Go Ahead-Make Me Thin!

Last night on The “Learning” Channel, there was a widely-announced program that narrowly bordered on being an infomercial, while loudly proclaiming that it was not one.  I watched I Can Make You Thin with the skepticism of a fat person from a family of fat people who has watched the diet scene from near and far, and with the training of a physician who continually looks for some scientific basis for such claims.  Paul McKenna stood before an audience of people who, from the interviews and comments, desired a solution to their obesity problems.  He told them that they just needed to learn and live by his four principles-roughly paraphrased:

  • When you are hungry, go and eat.
  • Eat what you like and have a desire for.
  • Make a meal a pleasant, uninterrupted experience by eating slowly and without distractions.
  • When you are full, stop eating.

As he taught these four principles, he assured us at home that we would receive the same training and results as those at the program, learning through our television sets.  I had to laugh.  It reeked of the early TV evangelists, urging us to put our hands on the television set and feel Jesus.

The oversimplification of an immense, complex problem is a hallmark of this kind of presentation.  It is an injustice to the vast majority of people who are fighting obesity to suggest that they just forgot the four little rules, and all their problems can be solved by remembering them.  Just to tackle one of his rules, the advice to eat what we want can be deadly.  The food we want is largely shaped by experience; we don’t crave what we haven’t tasted.  If our experience with food has been full of pre-packaged, over-salted, chemically or genetically altered, sugar-loaded foods with big doses of transfats, it’s likely that that is what we will desire.  It’s ridiculous to teach people that weight loss will be equally great when we pig out on packaged mac and cheese as when we have a plate of broccoli and a cup of organic brown rice.  Additionally, the lack of selectivity in what we eat can lead to serious health problems.   

I watched the entire show.  I came away feeling compelled to look up this Paul McKenna and find out where he is coming from.  I found his website by Googling him, and was surprised that his credentials were nowhere in evidence.  I didn’t see anything about his training or education.  There were no letters behind his name, not even a photo of him wearing a t-shirt with a school logo.  There were broad claims of him helping tens of thousands of people to conquer their weight problems in the UK.  There were frequent references to NLP, with advertising for programs to become a practitioner of it, but no definition or even spelling out what those letters represent. 

Strange that a January 31 Reuters report notes that “Doctors in England are writing over a million obesity drug prescriptions a year, eight times more than in 1999…Health Secretary Alan Johnson says the country is in the grip of an obesity crisis…the proportion of men classed as obese…rose to 23.7% from 13.2%” and “Women’s waists have widened from an average 81.7 cm (32.2 inches) in 1993 to 86.4 cm (34.0 inches), with levels of obesity rising to 24.2% from 16.4%.  How does this fit with McKenna’s claims that he has single-handedly made those huge numbers of Brits skinny? 

NLP is a New Age construct called Neuro-linguistic Programming.  It has much been touted as a means of changing one’s thoughts and brain function, and interpreting the thoughts of others, but it has no research to support the claims.  There is a detailed discussion of the whole NLP movement and their teachings in the Skeptics Dictionary (http://skepdic.com/neurolin.html), complete with the politics and financial goals of its practitioners.  It’s worth a read if you are interested in a balanced presentation.  On the other hand, if your library is stocked with Marianne Williamson, you have a signed copy of The Secret, and your Tevo is set for the latest Oprah-endorsed life-changing love movement, you’ll probably enjoy being made thin through your tv set.

Yes, I have a better plan.  Yes, I’m working on it.  No TV needed. 



4 Responses

  1. Good job, Essie! It’s such a shame that people swallow this kind of charlatanism. But then, P.T.Barnum was right – there’s a sucker born every minute. And we are always looking for a quick fix.

  2. I found the problem. I “Googled” The Learning Channel, and this is what came up in Google’s description link: “Channel your Trading Spaces energies and design your own room. … Discovery Channel The premier provider of real-world entertainment.”
    *Entertainment*! TLC didn’t mean for anyone to take this guy *seriously*! (sheesh)
    – back to eating my blue corn chips, grapes, and chocolate pudding. I’m saving the chicken for dessert!

  3. PS – a link that might be interesting to those who read the comments section 😉 :

  4. I just wanted to write and compliment your postings. You write so eloquently and I enjoy reading your blog. Have a very Happy Easter. Thank you for sharing your corner of the world with all of us.

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