Who the heck is ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith?

I’ve never heard of her before—I guess you have to be familiar with the routine quackery of the health food store to know of her—but she certainly sounds like a real piece of work. The Guardian has an entertaining exposé of her claims and her tactics. She’s one of those people who makes extravagant claims for dietary supplements that she sells, backing them up with loads of pretentious and utterly bogus pseudoscientific gobbledygook.

She says DNA is an anti-ageing constituent: if you “do not have enough RNA/DNA”, in fact, you “may ultimately age prematurely”. Stress can deplete your DNA, but algae will increase it: and she reckons it’s only present in growing cells. Is my semen growing? Is a virus growing? Is chicken liver pate growing? All of these contain plenty of DNA. She says that “each sprouting seed is packed with the nutritional energy needed to create a full-grown, healthy plant”. Does a banana plant have the same amount of calories as a banana seed? The ridiculousness is endless.

One thing that prompts this particular article that McKeith has recently been ordered to stop referring to herself as “Dr” in her ads, since she apparently is one of these mail-order phonies, like “Dr” Kent Hovind. That doesn’t stop her from continually faking an air of authority, though.

And the scholarliness of her work is a thing to behold: she produces lengthy documents that have an air of “referenciness”, with nice little superscript numbers, which talk about trials, and studies, and research, and papers … but when you follow the numbers, and check the references, it’s shocking how often they aren’t what she claimed them to be in the main body of the text. Or they refer to funny little magazines and books, such as Delicious, Creative Living, Healthy Eating, and my favourite, Spiritual Nutrition and the Rainbow Diet, rather than proper academic journals.

She’s a complete quack, but what isn’t funny is that she tries to defend herself with legal intimidation.

But those who criticise McKeith have reason to worry. McKeith goes after people, and nastily. She has a libel case against the Sun over comments they made in 2004 that has still not seen much movement. But the Sun is a large, wealthy institution, and it can protect itself with a large and well-remunerated legal team. Others can’t. A charming but – forgive me – obscure blogger called PhDiva made some relatively innocent comments about nutritionists, mentioning McKeith, and received a letter threatening costly legal action from Atkins Solicitors, “the reputation and brand-management specialists”. Google received a threatening legal letter simply for linking to – forgive me – a fairly obscure webpage on McKeith.

Ben Goldacre, the author of this piece, seems to have a history of ripping up this McKeith fraud, and he also has a wonderfully entertaining website with a fine collection of Gillian McKeith articles, so I guess I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Truth is a pretty solid defense.


  1. Peter McGrath says

    She is a TV dietician, parachuted into lardy people’s houses to sort out diets for the entertainment of the masses. One of her stunts is to examine thier excrement: we are treated to footage of the colonic irrigation – Richards flowing along transparent pipe and all – then she delivers a sage diagnosis on the basis of pooh divination. Shit in, shit, I’d say. Well you are treated to it if you watch the bilge. I would rather stick hot dinner forks in my thighs.

  2. Tom Rees says

    I used to watch her programmes regularly – before they became too tedious. It’s not as bad as it sounds – for the most part she recommends proven stuff like cutting out all the cakes and stuff, and eating more fruit and veg. But like a lot of showbiz nutritionists she does tend to go off the rails with bizarre and misleading prescriptions to treat specific ailments. Typically, she’ll do a blood test and declare that the ‘patient’ is short of something or other (hardly surprising given that the individuals concerned are walking nutritional disaster areas), and then prescribe some bizarre south american nut, or whatever. One enormously obese guy started wheezing after she made him walk fast, which she identified as being caused by the high milk content in his diet…

    The basic problem is that nutritional truth is boring – you’ll never make a series out of it that people would want to watch. So the easy thing to do is to spice it up a bit with miraculous pseudoscience. It makes for good telly that people do watch, and given that the only detail they’ll likely remember is the general thrust (eat more fruit and veg, less processed food), then perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Although when I watch it I do wonder if the sheer complexity of good nutrition according to McKeith will put people off the whole thing!

    Having said that, the BBC is currently running an excellent series The Truth About Food, which is science based (at least as far as I can tell. Don’t know if it’s getting the ratings tho.

  3. Apikoros says


    – Richards flowing along transparent pipe and all –

    Oh PLEASE don’t tell me that’s a common british term for turds! It’s bad enough, what people have done to the diminutive form of my given name!! Why can’t people leave me alone, and ruin the good name of folks called John, or Peter, or Roger…

    Never mind.

  4. Dylan Llyr says

    Heh, I always wondered when you’d notice her. She is possibly the person I hate the most. I think Ben Goldacre refers to her as “the horrible poo lady” due to her obsession with shit as noted above. Very apt.

    She’s just a horrible horrible person. Ugh. If all she said was “eat healthily” then that’d be fine. If she left it at “eat your greens” it wouldn’t be so bad (and I guess it wouldn’t make much of a tv show). But she waffles on bizzarely about the side-effects of eating particular combination of foods, for example. And the infamous chlorophyll gaffe in which she said we should eat more of it in order to “oxygenate our blood”. Unless our stomachs have their own personal suns, or we stick flashlights up our bums, that’s obvious nonsense. Any eleven year old child could tell her that.

    So yes complete and utter fraud who I detest with greater passion than is reasonable. Goldacre’s managed to get his dead cat the same qualification as the one she claims gives her the right to call herself doctor. I just don’t get why she gets so much coverage though. There are so many sensible dieticians; why go for the nutter? Is sensible, calm advice (without the – literal! – shit-stirring) just too boring?

  5. chris y says

    Goldacre’s managed to get his dead cat the same qualification as the one she claims gives her the right to call herself doctor.

    More, please!

  6. SharonC says

    She is a horrible rude woman who goes on TV and humiliates and frightens fat people into changing their lifestyles. If it is not obvious to you why humiliating and frightening and being rude to fat people is a bad idea, because you think that somehow fat people deserve it (they don’t) then pretend she does it to thin people. It would be just as bad to a thin person with a less-than optimally healthy lifestyle.

    Just because someone’s lifestyle may not be the healthiest ever doesn’t mean that they deserve to be bullied and humiliated and scared on national television, irrespective of body size.

    Her horrible treatment of people is the main problem I have with her; I don’t like what I’ve been hearing about her lack of credentials nor lack of substantiated facts, either.

  7. csrster says

    Ben Goldacre is a national bloody treasure. Everyone who enjoys seeing woo-artists ruthlessly dispatched with the stilleto of science dipped in the acid of sarcasm will enjoy his website.

    It’s not all awful-poo-lady either – his Durham-omega3-trial articles are an (unfinished) triumph.

  8. Tom Rees says

    Re: the bullying. That’s another of the reasons I stopped watching her shows. As far as I recall, it’s a new feature. I assumed that, for the new series (where people move in with her), some marketing bod has told her to create more conflict.

    She’s actually not very good at it. It comes across more as whining. She lacks the stage presence to bully anyone properly (in contrast to the theatrical talents of say, Anne Robinson or George Galloway or Gordon Ramsey). It’s more comincal than anything else.

    But as for making people weep. Well it’s not the sort of telly I like but is it fundamentally any different from what goes on in Honey We’re Killing the Kids? Which is probably just as scientifically indefensible but has a nice attractive presenter which no doubt makes it alright…

  9. says

    Absolutely brilliant to see this scam artist taken down a notch. Kitzmiller, Sylvia Browne and Gillian McKeith prove one simple thing – these people get so ridiculous that it only takes a small push back from reality to absolutely humiliate them.

  10. Silmarillion says

    I’ve always wondered why her TV program was so popular. She got overweight people to eat healthy food and to exercise for a few weeks and the subjects were amazed when they lost weight. I think it must have something to do with the poo.

  11. says

    The Sacramento Bee just did a “human interest” story on poo-obsessed Danny Vierra, the guy who thinks that every good meal deserves a bowel movement — or they begin to accumulate in your gut! You may have years of “unexpressed” meals in your digestive tract, but never fear! Vierra will give you a Christian colonic.

    I wish I were kidding, but I’m not.

  12. anon says

    This quote in the Guardian piece, from Sir Muir Gray, director of the NHS National Electronic Library For Health, is one for the ages: “Ignorance is like cholera. It cannot be controlled by the individual alone: it requires the organised efforts of society.”

  13. derek says

    Aw. I wanted to break Goldacre’s Guardian story somewhere on ScienceBlogs, but I had to wait ’til I got home, and now the eagle-eyed PZ has spotted it all the way from the USA.

    Gillian McKeith is just vicious. Imagine if one of those spoon-bending charlatans who made millions deceiving people also, while taking their money, humiliated them and harmed their health as well. It’s a trifecta of malicious snake-oil marketing.

  14. Bob O'H says

    Hey, that’s ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith ‘PhD’ to you!

    Miss Prism’s song is linked to in Ben’s article on the badscience page (and damn, it’s now stuck in my head….).

    As others have said, Ben is a national treasure, and he’s done an excellent job of activating British sceptics (check out the Durham fish oils ‘trial’ pages). Some of them have opened up a German front on TAPL.


  15. Simon says

    I don’t doubt what the Guardian article says about her ‘bad science’is true, but it’s worth mentioning that the show of hers “You Are What You Eat” seems to me to stick to safe & sound advice, largely indisputable at least as far as the food advice goes. I wasn’t aware of her phony doctor bonafides or of any of her written work.

    I’ve seen plenty of the episodes of the show and only once or twice have alarm bells ever gone off. Granted, I’m a math guy and not a scientist so it’s possible I missed something. I’ve found it useful for some healthy recipes here and there, anyway.

    Maybe she’s smart enough to have her show peer reviewed by a real doctor. :)

    Regardless, point taken that it is a bad thing that somebody spouting phony science has a prominent platform from which to speak.

  16. Sonja says

    I followed a link to Orac’s woo page and found a link to The Global Quantum Quest website where you can learn all about the exciting field of energetic medicine. And guess what? They’re having a seminar in Duluth (or “Deluth”) this month (Feb 24-25, 2007)!

    PZ, for only $149, how could you pass up this opportunity?

    “This is a progressive, comprehensive training covering proper Interpretation of the Matrix.”

    Or you could skip the seminar and shell out the $17,950 for the complete package.

  17. pv says

    “Richard” for turd, is rhyming slang – Richard III.

    Ok, TAPL (The Awful Poo Lady) is a millionaire on the basis of the exploitation of people’s fear and ignorance about their health. She invents pseudo-scientific nutritional garbage and peddles it in her books and food-supplement business. She has been able to enhance the promotion of her fraudulent claims through the celebrity gained from her shitty tv programmes on Channel 4 in the UK. The two most objectionable thing about her, and there are many, are that she has become a millionaire on the basis of quackery and exploitation, and she is a major contributor (along with most of the British news media) to the public misunderstanding of science in the UK. A truly vile piece of work. And well done Dr BG and a member of the http://www.badscience.net forum for bring this disreputable character to task – at least temporarily.

  18. says

    McKeith seems to mix sound and sensible advice (eat more veg etc.) with the utterly batshit. The main thing that bothers me is her anti-yeast schtick, which when you are promoting and essentially vegan diet is particularly stupid. I’ve yet to work out where she expects people following her diet to get vitamin B12 from.

  19. says

    This woman is full of shite. The stuff she talks about on her show is complete nonsense. She has no scientific qualifications at all and the pseudo sceintific dribble she spouts could be refuted by a 14 year old biology student.

  20. manolo says

    She has no scientific background, just a simple recipe for success, just use scare tactics, bullying, pseudo-scientific talk, add a couple of very unhealthy people, put them on a crash diet and recommend some weird vegetable or “supplement” that can only be found on her own range of products and… voila! Prime Time TV Star and millionaire.

  21. Bedpan alley says

    So Gilly (you don’t mind if I call you Gilly do you? I can’t quite cope with the Doctor prefix)- I think it is high-time to ‘publish or perish’. That is the only way you can stop the nasty DOCTOR Ben Goldacre from calling you ‘the poo lady’. I think your PhD (all eighteen pages please) would be the perfect antidote for your many patient admirers currently suffering from the spasms and cramps of the devastating Goldacre Virus.

    Not believing what he wrote about you I did check whether a mere mortal like myself could obtain a PhD too, and low and behold I could buy one from Belmont University for a mere $599. Our pet rabbit’s application is in the post. I think he has some interesting things to say about chlorophyll, as he has spent most of his life eating his greens.