It’s unfortunate, but the weight-loss industry regularly takes advantage of its customers.
I don’t mean intentionally, of course–although I suspect that’s often the case–but rather through the proliferation of complete and utter nonsense. Bullshit, in other words. Instead of educating folks about the realities of long-term, sustainable weight-loss, they push temporary diets, programs, and downright dubious gimmicks. Sometimes they even sell harmful products.
Customers in this industry are in a difficult position. Weight management is often so stressful that otherwise intelligent and discerning folks become susceptible to quackery. They want something—anything—that will take care of the problem. So when Dr. Oz talks about raspberry ketones and green coffee bean extract, or Jillian Michaels puts her face on a bottle of “cleanse and burn” pills, they open up their wallets and take a leap of faith.
And that’s exactly what they’ve done, it seems, for JJ Smith.
I discovered her book last week on a table at Barnes and Noble, and it turns out that the dubious-sounding 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse is currently Amazon.com’s #18 book and, ironically, #2 in its nutrition category.
It follows a tried-and-true formula for professional quackery: take a handful of pseudo-scientific hocus-pocus, sprinkle in a pinch of scientific terminology, and voilà—you’ve got a product that, you hope, nobody will recognize as nonsense. This formula has worked wonders for folks like Food Babe and—on the religious side of the aisle—Deepak Chopra.
As for JJ Smith, she talks about toxins, detoxification, and leads you to believe that you struggle with weight loss because these toxins have accumulated in your fat cells. The solution? Drink a bunch smoothies.
I was about to put the book down and shake my head, but then I noticed something that made me angry. Something that was a step above the usual sort of dishonesty that we see in this industry. There was one line towards the end of the introduction:
By doing this, you will never have to worry about weight again.
Are you kidding me?
It’s bad enough to string together a hippy-dippy narrative about detoxification and green smoothies and sell it with a straight face, but to claim that it’s the end-all-be-all solution to weight-management? It’s difficult for even the best of solutions to promise that.
That’s when I decided to investigate JJ Smith and examine her qualifications.
What I found is rather troubling. It’s also a textbook example of why you should steer clear of the weight-loss industry.
JJ Smith refers to herself as a “nutritionist and certified weight-loss expert”.
When I hear that, however, I picture someone who works with clients and does counseling. Someone who actually works a full-time job as a nutritionist.
But that’s what a dietitian does—a title which requires specific education and training. Nutritionist is a largely self-appointed designation. According to the DC Metro Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
A nutritionist is a non-accredited title that may apply to somebody who has done a short course in nutrition or who has given themselves this title. The term Nutritionist is not protected by law in almost all countries so people with different levels of and knowledge can call themselves a “Nutritionist”.
Since the title ‘nutritionist’ has been used by many unqualified people to describe their involvement in food and nutrition related practice, you should be careful when choosing a qualified nutritional professional.
That made me wonder: what are JJ Smith’s qualifications?
I searched her website, but I found no history of employment as a nutritionist or a weight-loss expert. She’s a businesswoman with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and a management certificate, and she works at a consulting firm—where she serves as a vice president and partner.
She does have two relevant credentials, however:
- A “Weight-Management Specialist” certification from the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA). The website says it costs $127 and takes students 1-2 weeks to complete.
- A “nutritionist certification” from the International Institute for Holistic Healing–an organization that, as I discovered, was shut down in 2012 due to problems with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Selling bogus STD cures is frowned upon, apparently.
And that, it seems, is what it takes to go on television and promote yourself as an expert.
I wanted to know more about the International Institute for Holistic Healing, but I struggled to locate a website. Google returned the FDA warning letter, an entry on Ripoff Report, and a mention on QuackWatch.org’s list of questionable organizations. But the institute seemed to have disappeared.
Finally, I located a website with its logo at AdamsHolisticHealing.com—which is “temporarily undergoing major construction”. And I found information about the doctor who managed it: Aundrea Adams. But addresses didn’t check out, phone numbers were disconnected, and all I had was an email address that I suspected wouldn’t work either. I fired off an inquiry as a last-ditch effort—doubtful that I’d hear anything back.
But then I did.
“Unfortunately, due to problems with the FDA we shut down all operations in 2012.”
I see. Now that makes sense.
Don’t misunderstand me though: I don’t believe it’s necessary to be a dietitian or medical doctor before you tell people how to lose weight. I write about it, but I don’t overstep the bounds of what I can reasonably say.
If JJ Smith wants to talk about green smoothies and suggest that they’re a great way to consume more vegetables or help with the breaking of bad habits, that’s fine too.
But when you actively market yourself as a “nutritionist”, suggest that customers suffer from a buildup of “toxins”, and say that your program will enable them to “never have to worry about weight again”, then you better have some solid credentials. You better have something to back that up.
A certificate from a defunct and shady organization? An online course that takes less time and money than an actual textbook on the subject?
I’ll let you be the judge of that.
IT’S BULLSHIT, BUT THEY SELL IT ANYWAY
I’m no stranger to juice and smoothies.
When I was eighty-pounds overweight, I stumbled upon a film on Netflix called Fat Sick & Nearly Dead. It talked about processing produce through an appliance called a juicer and consuming only that—nothing else—for thirty to sixty days. The idea was that it would “heal” your body and jump-start your weight-loss.
Normally my bullshit detector would have told me to hold up and think this through, but I was desperate. I hated how I looked and felt, and I wanted to drop the weight now. I rushed out to the store, dropped $150 on a new juicer, and began what I thought was the first day of my new life.
And I did lose weight. That’s because practically all diets will lead to weight-loss if you follow them. Did you hear about the professor who ate only Twinkies and junk food at a caloric deficit? That’s right: Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, lost twenty-seven pounds in two months on a junk food diet.
But then what? Are you doing to drink juice forever? Are you going to keep eating Twinkies and Nutty Bars at a caloric deficit?
Of course you’re not. That’s why I’m not impressed when people like JJ Smith talk about their “success stories”.
Diets are a temporary solution to a semi-permanent problem. They take us out of our destructive lifestyles temporarily, and then we go back to doing whatever made us fat in the first place. The weight returns, and we hunt for another trick.
The curious thing is that JJ Smith actually does talk about this in the introduction to her book.
“The sad fact is that about 95 percent of people who lose weight on a diet gain it back in three to five years. You cannot lose weight permanently by strictly following any special diet, taking a weight-loss pill, or following an exercise regimen.”
But then she turns around and does exactly that: promotes a diet.
I am committed to drinking green smoothies every day and getting as many people as I can to drink them as well. Will you join me on this journey to heal the body, lose weight and increase energy levels? By doing this, you will never have to worry about weight again.
Of course she refers to it as a lifestyle, but that’s just semantics. It’s a damn diet.
But maybe she really does think it’s a lifestyle. After all, she seems convinced that smoothies are required to ward off these evil boogymen called toxins. As the introduction of her book states:
I believe the first step in losing weight is detoxification. Without detoxification, millions of people worldwide lose the fight to lose weight permanently.
Simply put, people often have difficulty losing weight because their bodies are full of poisons. The more toxins you take in or are exposed to every day, the more toxins you store in fat cells in your body. Toxins stored in fat cells are difficult to get rid of through dieting alone. You must first detoxify the body. Thus, the most effective weight-loss programs should focus on both fat loss and detoxification, which lead to overall improved heath and wellness.
That’s why she recommends drinking green smoothies every day. But there’s just one problem with this:
Sabrina Tavernise recently discussed this issue in The New York Times. As expected, she’s not impressed with those who peddle detoxification programs.
To say that drinking juice detoxifies the body isn’t quite the same as claiming leeches suck out poisons, but it’s fairly close.
She quotes a number of professionals, including Dr. James H. Grendell—chief of the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.—who had this to say:
…there is no good scientific evidence that a juice cleanse, or any other food for that matter, is particularly relevant to removing toxins.
Dr. Antoinette Saddler didn’t think much of it either. A gastroenterologist at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences, she was asked to read through blog posts about juicing and detoxification.
And then she got to the inevitable detox claim: Juicing “allows the body to have more of the resources it needs to support the phases of detoxification, and even to begin to help remove the cumulative toxins stored in the body.”
“What does that even mean?” she said. Exasperated, she stopped reading.
Of course anyone with access to Google and a few spare minutes can figure this out. It’s no secret.
As Melinda Beck wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
Consuming more vegetables is great, mainstream doctors and nutritionists agree. But they dismiss the detox claims as a confusing jumble of science, pseudoscience and hype. They argue that humans already have a highly efficient system for filtering out most harmful substances—the liver, kidneys and colon.
A blogger who refers to herself as the Science Babe—and, unlike JJ Smith, actually has a scientific background—had this to say:
These toxins that you’re allegedly flushing out of your system are rarely defined by the bullshit peddlers. Sometimes they’re defined as pesticides or heavy metals, but the actual symptoms of toxicity or poisoning from these substances? Nowhere near close to what a cleanse is designed to help. As hinted at earlier, generally a cleanse is designed to make both you and your wallet a little lighter.
That’s why I was even more disturbed when I discovered that JJ Smith has turned this nonsense into a shady certification program. That’s right: someone with bullshit credentials is now creating and selling her own.
It’s called the GSC Certified Leadership Training, and it’s only $297. Or if you’re tight on money, you can obtain it for “3 Easy Installments of $109”. No refunds, of course.
But as JJ Smith says, it’s a great way to “Invest In Yourself and Create a Super Successful Business.”
And let’s be honest: she does know something about that.
YOU DON’T NEED THIS NONSENSE
Even though I focus on JJ Smith, this is really a story about the weight-loss industry.
It’s perfectly fine to spend time with a legitimate professional who can help monitor and guide your weight-loss journey. That’s a wonderful idea, in fact. Especially if you’re dealing with a hundred pounds or more. Daniel Finney of the Des Moines Register, for example, is engaged in a positive, healthy effort to conquer his obesity struggle once and for all. And he’s enlisted the help of trained professionals.
But the programs, diets, life-hacks, and bullshit pills and workout regimens? The brightly-colored books with aggressive-looking fonts?
It’s totally unnecessary.
For myself and countless others, here’s what it finally took: the realization that the way we lived our lives was the problem.
I had an unhealthy relationship with food. I ate when I was bored, sad, and even happy—and I did so in excess. When I came home from work, I drank a bottle of hard liquor and ate delivery pizza while I played Call of Duty. I was sedentary and rarely exercised. During most meals, I consumed enough to become uncomfortably full. Acid reflux and food comas were a regular part of my life.
It wasn’t about how many carbs I ate, the fat content, or whether or not I drank green smoothies. Weight gain was a side-effect of the way I lived my life. I lived a lifestyle that made me fat; and when I changed that, the problem self-corrected.
As Dr. Yoni Freedhoff has written, “weight loss is about embracing your personal best”. It’s not about deprivation, tips and tricks, or eliminating entire food groups from your diet.
What about people who don’t struggle with weight gain? Is it because they drink green smoothies every day? Of course not! They simply live their lives in a way that doesn’t put them at risk of gaining weight.
“Success is about consistency, embracing imperfection, and being proud of your best,” writes Dr. Freedhoff, “where your best is the healthiest life that you can enjoy living, not the healthiest life that you can tolerate.”
But I get it. I’ve been there, and it’s not easy. It takes an vigilant effort to live a healthy life, and we have to be both willing and able to educate ourselves. The average person in this country is either overweight or obese; the “default” method of food consumption simply won’t cut it. And the food industry? It’s not going to help us.
In fact, the food industry often works against our interests.
Did Ronald McDonald ever visit your elementary school? Did you have toys that were branded with Coca-Cola’s logo? Have you ever wondered why you can purchase a hamburger for $1, but fresh produce can be multiple times as much?
But that’s not to say that healthy living is impossible. It’s like anything else in life: the deck may be stacked, but you can still win the game.
If you want to start living a healthier life, then heed the words of the philosopher Wittgenstein:
The way to solve the problem you see in life is to live in a way that will make what is problematic disappear.
And if you need help, there are folks who can be trusted.
People like Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, for example. His YouTube series about diet myths is absolutely spot-on. Or if you want nutritional advice, then look to actual nutrition experts—like the folks at Harvard’s School of Public Health.
And there’s a number of people who—although they fall into specific diet camps, like veganism—nonetheless offer advice that can lead to positive changes in your health. One of my favorite simple and healthy recipes, for example, comes from the endurance athlete and vegan author, Rich Roll.
If you want to maintain a food journal and track what you eat—in order to make informed decisions—the folks at MyFitnessPal have created a fantastic app. It was the single most effective tool in my weight-loss journey. Like a budget does with finances, it helped me clean up my act.
But here’s the deal: these folks empower you to take control of your life and then step out of the way–removing themselves from the equation. That’s because it’s ultimately about you. A good teacher will show you the path, but you have to walk it.
Folks like JJ Smith and other quacks from the weight-loss industry? What they sell is dependency. It’s not about you; it’s about them. They’re like gurus, and gurus have a funny way of making themselves necessary. Maybe that’s what JJ Smith means when she describes her Green Smoothie Cleanse as a lifestyle. Maybe that’s why she “certifies” people to spread the message.
It’s also why the weight-loss industry is not your friend.
You’ll get slimmer, for sure. But probably in your bank account.
What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know. And if you want to help spread the word about quackery in the weight-loss industry, feel free to share this with someone on social media.