Slim Chance Awards and the joys of skepticism.

So, while I’m still on hiatus (I know, it’s the most internet-ey internet hiatus in modern history), I’ve found myself thinking a lot about what I’ve come to call “diet apocrypha.” Apocrypha includes scammy fad diets, folk remedies, superstitious beliefs about food/eating, old wives’ tales, and that mysterious “American Heart Association Diet” that was faxed to your office from god-knows-where.

In that vein, every year Frances M. Berg (a licensed nutritionist and author from North Dakota who founded the Healthy Weight Journal and wrote books like Women Afraid to Eat, which was one of the first HAES books I ever read and has an incredible list of peer-reviewed references for each chapter) publishes the Slim Chance Awards, which are sort of like the Razzies for terrible diet products.

Cited for “Worst Gimmick” in the Slim Chance Awards is one of my favourite (and by “favourite,” I mean “so ridiculous that I can’t help but laugh”) desperate late-night informercial products:

Worst Gimmick: Kinoki Foot Pads. FTC is suing the marketers of Kinoki Foot Pads with deceptive advertising for their claims that applying the pads to the soles of feet at night will remove heavy metals, metabolic wastes, toxins, parasites, chemicals and cellulite from people‚Äôs bodies. The ads also claim that the foot pads can treat depression, fatigue, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. All this is based on the quack theory of reflexology, which holds that specific areas of the feet affect specifid organs and glands. Since the foot pads darken, this is claimed as evidence that toxins are being drawn out of the body, but investigators show the darkening is caused by moisture and has nothing to do with “toxins.”

I may as well out myself here as a skeptic. My education is science-based. I believe in the scientific method. And while I’d never discount the joys of the placebo effect, or of fun things that you do purely for entertainment or to gain some kind of spiritual/psychological/symbolic satisfaction, I do have a problem with placebos being marketed as actual cures. Or making claims that are patently false and easily disproved.

Two of my favourite skepty (yeah I just made that word up) blogs are Bad Science and Skepchick.

Tangentially, some people have wondered why, if this is the case, I choose to call myself a “nutritionist,” since that term has such scammy undertones, especially in the U.K. (Just to toot my own horn a little — I actually wrote a pretty scathing piece on Gillian McKeith back in March 2006, before I discovered Ben Goldacre and fell in love. I’ll dig it out of the archives one of these days.)

The short answer for now is: I’m reclaiming the word for people who, you know, actually understand science but who may not be Registered Dietitians (and, yes, there are respectable nutrition practitioners out there who aren’t RDs.) The long answer will come in its own post, later, along with more on Diet Apocrypha.

For now, just enjoy the humourous side of skepticism.

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