Friday, October 07, 2005

And Shape Up! ships out

Dr. Phil is such easy pickin's that one almost hates to pile on when it comes to his latest widely publicized embarrassment. (Notice I said "almost.") The skinny, as it were: Disgruntlement over McGraw’s Shape Up! diet plan, built around his dubious (and now defunct) line of nutrition bars, may well be building to critical mass--this, after three erstwhile Philophiles went to court in Los Angeles this past Monday, accusing McGraw of making false and misleading claims about the supplements' utility. Observers say the Superior Court suit has the makings of a class action. But there’s a deeper question here that begs exploring: What the hell ever made anyone think Dr. Phil was the guy to lead them to the promised land of fitness and weight loss, anyway? Here again we encounter one of the core deceits of self-help, which I emphasize time and again in my book: By and large, its leading practitioners are nowhere near qualified to preach what they practice.

Granted, McGraw does possess a valid degree in psychotherapy (though by his own admission he’d burned out of clinical practice entirely by the time Oprah found him; see archived entries in this blog). But even if we allow him his original credentials…. How do you get from there to expertise in diet-and-nutrition, a discipline that continues to stymie even those who have given their careers and lives to the painstaking, scholarly study of its mysteries? (Presumably you get there the same way John Gray got from his pair of suspect college degrees, and a long period of personal celibacy, to widespread recognition as America's leading expert on relationships and sex.) Suffice it to say that real experts in the genre, like Yale’s Kelly Brownell, are not amused by the hubris of today's burgeoning flock of Johnny-come-latelies, who seek to parlay celebrity of almost any kind into overnight success by appeasing the public's voracious appetite for weight loss. (What’s next? “The D.C. Sniper Diet Plan”?)

The current suit against McGraw also notes that his nutrition bars are based on questionable science. My question: Why does this kind of stuff still surprise people? When you have leading SHAM figures like Tony Robbins talking openly at seminars about the “energy frequency” of foods (a body of nutritional knowledge that, so far as I’ve been able to determine, is unique to Robbins himself) and popular “empowerment” web sites like Oughten House International promising to help you “change your DNA”… At a certain point you start to wonder, is there nothing we won’t believe, in our eagerness to—well—believe?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Since you've used it a time or two, can you explain to me the meaning and origins of the phrase "as it were"?