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The Emperor’s New Clothes…

January 27, 2011

It is amazing how fables and fairy tales can sometimes capture a part of the human condition that persists through time.  Sure, sometimes they are just stories about donkeys, but sometimes they are so much more.  I was reminded of this recently when I received this response to my open letter to Jillian Michaels:

  1. Dude,
    You are doctor of ? You have a PHD in what? In other words, why are you doing this? For attention?

    just my two cents

This rubbed me the wrong way.  I actually have tremendous respect for doctors, and when it comes to matters of health, I will defer to their considerable expertise.  But in the world of weight loss, there is so much noise it is nearly impossible to hear what experts are actually saying.  The problem is that there is money to be made by questionable weight loss claims and when that happens, the chance for a fair and balanced discourse regarding the merits of these claims becomes impossible and is drowned out by retailers, marketers, affiliates and profiteers.

Of course, these profiteers, in this specific case above, Jillian Michaels, are just as happy to hide behind their fans and have them make their defense. I find it quite laughable that Jillian Michaels,  ‘America’s Toughest Trainer’ hasn’t responded to any of the questions and allegations that were made regarding her products, her role in developing them and the role of Basic Research. If you aren’t willing to publicly respond to reasonably researched issues about something you sell, then that is probably a pretty good time to stop selling it.

In reality there is no evidence to suggest that a cleanse has any positive effect on long term weight loss.  None.  Hell, no one has even defined what a cleanse is.  For some people the definition of a cleanse is an enema, for others it is laxatives and for others, it is ‘herbs to support liver function’.  Who is right?

According to Wikipedia:

Body cleansing and detoxification have been referred to as an elaborate hoax used by con artists to cure nonexistent illnesses. Most doctors contend that the ‘toxins’ in question do not even exist.[1][15][16] In response, alternative medicine proponents frequently cite heavy metals or pesticides as the source of toxification; however, no evidence exists that detoxification approaches have a measurable effect on these or any other chemical levels. Medical experts state that body cleansing is unnecessary as the human body is naturally capable of maintaining itself, with several organs dedicated to cleansing the blood and gut.[17] Professor Alan Boobis OBE, Toxicologist, Division of Medicine, Imperial College London states that “The body’s own detoxification systems are remarkably sophisticated and versatile. They have to be, as the natural environment that we evolved in is hostile. It is remarkable that people are prepared to risk seriously disrupting these systems with unproven ‘detox’ diets, which could well do more harm than good.”[13]

I certainly am skeptical when I see someone without credentials speaking on an issue, and you should be too.  Look for the research, look for them bringing the information to you so you can make up your own mind.  If this is what is happening, then really, there is no advantage in deferring to an expert, unless you need help in confirming the facts.

An unfortunate fact about experts is that so often they have a product in the marketplace or espouse a particular theory that they have made a career out of.  As the list of the Dirty Dozen of 2010 showed in disturbing consistency, money is a tremendous motivator.   When these experts are selling a product, it is important to stop seeing them as experts.  They actually no longer have the ability to testify as experts in the field that they are selling the product.  This is because their motivation can no longer be trusted.

In any case, it really is important that you start seeing yourself as the master in the control of your health.  Find people you trust and continue to question them and ask for evidence on their opinions.  Seek out actual research and studies supporting claims, and never,ever feel that you are unworthy to question what you are hearing or seeing.  If you need to, from time to time, you can always reacquaint yourself with the tale below:

Once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes. He changed clothes almost every hour and loved to show them off to his people.

Word of the Emperor’s refined habits spread over his kingdom and beyond. Two scoundrels who had heard of the Emperor’s vanity decided to take advantage of it. They introduced themselves at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind.

“We are two very good tailors and after many years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. As a matter of fact it is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality.”

The chief of the guards heard the scoundrel’s strange story and sent for the court chamberlain. The chamberlain notified the prime minister, who ran to the Emperor and disclosed the incredible news. The Emperor’s curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see the two scoundrels.

“Besides being invisible, your Highness, this cloth will be woven in colors and patterns created especially for you.” The emperor gave the two men a bag of gold coins in exchange for their promise to begin working on the fabric immediately.

“Just tell us what you need to get started and we’ll give it to you.” The two scoundrels asked for a loom, silk, gold thread and then pretended to begin working. The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary suit, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent. A few days later, he called the old and wise prime minister, who was considered by everyone as a man with common sense.

“Go and see how the work is proceeding,” the Emperor told him, “and come back to let me know.”

The prime minister was welcomed by the two scoundrels.

“We’re almost finished, but we need a lot more gold thread. Here, Excellency! Admire the colors, feel the softness!” The old man bent over the loom and tried to see the fabric that was not there. He felt cold sweat on his forehead.

“I can’t see anything,” he thought. “If I see nothing, that means I’m stupid! Or, worse, incompetent!” If the prime minister admitted that he didn’t see anything, he would be discharged from his office.

“What a marvelous fabric, he said then. “I’ll certainly tell the Emperor.” The two scoundrels rubbed their hands gleefully. They had almost made it. More thread was requested to finish the work.

Finally, the Emperor received the announcement that the two tailors had come to take all the measurements needed to sew his new suit.

“Come in,” the Emperor ordered. Even as they bowed, the two scoundrels pretended to be holding large roll of fabric.

“Here it is your Highness, the result of our labour,” the scoundrels said. “We have worked night and day but, at last, the most beautiful fabric in the world is ready for you. Look at the colors and feel how fine it is.” Of course the Emperor did not see any colors and could not feel any cloth between his fingers. He panicked and felt like fainting. But luckily the throne was right behind him and he sat down. But when he realized that no one could know that he did not see the fabric, he felt better. Nobody could find out he was stupid and incompetent. And the Emperor didn’t know that everybody else around him thought and did the very same thing.

The farce continued as the two scoundrels had foreseen it. Once they had taken the measurements, the two began cutting the air with scissors while sewing with their needles an invisible cloth.

“Your Highness, you’ll have to take off your clothes to try on your new ones.” The two scoundrels draped the new clothes on him and then held up a mirror. The Emperor was embarrassed but since none of his bystanders were, he felt relieved.

“Yes, this is a beautiful suit and it looks very good on me,” the Emperor said trying to look comfortable. “You’ve done a fine job.”

“Your Majesty,” the prime minister said, “we have a request for you. The people have found out about this extraordinary fabric and they are anxious to see you in your new suit.” The Emperor was doubtful showing himself naked to the people, but then he abandoned his fears. After all, no one would know about it except the ignorant and the incompetent.

“All right,” he said. “I will grant the people this privilege.” He summoned his carriage and the ceremonial parade was formed. A group of dignitaries walked at the very front of the procession and anxiously scrutinized the faces of the people in the street. All the people had gathered in the main square, pushing and shoving to get a better look. An applause welcomed the regal procession. Everyone wanted to know how stupid or incompetent his or her neighbor was but, as the Emperor passed, a strange murmur rose from the crowd.

Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: “Look at the Emperor’s new clothes. They’re beautiful!”

“What a marvellous train!”

“And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life!” They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the two scoundrels had predicted.

A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.

“The Emperor is naked,” he said.

“Fool!” his father reprimanded, running after him. “Don’t talk nonsense!” He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy’s remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:

“The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It’s true!”

The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He though it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn’t see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent. And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.

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