, I lost, gained back, and then lost again over 25 kg. Thrice. As if I was stuck in a loop. Doomed to being a WHO obesity statistic every three years. 

The most frustrating bit? I did everything the industry told me to. 

I ate ‘healthy’ food: juices replaced colas, cereals over paranthas, and ‘sugar-free’ everything.

I tried all the diets: Atkins, keto, low-carb, high-fat, and high-protein — you name it. Some worked. None sustained. 

And I read a lot. I’d ask Google when I had doubts and read all the clickbait it threw at me. A few hours down that rabbit hole, I (theoretically) knew everything about keto and shredding and growing an eight-pack. And yet, I looped. 

It was infuriating and demotivating. And I didn’t know whom to turn to. 

The more I researched, the more I found that most research was industry-funded (and hence biased). Speaking with friends didn’t help: none of them shared my metabolism (I’d gain weight if I ate more than 1300 calories). And I didn’t have the money — nor the inclination or trust — to hire an expensive nutritionist. 

So, after gaining and (painfully) losing 25 kg the third time, I figured I’d have to figure it out myself. 

That’s when I started writing FITSHIT: a blog where I’d separate fit from sh*t by marrying theoretical research with my real-world experience. I wrote it for over two years, and the love it received taught me two things. 

One, I wasn’t alone. So many of us feel cheated by the modern-day food system. So many of us are tired of the misleading half-truths. So many of us are caught in the same vicious loop. 

Two, I needed to do more. If I was serious about bringing change, I had to throw my hat in the ring. Just telling people what’s bad wasn’t enough. I needed to give them a way to choose well.

So I left my job and started a food brand. Built on the one infallible truth I learned during my fitness journey: eat nutritionally rich food, and everything else will take care of itself. And the best way to eat nutritiously is to eat real. To eat clean. 100% clean. That’s The Whole Truth. 

It’s been three years since I started this company. And ten years since my last weight-loss cycle. I’ve gone from researcher to writer to an industry insider. And operating from the inside, here’s what I’ve found.

The health and fitness industry doesn’t deliver because it doesn’t intend to. 

Think about it. People who make a living from selling you ‘health’ can’t afford to have you become ‘healthy’. If you did, why would you need them?

That’s why we see ourselves as a ‘truth’ company — not a ‘healthy’ food company. We want to bring truth back to food. In fact, we loathe this H-word: it’s the food marketers’ biggest weapon.

II. The Problem

No one knows what ‘healthy’ means. So everyone gets to sell you their version of it.

Food brands sell sugar substitutes and cheap chemical replacements for real food under the garb of ‘healthy’. Fitness influencers and health publications sell you the answers: ‘six ways to get eight-pack abs’, ‘10 reasons avocado is a superfood’. 

But they won’t share the tools to help you derive the answers: ‘Does losing weight mean losing fat?’, ‘Can you ab-crunch your way to abs?’, ‘WTF is a superfood?’

You and I are stuck in this loop because both food, and food journalism, are broken.

Look at the covers of  ‘Men’s Health India’ from the past decade.

Men’s health magazine covers

“Your best body in 28 days!”

“From fat to muscle in just 21 days!” 

“Melt fat fast!”

Do you believe this magazine will get you a 6-pack? I’d wager they don’t either. But who cares? 

India’s leading national dailies are no different. The fitness section of the Indian Express offers zero insight. At the time of writing, their top four articles described the workout routines of four Bollywood actors aggregated from their Instagram feeds. But hey, look how good Alia looks!

Just two of a thousand examples. But you get the drift. 

This is the state of food and fitness journalism. In fact, calling it journalism is a stretch. It’s churnalism: resource-crunched newsrooms hire inexperienced reporters to manufacture raw material for Google. They are forced to pump out insufficiently researched reports because articles serve the singular objective of grabbing eyeballs. Fitness suffers the most because it is not “serious journalism”. But again, who cares?

We do.

We started TWT to solve food. But the crusade is incomplete if we don’t solve food journalism too. Because what you read and believe precedes what you eat and repeat.

We are on it.

III. Our Solution

Serious food and fitness content isn’t new to us. We’re sworn to being the industry insider who reveals the trade tricks — not profit off your ignorance. 

So while everyone was dancing to teensy music, we did long-form myth-busting content on Instagram. We produced fortnightly YouTube explainers to teach the food basics you were never taught and podcast interviews to seek truth from those closest to it. As a young fledgling startup, we spent most of our marketing budgets on education. The love we got in return told us we needed to do more. That’s why we are going a step further and launching TBT.

But how will we be different from the rest? And how will we ensure we don’t stray off the path?

The answer lies in our three guiding principles: trust the experts, craft thoughtful narratives and incentivise truth-seeking. 

Let me explain. 

TBT will publish only one long story a week. That’s enough: new things don’t happen daily in the food and fitness world. The modern human body emerged several thousand years ago, and it doesn’t change in decades, forget days. So we don’t need reporters chasing breaking news. 

We need experts equipped to separate the wheat from the chaff. And writers who can take the facts, mix them with everyday examples, address the hard questions, identify the big picture, and weave it all into a story you love reading — a story you love learning from.

We’ve built a team to deliver this. Our initial contributors include a clinical nutritionist, a certified diabetes educator, a professional running coach, a food researcher and an experimental biohacker. You will read their work in the coming weeks. Each is either professionally educated in food and fitness or has a deeply personal experience — we value that as much — or both. We love them. 

Each story will be rigorously fact-checked and produced under editorial oversight. So yes, we have an Editor. Meet Samarth Bansal. 

Samarth is an independent journalist and writer specialising in long-form, deep-dive, investigative reporting. He has seven years of journalistic experience, reporting across politics, policy and technology. His writing has appeared in Indian and foreign press like The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Hindu, the Hindustan Times, the Times of India, and Livemint.

Samarth will be, as he puts it, the readers’ representative at TBT and work with our panel of writers to craft tight narratives with the highest possible insight density. We’re privileged to have him onboard.

His dual role as an Editor is even more important: keeping us honest. This brings me to the last point: incentives.

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IV. Truth-seeking

Let’s address the elephant in the room. TWT, a food company, is launching and funding a food and fitness publication. 

It raises questions about potential conflicts of interest: What if TBT is not a vessel to find the truth but a weapon to spread the version that boosts our bottom line? 

We know that. And I want you to know we don’t take this conflict lightly. So, after extensive ideation, we’ve designed a structure to ensure that the publication stays committed to its mission. Details follow.

One: Delinking commerce 

We will never talk about TWT products in TBT stories. We will never monetise this publication. No ads on this platform. 

We may ask you, at some point, to part-fund this effort to make it sustainable. But we’ll never go to marketers. (If you know us, you know we don’t like ‘em much anyways.

Two: Transparency

Yes, we have a point of view on food — a view strong enough that we started a brand around it. We’re biased. 

But here is the thing: no one — no person, no publication, no interpretation — is unbiased. And bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a way to look at the world. What matters is that biases be clearly stated and called out so readers can decide for themselves. 

We will do that. Especially so about topics that relate to our products (“Is Whey protein good or bad?”, “Are dates also just sugar?”). We will call out the conflict in those articles (we use both whey and dates in our products). 

And we will publish quality debates on controversial topics, with the best arguments on all sides — including the ones we don’t believe in — to promote thoughtful conversations and find common ground. 

Third: Independent writers

We have not employed full-time writers. The ones who have agreed to write have successful day jobs. Their daily bread does not depend on the little they make from us. We pay them a flat rate for every article: no linkage with clicks, reads, or any other performance-based metric. 

They’ve signed up as contributors because they believe in our mission. The day they don’t, they’re free to stop writing.

Fourth: Ceding power to an outside editor

Samarth, our editor, gets the final vote on what we publish. Not me or any staffer of TWT.

And he isn’t employed with us either. He is our ‘consulting’ editor, working part-time, meaning he is free to get up and leave anytime he feels we’re trying to influence opinion or use the publication as a mouthpiece. 

In short, our hedge against our motivations going awry is that we’ve structured this as a loose collective — a community of people who’ve come together for a common cause. And while TWT, the brand, is the orchestrator, we have no control — legal or otherwise — over any of the members. 

Fifth: Accountability from our readers

The publication is rooted in our community. We only want to serve our readers. We want to inform and delight, but we also want to challenge and provoke — truth-seeking and conformity don’t go together. 

So we will optimise our resources to cultivate a trusting relationship. Enough trust that even if you disagree with our conclusions — it will happen, it’s inevitable — you’ll value us for what we’ve started and find our attempt valuable enough to feel responsible for what we do. 

We are counting on you. Hold us accountable. Alert us if you see us drifting off our mission. Please tell us how we can serve you better. 

That’s it. That is the why, the what, and the how of Truth Be Told. 

TBT is our labour of love. And for me, my life’s mission. Being consistently healthy isn’t easy. But it isn’t as tough as it is made out to be. And I’ll be damned if another 19-year-old Shashank has to spend decades discovering this truth when so many of us have already paid those dues.

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