Gillian McKeith – Guru or Fraud?

By Ali Luke
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Gillian McKeith is probably the best-known “nutritionist” in the UK. She has a popular TV show, “You Are What You Eat”, along with a magazine and associated product range.

She’s very popular – but she’s also come in for a lot of criticism, mostly about her use of the title “doctor”, and some of her scientific claims. Should you be taking advice from this woman?

The TV show

If you’re not familiar with McKeith’s methods and dietary philosophy, here’s a brief summary of her TV show (quote taken from The vegetable monologues in The Observer)

Even by the uniquely peculiar standards of TV makeover shows, it makes for extraordinary viewing. McKeith … travels the land in search of fatties and, once inside their homes, plays a kind of nutritional David to their Goliaths, wildly berating them for their grotesque diets. Having raided their fridges and examined their stools (she is, she cheerfully admits, obsessed by ‘poo – even as a child, I would always look’), she then sticks them on one of her regimes, which tend not to involve the kind of foodstuffs you can pick up down at Budgens: quinoa, seaweed, miso, millet and lots of aduki beans.

I remember watching one of the very early episodes (possibly the first one) of this show years ago. I found it uncomfortable viewing. McKeith’s style is aggressive and dictatorial, and she came across as unkind and severe. The dietary regime she advocates is, to my mind, overly faddish. Yes, most of her victims could do with eating more fruit and vegetables, more wholegrains, and less junk – but those changes alone would be enough for great results.

Here’s a quote, from an article in the Daily Mail, from one of the participants on You Are What You Eat:

I expected Gillian McKeith to give me sound advice and work out a healthy diet I could actually follow. I like things like porridge, wholemeal bread, poached eggs and vegetables, so it shouldn’t have been too difficult.

As it was, she demoralised me totally. She said my diet was like a spread at a children’s party and slapped a five-year-old’s birthday badge on me.

Then she gave me a balloon – which I held like a muggins – put two drinking straws underneath it and said: “That’s what you look like!” I ended up in tears.

Then she gave me a completely unrealistic eating plan which involved very little meat or fish and lots of food that disagreed with my system like avocado – which makes me sick – and cucumber.

I had to boil mung beans all day long, which took hours, made the flat smell horrible and tasted more like the gravel at the bottom of a fish tank than food.

Given that being obese may be a symptom of underlying psychological problems – such as low self esteem, anxiety, even clinical depression – McKeith’s style seems ill-advised and counter-productive at best, and quite possibly very harmful and damaging to vulnerable people.

Is Gillian McKeith a “Doctor”?

A lot of the controversy surrounding McKeith has been about her use of the title “Doctor”. She is not a medical doctor, though initially many viewers of her program were under the impression that she was. She has a PhD, but this was gained by a distance learning program from the American College of Holistic Nutrition (now the Clayton College of Natural Health), a non-accredited college – which means that in some states, a holder of a degree from there would not be able to practice as a clinical nutritionist.

In 2007, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) investigated McKeith’s use of the title “Doctor” on her products – and she agreed to drop it (see ASA site for details – select “Informally Resolved Complaints”.)

What about her science?

In 2006, McKeith was forced to remove two “Fast Formula” products, which promised to enhance sexual intercourse, from the market – you can read the press release here. The MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) found that she was “advertising and selling goods without legal authorisation whilst making medicinal claims about their efficacy.”

Ben Goldacre (a Cambridge University educated doctor who debunks Bad Science claims) wrote in The Guardian that:

McKeith is a menace to the public understanding of science. She seems to misunderstand not nuances, but the most basic aspects of biology – things that a 14-year-old could put her straight on.

and

I don’t care what kind of squabbles McKeith wants to engage in over the technicalities of whether a non-accredited correspondence-course PhD from the US entitles you, by the strictest letter of the law, to call yourself “doctor”: to me, nobody can be said to have a meaningful qualification in any biology-related subject if they make the same kind of basic mistakes made by McKeith.

McKeith’s claims might sound good, but read What’s wrong with Gillian McKeith: Goldacre goes into considerable detail about the nonsense claims she makes (such as claiming that DNA is only present in growing cells).

Although some of the advice McKeith gives is good, a lot of it is scientifically inaccurate. For realistic healthy eating advice, check out:

40 Comments

  1. Alina

    I think you have a problem with accepting the truth,you are just not ready for it. she is an excellent nutritionist , i totally agree with her in every single word she says.
    I thing that what bothers you is not DR. Gillian McKeith, but your consciousness. ( becouse deep inside you know she says everything right , but you are too weak to fulfill her advices and say” no”to your addiction for poisoned food).

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  2. Isabelle

    ‘Given that being obese may be a symptom of underlying psychological problems – such as low self esteem, anxiety, even clinical depression ‘.
    Wow ! I am obese and I am currently on her diet. I lost 25 pounds in 6 weeks. I am not hungry and what Gillian says is just good sense: for example when she says that we must drink water, stop Cola and even coffee, and so on. Her diet is very easy to follow. It’s the first time that I follow a diet without counting my calories. Her diet includes food forbiden in other diets; for example, bananas. I have NO psychological problem, I am not depressed, I am a very fun-loving and determined person. However, obesity is dangerous and yes, obese persons need to hear the truth. People must be mature enough to accept to change. Don’t enroll to her tv show if you don’t want to change. Cooking all day ? Come on ! You can pre-cook on the morning and keep your meals in the fridge. It’s like when people in the show drink her vegetables juice: it’s just vegetables, it can’t be that awful.
    Anyway, English is not my native language so sorry for my mistakes.
    Best regards

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  3. Anonymous - they sue!

    McKeith is a fraud, always has been, and she hides behind her aggressive Lawyer husband. How anyone can imagine that leafy greens generate oxygen in your gut because they contain chlorophyll is beyond me and I only did ‘O’ level science!

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  4. Burke

    This is just a misunderstanding. The real problem is that Gillian’s show should be called “You are what you sh!t” instead of what you eat and there, problem solved.

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  5. rockypower

    I watch the show and read the Jon Gabriel book at the same time. Both teach me different things.

    McKeith teaches me the nastiness of take aways, processed food and the like. I don’t follow any of her diets. What I follow is I’m aware what goes inside of me, she scares me about junk food and I keep an eye that my toileting is consistent.

    Mix that in with Gabriel where he attempts to reach into your mind that live food, fish and omega3 is the way to go. He doesn’t get you into the extremes of McKeith of achieving big success in 8wks, but building to life long success.

    Gabriel says he isn’t a diet, but he is, however in a different style of format. He’s about making slow adjustments to your lifestyle and mindset and get you into a mentality and not a force of eating.

    With the help of McKeith and Gabriel I’m now eating the right foods and I’m NOT watching my calories, carbs or even what I eat. I know what I’m eating and I’m nouroushing my body all I can.

    All other diets contain plans, points, etc. McKeith and Gabriel don’t do that. McKeith puts nasty fears into me. Gabriel allows me to be natural and both have allowed my natural lifestyle of eating go from pizza, kebabs, mcdonalds, chocolates, cakes, milkshakes, soft drinks, processed meat and hot chips to fruit, fruit, fruit, fresh veges, occasional frozen veges, fish from the seafood butcher and loads of water.

    McKeith might be a fraud, but she inspires me to do away with the bad foods that made me lethargic, depressed and over weight. She does me every day of the week.

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  6. susiq

    You’re just allowing your mind to be made up for you by this article. I’ve been watching the show for a long time and I’ve never heard her trying to sell her products on the show. And using scare tactics? Come on, now. Telling someone the truth is not a scare tactic. Its a proven fact that if you are overweight you are at increased risk for many illnesses, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

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  7. esadria

    Yeah, its really sad that there’s someone on tv telling people to stop eating junk food. Encouraging people to eat fruits and veg is one of the saddest situations around. All those poor vulnerable viewers are going to stop eating crisps and fried foods. It’s just so sad.

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  8. esadria

    So you advocate eating less fruits and vegetables, then?

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  9. Amy

    There’s too much Gillian-bashing, here. Her degree is from an alternative school, so it carries alternative support. Her methods get results. I absolutely adore her and her show. I’ve dropped 1.5 stone in the two weeks since I’ve taken her advice and laid off of the junk food, loaded up on the fresh-veg. She’s brilliant and deserves respect for the difference that she’s making in the lives of indifferent cry-babies. Quit complaining and get to work!

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  10. ska

    Gillian Mckeith has no real credibility, and in my opinion has no right to present a tv show, sell a range of products, books, dvds about how to live a healthy lifestyle.

    It’s sad that this type of reality tv show exists because it preys on the vulnerability of viewers who seek health advice, who are completely ignorant to the fact that some of her advice is inaccurate (and her academic credentials far from they appear).

    Evidence of fraud can surely be seen from the article above, regarding the fast formula products.

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  11. B in the US

    I love her show, it’s entertaining, and I also learned a few good habits. So there’s an example of lady that said Gillian said she looked like the balloon, BUT in the end what did she look like??? how did she feel?? did she improve, this article cuts that off.

    I do not like articles that paint a horrible picture, and avoid the positive parts. Oprah is not a dr but she’s helped people. A lot of people lose weight or work out like crazy and we seek them for a healthy alternative. so what if she’s not a dr, are the food substitutes of fruits, veggies and working out she recommended bad??

    the jury isnt out on the whole colon cleanse thing. but i like the show. and ive read her 11week free meal plan that seems great. But I do not know her other endorsements.

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  12. Shane L.

    Maybe she is a fraud, but isn’t everything in our media a subtle form of fraud. At least Mckeith’s message is one about healthy living. I know this sounds cliche, but if you don’t agree with her don’t listen to her you bunch of whiners.

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  13. Melissa Homan

    The thing that makes me crazy is that those people are only a little fatter than I am (I am 240 and 5’6″ – about twice what I should weigh. This is roughly 17.7 stone. Most of the women are 18-20 stone.) and I would never dream of eating like that. In fact, I already eat a diet very similar to what McKeith advocates, though with a bit more meat than she would like to see, and I don’t lose weight. To me,the thing about the show is that these folks don’t seem to realize how truly dreadful their diet is and McKeith’s style is a needed (if brutal) wake-up call. Yes, she is unpleasant at first but she DOES celebrate the success of every person she works with and it is not a one shot deal for her. (There is usually at least one follow up visit to tweak some aspect of the program.) I would like to see what she (or any other diet guru) could do with someone like me who eats healthy, exercises regularly, and still can’t lose weight. (BTW, Science hasn’t helped me yet. Maybe something non-scientific will. I get nowhere with my doctors. They mostly say it is probably genetic. This is no help whatsoever!)

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  14. Ann

    Regardless of what kind of accreditations she has or not, she continues to have results, and that’s what counts. She shows people what unhealthy crap they stuff into their bodies, then gets them to eat better and exercise. To me, all the negativity looks a lot like jealousy, considering all those people bashing her do NOT have their own TV show while she does…

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  15. vickie k.

    I was surprised finding out she has such drama going on around her. I stumbled upon her channel surfing last month and have been hooked ever since. Checking her out on Wikipedia is how I found out about the fraud accusations and ruffled feathers. According to Wiki:
    “McKeith obtained a degree in linguistics from the University of Edinburgh in 1981.” And, as mentioned here, did receive a degree from “American College of Holistic Nutrition (now the Clayton College of Natural Health), a non-accredited college.” I do think, however, she’s performing a needed service overall. Dr. Dean Edell is an ophthalmologist, Dr. Laura Schlessinger has a PHD in physiology, and a lapsed MFCC license. Yet, these two misrepresent themselves continuously to the public.
    I don’t agree with everything McKeith advocates, or, her berating her subjects for their bad eating habits (she rarely delves into the psychological reasons for overeating.) But, she’s spot on about how awful most of the food we is for us.

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  16. Karen

    I’ve learned quite a bit from her show, especially about what foods to add to my diet to improve my vitimin defictioncies (not my spelling!). I’ve been wanting to obtain some of the recipies – would you reccomend buying her books, and if so, which one(s)?

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  17. Jeanie

    I like the UK’s “bitchy people” shows. The cry babies that say that “Dr.” Gillian was mean to them act as if they have never seen her show before and had no idea that she was going to say the kinds of mean things that she says! If people are too sensitive for this kind of criticism (and I am one of them) then they shouldn’t be participants.

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  18. Willa

    I love this lady, she just tells it like it is and helps some people.
    It is ironic to see the bitchy comments about her…I wonder who is bitching here, really!

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  19. Alec

    She agreed to remove the “Dr” under pressure from the UK advertising watchdog who felt it was misleading.

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  20. Kym

    I agree with you! I thought the British would have to ride on the stereotype of being proper and tea-drinkers, but no

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  21. mia

    You’re right. I always thought it was ironic that should would talk at length about the benefits of healthy eating when she herself looked quite run-down and tired. She’s not the best advertisement for clean living.

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  22. mia

    I feel the message she has is one that in valuable and important but it is over-shadowed by her terrible persona and the execution of the show. As she’s on a TV show, that means that everything will be sensationalised and over-hyped by default in order to get viewers to watch.

    Regardless, I think she’s partially responsible for a lot of new healthy foods being widely available (her show first appeared before a lot of other healthy living ones, imo), which is fantastic. I couldn’t get quinoa or aduki beans at most stores I went into but now I can. She (along with a few others) made the public more aware of certain foods, thus creating demand, and that’s commendable.

    However, the image she presents of healthy eating and living on her show is not one that many people will warm to. I do not like it. She makes eating clean seem exceptionally boring and like hard-work. She gives off the idea that those who eat clean eat bland food and are boring. As someone who eats clean, my meals are never boring and I can make something in under 15 mins if need be. I’m a student, so I don’t have endless time or funds yet I’ve not had any problems making good meals.

    Personally, I prefer the show Diet Doctors: In and Out – which aims to create a realistic healthy lifestyle for people who are unhealthy. That show has balance whereas Gillian’s does not.

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  23. john

    I noticed in her new book Food Bible she is not referred to by Dr. at all.

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  24. Rebecca Scritchfield

    She’s not a nutrition expert. She hosts a reality show with the gimmick of radical change. The “entertainment” is watching people struggle with the changes.

    Despite all this, I have to say there are elements of value. Changes that work are “what works for you” — and some people thrive on the idea of cold turkey radical change. I also think the testimonials after the results of people saying “I have more energy, better sex life, and I can’t believe I had such unrealistic behaviors before — I won’t go back.”

    I feel you can really see change in most of the show guests — and that can be inspiring — like The Biggest Loser.

    Lose the insults, keep the reality-check, and replace Gillian with a registered dietitian and exercise expert and you got yourself a good show.

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  25. chefgrrl

    “Although some of the advice McKeith gives is good, a lot of it is scientifically inaccurate.”

    How can you make such a statement in your article? Reread this please! What you have written is just plain silly.

    Have you actually read her work? It’s the product of either a deranged person or a fraud. Either way it is not in any way scientific and the advice she gives is in no way “good.”

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  26. chefgrrl

    She is not a doctor and is a fraud.

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  27. personal trainer

    Gillian McKeith’s own state of health is questionable. She looks very unwell and underfed, which makes taking her nutritional advice very hard to swallow.

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  28. Tara

    Well,oddly enough, the show taught me a lot about poo. For example, I did not know that having small or non-descript stools is a sign that your body is storing a lot of what you ate as body fat rather than getting rid of it. In other words, it’s good to have a number 2 frequently and in large sizes 😀

    So now, I get worried whenever I get constipated, so I eat lots of fruit and veg. It’s my body’s way of telling me to be healthier, whereas before I’d see it as something unrelated.

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  29. Mike H.

    I agree! I think the biggest loser is atrocious and completely unrealistic for the general population. I hope you didn’t take my comments as a jab towards the UK as I believe this kind of thing is universal.

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  30. anya

    What about the US’s Biggest Loser? Voyeuristically taking pleasure in peoples weaknesses and training them until they vomit doesn’t sound a hell of a lot better than Mckeith (who is hideous).

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  31. Spectra

    I’ve never seen “You Are What You Eat”, but I have seen enough British reality shows to know that they definitely do not hold back when they criticize the people on the shows. Not that most US reality hosts are any better, but it just seems like the Brits come across as being WAY more direct.

    That being said, I don’t think berating people for their diets is necessarily a good strategy. Shouldn’t we be encouraging people to eat better and make realistic changes instead of dumping all their Oreos and beer and giving them mung beans? I have a feeling that some of the people on that show go down to the nearest pub afterwards and order fish and chips just to spite this woman.

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  32. Mike H.

    I was thinking the same thing about the “b*tchy” format that seems to originate in the UK (but to be sure is not exclusive to them). I’ve never seen any of the shows you mention but I remember watching this fashion show (my wife was watching it, honest) where the two ladies literally went up to people and berrating them for what they were wearing, in some cases ripping the clothes right off them. I guess this kind of shock value gets ratings. It was a US show, but I think it originated in the UK.

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  33. Mike H.

    I don’t know who the lady is but I would have to put her in the “fraud” category for the simple fact that she misrepresents herself as a doctor. A PhD from an unaccredited school does not count…ever.

    As for shaming and/or embarrassing people, this is no way to get people to change. Unfortunately, this is one way that “gurus” tend to get attention.

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  34. Supplements

    I guess it is great she is trying to help people, but on the flip side it doesn’t seem like she is going about it the right way.

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  35. Never teh Bride

    Gah, if shaming people promoted weight loss, no one would be overweight. When are people going to learn that being nasty to people who are trying to change doesn’t inspire them?

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  36. Sarah

    I love this show! I think that it’s good and it never occurred to me there would be bad press about it. Yes, maybe it’s a bit extreme but so is survivor. I find it to be educational and her advice to be accurate. I want to read her book. her mantra, “A healthy poo is a healthy you,” is always stuck in my mind.

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  37. cereal

    She’s a fraud no doubt about it, she uses scare tactics to get you to buy her products, and has no respect for science. This woman seems to be the British version of Kevin Trudeau.

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  38. Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later

    Jarrett – to some extent you are right about we Brits. We love bashing each other – but not before we’ve built them up first. The press exemplify this behaviour, as does the egregious array of voyeuristic TV shows. Not that we have the monopoly on ghastly TV – you’ve a pretty awful selection of reality TV garbage over in the US.

    In any case, McKeith has only one thing going for her – she’s not afraid to tell people they should not be eating crap and she recognises the importance of fresh fruit and vegetables. But any idiot can tell you that, so that leaves is with the fact that she doesn’t mind upsetting people. Not a huge selling point in my book.

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  39. Jarrett

    What is up with the UK and their “Bitchy People” shows? They started the Simon Cowell thing. They’ve also got the restaurant thing (Gordon Ramsey), the inventor thing, the dancing thing, I saw something on Animal Planet about a new dog thing, and don’t forget the myriad nanny things. It’s an exhausting list of Bitchy, really.

    I mean, do they just not get enough sunlight in the UK or what?

    Anyway, while a lot of the above may be funny to watch, I think being absolutely evil to people about their diets is a bad idea. Food is so much a part of us (literally), that tearing it down seems just awful. I don’t think it fits into a 30-minute spot filmed over the course of a week.

    “Ha, ha! Look at the fatty with nothing but potato chips and Oreos in their cupboards and not a single green thing in their veggie crisper!” That just doesn’t work for me.

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  40. Mark

    I dare say what is written here is relevant but she does seem to get results, I wouldn’t be surprised if this rattled her lawyers cages though.

    Someone wrote a song with a flash movie about poo and it didn’t go down well at all with her legal people they had to cut parts of it out because it had her name mentioned it.

    I learnt a bit about food by watching that program and do eat some of the things that she recommended like sweeet potatoes. So for me there has been some use from it.

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