How much do you want your life changed?
It’s been an auspicious week to join Twitter. I got to witness with my own little eyes the latest step in the war of attrition between Dr Ben Goldacre* and ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith, the Channel 4 nutritionist who made a fortune sifting through people’s poo on telly and telling them how chlorophyll would oxygenate their veins but only if they bought her seed mix for a squillion pounds. Briefly, McKeith, or someone using her Twitter feed, responded to another Tweeter’s mentioning the dubiousness of her PhD by accusing said Tweeter of anti-American prejudice and calling Goldacre’s book “lies”. This was swiftly picked up by BG, who demanded a retraction of this potentially libellous statement. This led to a catalogue of hilarity: first McKeith’s Twitter feed was hidden, then someone writing in the third person claimed it wasn’t real, then when BG and others pointed out that it was linked from her official website and YouTube page the links were quickly removed, but not in the code, so they were still visible to anyone who knew how to look. Clearly the college where McKeith got her doctorate did not offer a diploma course on marketing in the digital age. (You can see an excellent run-down of the whole palaver here.)
My interest in this story is not just because I have soft spot for sarcastic Jewish doctors. I can’t pretend that I don’t have fair whack of hippie in me; I have long conversations about yoga, I get massages at festivals, I sometimes find myself talking about people’s ‘energy’, I’ve even had my tarot read. More than once. So I’m hardly in position to castigate the whole, let’s call it, wellbeing industry. But there are some fundamental facts about the areas of this that I indulge in. 1. I do not substitute these things for common sense, and have no intention of not vaccinating my theoretical children just because I sometimes feel a bit funny on full moon. 2. A massage, a lovely stretch, a few weeks of not drinking alcohol or eating meat or a long conversation with some mystical type where you talk about yourself all tend to make you feel better. These are mostly harmless pursuits that can improve your mood, your day, your week, you name it. What McKeith and her ilk do though, as well as taking a big gleeful shit all over the entire history and moral purpose of western scientific pursuit, is make people miserable.
I found this out to my detriment a few years ago. Not being in possession of a TV (yes, I watch Dollhouse on my laptop, what about it?), I was introduced to her nefarious ways when a new housemate, a lovely wafting Scandinavian thing, took her turn to make dinner for the rest of us. Dinners in our shared house were brilliantly robust, generally featuring large amounts of cheese. New housemate, however, was concocting hers out of the McKeith cookbook. If it is true that you are what you eat then this girl was seven chickpeas in some watery saltless gruel. It was no wonder she was so ethereal – she was starving. Quizzed later, she enthused about how McKeith had ‘changed her life’, presumably by leaving her on a permanent spiritual high in much the way of teenage female saints who starved themselves to death with their eyes heavenwards. And this is the thing about what McKeith does. Along with the bullying and the litigiousness, she peddles a peculiarly Christian notion that suffering is somehow good for you, that earthly pleasures and enjoyments are bad, that reward must be eternally deferred, that, in order to be ‘healthy’, we must forgo the pleasure of good food. It’s a horrible cultural development: now that we no longer have religious leaders exhorting us to suffer so we can be rewarded in the next life, we have people like McKeith preaching self-denial as a lifestyle choice. As though we don’t all have enough issues about eating already. No thank you very much, and pass the brie.
* Full disclosure: Ben Goldacre is my celebrity crush. I even made Sarah take me to the Brighton Science Fair last year so we could co-stalk him, but unfortunately we got distracted by some awesome Daleks and forgot.