"Dr" Gillian McKeith

Motivation for this Gillian McKeith page

After seeing a number of TV programmes in which supposed expert on nutrition "Dr" Gillian McKeith broadcasts some highly questionable information on people's diets, I was compelled to write this web page. My main concern, and a concern which is shared by a lot of people, is that Gillian McKeith attempts to present her ideas as being based on solid scientific research. She likes to refer to herself as Dr Gillian McKeith, and with her over-emphasis of the term doctor and her casual references to pseudo-scientific information, she tries to convince us that she has a genuine academic background in science (she doesn't). The only qualifications "Dr" McKeith has from well-established and prestigous institutions are for subjects with no connection to nutrition or diet (Linguistics and Language, International Relations).

In 2007 the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that McKeith's use of the title "Dr" in advertisements was "likely to mislead". McKeith has now voluntarily agreed to stop calling herself "Dr" in her advertisements. More info in the news section below.

If Gillian McKeith didn't try to add the veneer of scientific rigour to some of the wackier ideas she has I wouldn't be that concerned about what she does. Anyone is free to voice their own opinion. But it's her persistent attempts to present herself as a fully qualified expert on the science of nutrition and diet, despite her lack of relevant qualifications or research experience, that I find most disturbing. Her unsubstantiated pseudo-scientific claims can also be damaging to the reputation of science itself.

In her TV series and books ("You Are What You Eat" being the most obvious example) Gillian McKeith repeatedly uses pseudo-scientific language, delivered in an authoritative style to people who would like to lose weight and live more healthily, but who think they don't know how. The fact that many of these people have little or no understanding of science makes it easier for her to play the role of scientific authority and pursuade them that her advice is sound and based on good scientific evidence. Unfortunately, the scientific mumbo-jumbo that Gillian McKeith uses can sound plausible enough to convince these people that she knows what she's talking about. Much of the time this simply isn't true.

Gillian McKeith on the web

An interesting way to measure people's opinions about Gillian McKeith is to run some simple web searches, and look at the variety of results that come back.

What are people saying about "Dr" Gillian McKeith? Find out with this Google search: "Gillian McKeith is..."
(An interesting mix of opinions, from "Gillian McKeith is Britain's newest health and nutrition guru" and "Gillian McKeith is the internationally acclaimed clinical nutritionist" to "Gillian McKeith is a charlatan" and my favourite "Gillian McKeith is astonishingly ignorant of basic nutritional and medical science")

(see below for more Gillian McKeith links).

Gillian McKeith in the news

"Dr" Gillian McKeith in the news - search Google news for recent stories: "Dr" Gillian McKeith news

"Dr" Gillian McKeith's nutrition advice

Some of what Gillian McKeith says is fairly basic, common-sense advice that almost anyone (whether qualified or not) could give you. Want to lose weight and eat more healthily? In that case... Not really earth-shattering stuff this. The problem is that, on top of this unremarkable and well-accepted advice, "Dr" Gillian McKeith comes up with a great deal of nonsense and gives the impression that this nonsense is backed up by science. It's not!

Gillian also has a number of peculiar obsessions that are given regular airing in her "You are what you eat" series and in her books. Among her obsessions are: people's tongues, people's faeces, yeast, "energy", and enzymes from raw food. Now, if "Dr" Gillian McKeith was really a scientist and could offer some evidence to back up her quirky claims and obsessions, that would be fair enough. But "Dr" McKeith doesn't actually have any scientific qualifications of value, and doesn't appear to have ever published any results from the scientific research that she claims to be involved in, as the sections below explain.

Gillian McKeith's qualifications

There has been quite a bit of interest in "Dr" Gillian McKeith's qualifications, particularly following her recent "You Are What You Eat" TV series. This isn't surprising given the absurdity of much of what she says. Interestingly, she has recently changed what she herself claims about her qualifications (on her website), presumably in response to people who pointed out that she was either being deliberately vague or was deliberately misleading people.

A quick overview of "Dr" Gillian McKeith's qualifications looks like this:

(Notice that Gillian McKeith doesn't have a first degree in any scientific subject, or anything even remotely connected with medicine or nutrition...) The Holistic Nutrition degrees were obtained as paid, correspondence courses from a non-accredited institution (see below). It's also important to keep in mind that you can get a masters and PhD in "Holistic Nutrition" from this institution, as Gillian McKeith did, with no previous scientific background whatsoever. That's right! In relation to previous degrees, the entry criteria for the Masters course just specify that you have "a bachelors degree", which can be in any subject: History, Music, Medieval Knitting...

I confirmed this with Clayton College, who replied "You can enter our Master's degree programs with any Bachelor's degree. The prerequisites will give you all the science you will need". So there you have it, you might never have studied science since school days, yet you can get a masters and PhD in Holistic Nutrition with no further science education required, you just complete a few warm-up science courses to kick off your masters, then on to the PhD!

"Dr" Gillian McKeith describes her qualifications

Some time ago, her website used to say this about her qualifications:
"Gillian holds certificates, degrees and a doctorate (PhD) from top colleges and universities including Ivy League's University of Pennsylvania (USA), Edinburgh University, the American College of Nutrition, the East West College of Herbalism, the Kailish Centre of Oriental Medicine and the London School of Acupuncture" (view archived version of this page).

What this failed to make clear is that the qualifications Gillian McKeith gained from the two well-respected institutions are in subjects entirely unrelated to diet and nutrition: she got a degree in Language and Linguistics from Edinburgh University and a masters in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania.

"Dr" Gillian McKeith's PhD

Notice also how, in the quote above, the word "PhD" appears in cosy proximity to "University of Pennsylvania". Nice touch that. So what about that PhD then? Where did she do it and what was it on? Despite several emails requesting information on the title and subject of her PhD (as well as any scientific papers "Dr" McKeith might have published, as if!), I got no response.

However, the same page on Gillian McKeith's current website says:

"She graduated from the University of Edinburgh and received her Masters Degree from the Ivy-League University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.... She then spent several years re-training for a Masters and doctorate (PhD) in Holistic Nutrition from the American Holistic College of Nutrition (USA). She holds Certificates from the London School of Acupuncture and the Kailash Centre of Oriental Medicine."

Notice again that the subject areas of Gillian McKeith's first two degrees (Linguistics and Language, International Relations) are conveniently omitted. But at least we now find out that her PhD comes from the American Holistic College of Nutrition. But didn't the earlier version of this page talk about degrees from the American College of Nutrition? These are two quite separate institutions - she wouldn't be trying to confuse a non-accredited institution with no reputation with a similarly-named institution with a much better reputation would she? Although that would have given the impression that her PhD might actually count for something...

Ben Goldacre from the Guardian has cleared up the confusion. He writes:

"She has claimed to have a PhD from the American College of Nutrition. In fact, she does not have a PhD from there. Her PR says this was an isolated, accidental error and an intern might have got the name of the college wrong. This is not an isolated error: she also claims to have a degree from the ACN in her book, Dr Gillian McKeith's Living Food for Health. Where is her PhD actually from? The same place as her Masters degree: the Clayton College of Natural Health [see note below]. The cost of the course is currently $5,300 (nearly £3,000), online or by post. There is, if you're interested, a discount if you pay for your Masters at the same time. It's a non-accredited correspondence course, which is not recognised by the US secretary for education for the purpose of educational grants".

Note that Clayton College of Natural Health was previously known as the American Holistic College of Nutrition.

Read Ben's complete article on Gillian McKeith.

Update from Gillian McKeith's latest book!

Gillian McKeith's new book "You Are What You Eat Cookbook" has at least tried to clear up some of the vague and misleading information previously given about her qualifications. On the back McKeith says "Dr Gillian McKeith is not a traditionally trained medical doctor" - let's be clear, she's not any kind of medical doctor. She has no degree-level training in science, medicine or nutrition. "She is a doctor of philosophy in Nutrition (PhD), a qualification gained..." or should that be bought? "...from the American Holistic College of Nutrition, USA, now known as Clayton College".

Thanks also to an article posted by Robert (no surname) on Dr Gillian McKeith's qualifications.

Research by Gillian McKeith

Gillian McKeith likes to talk a lot about the scientific research that she does or has done over the years. The quotes you find on her website say things like: In any case, there's a lot of talk but very little hard evidence. Where are the results of all this stunning research? Has she actually published papers in reputable journals? This is, after all, the well-established method of communicating scientific ideas.

So, after sending several emails requesting information on "Dr" Gillian McKeith's scientific publications, and after searching the web for details of such publications, I have compiled the following list of the papers that have appeared in relevant peer-reviewed scientific journals. Please let me know if you have information on anything that could be added to this list!

Title of publicationPublication details

The above (empty) table represents, to the best of my knowledge, the total contribution to published scientific research in the area of nutrition and diet by Gillian McKeith.

Gillian McKeith research updates!

According to a recent Gillian McKeith newsletter, "Dr" McKeith has been active in all sorts of research in the last few years. For example she says "Over the past few years, I have been conducting an array of research on Hemp Seeds". In fact, when you read what she says it's clear that "Dr" Gillian McKeith has not actually done any research herself, she's just quoting results from other people's work. The worrying thing is, she includes references to all sorts of bizarre sources and seems to treat these whacko references as being on a par with established scientific journals.

For example, from her "hemp-themed" newsletter she says: "Research [1] shows that both the essential oils and the complete protein contained in hempseeds are in ideal ratios for human nutrition". The reference [1] is: "Osburn L : Hemp Seed: The Most Nutritionally Complete Food Source In The World, Hemp Line Journal, July-August 1992, pp. 14-15, Vol. I No. 1" [Read the full article].

Did you get that? "Hemp line journal". Would that be an established source of objective scientific research into diet and nutrition? Perhaps not. What about that title then? "Hemp Seed: The Most Nutritionally Complete Food Source In The World". When's the last time you read a scientific paper with a title like that? Ok, let's give it a chance...

So, does the article measure the ratios of essential fatty acids and amino acids in hemp seed? No. Does it explain what the "ideal ratio" is for humans? No. Does it measure anything related to hemp seed nutrition or does it provide any evidence for it's claims? No. Does it in fact contain anything that "Dr" Gillian McKeith could, even in her wildest fantasies, interpret as scientific research. Err, no. The article is in fact a truly inspired, comic and entertaining ramble about hemp seed. By only the second paragraph we are already in cuckoo land:

"The importance of hemp seed nutrients to human health cannot be fully appreciated without some understanding of bio-chemistry in life. Unfortunately, any attempt to understand the flow of life leads into the realm of the most troublesome of the three infinities -- the infinitely complex. Some deep thinkers believe life is a paradox not to be understood but experienced to the fullest. However, the Sages have said, 'Know thyself.' At any rate it is paradoxic to attempt simplifying the infinite complexity of flowing life... "

And this is held up by "Dr" Gillian McKeith as a good example of "research" into nutrition and diet? Kind of puts her take on "science" into perspective wouldn't you say.

You are what you eat

Gillian McKeith's book and TV series "You are what you eat" is proably where most people are exposed to her particular brand of healthy eating advice. There's no denying that McKeith (or her PR company) have been successful in promoting "You are what you eat". She certainly has good skills in generating publicity and book sales, but her lack of suitable scientific skills and her misuse of scientific language is a cause for concern.

If Gillian McKeith has ideas on how to eat healthily that are not part of the scientific mainstream, that's fine - she is free to expound these ideas. But why does she attempt to dress these ideas up and present them as if they were scientific facts? Perhaps it's because some people are easily convinced if someone calls themself "Dr", and talks about "energy" and "enzymes", and these people are then more inclined to go out and buy your book?

In an attempt to redress the balance, here are some quotes from Gillian McKeith's "You are what you eat" series.

"Dr" Gillian McKeith: talking crap

One of Gillian McKeith's obsessions is, to be blunt, crap. She finds that looking at (not to mention smelling) people's faeces samples gives her great insights into that person's health. As others have pointed out, looking at a single sample will, at best, give you some information about what that person had for dinner last night. Is it a reliable method of diagnosing problems with diet and nutrition? Most people who are actually qualified in this field would say no. To me, diagnosing health problems after looking at a single sample of faeces is a bit like extrapolating a straight line from a single data point. Not recommended.

Talking about the participants on "You Are What You Eat", and the colonic irrigation they always receive, Gillian says: "these people desperately need a hose up their backside, believe you me" [Read quote in context]. Note the use of the word "desperate" here. It's not just a convenient way to make money from people gullible enough to believe it actually does some good, no, these people have a "desperate need" for this treatment. And isn't it odd that absolutely everyone on the "You Are What You Eat" series gets a colonic, despite the fact they gave a wide variety of health and diet related problems?

Another Gillian McKeith "talking crap" quote: "The striking thing about your poo is that it seems really mucousy and sticky. And that means that it's all not coming out, that some of it is actually sticking to your insides. You are doing it to yourself through the rubbish that you put into your body through the alcohol that you drink. All of that will destroy your ability to move out waste matter from your body - yours is still stuck inside of you" [from "You Are What You Eat"]. A good way to instill some fear and justify a trip to the colonic club? Perhaps. A reasoned and balanced assessment of someone's health based on appropriate measurements? I don't think so.

Quotes by Gillian McKeith

Here is a small sample of some of the nonsense that "Dr" Gillian McKeith comes out with. See separate section above for quotes from McKeith's "You are what you eat" series.

McKeith, Gillian: "Are you eating the right colours?"

There are a great number of questionable claims in Gillian's amusing article Are you eating the right colours?
(Note that the original page http://www.bonasana.com/woh/artman/publish/article_48.shtml has disappeared - my link uses the archived version of the page from March 2005). Here are just a couple of my favourites:

McKeith, Gillian: "Food Combining for Health"

Here are some interesting quotes from Gillian McKeith's article on Food Combining for Health
(Note: original page http://www.bonasana.com/woh/artman/publish/article_59.shtml has disappeared).

Gillian McKeith on Gillian McKeith

My questions to Gillian McKeith would be exactly the same ones (I've filled in my best attempt at truthful answers):

Q: Are you a scientist, a biochemist or a botanist?
A: No. Gillian McKeith is not a scientist, a biochemist or a botanist. She does not have a first degree or masters degree in any of these subjects, nor in any subject relevant to nutrition and diet. In her attempts to come across as a scientist she gives science a bad name.

Q: Have you spent a lifetime studying food and biochemistry?
A: No. Keep in mind that before 1994 Gillian McKeith held no qualifications of any kind in the fields of nutrition or biochemistry (not even the dodgy PhD she later bought). She claims to have started studying and researching in the fields of nutrition and diet in 1985 (with no relevant scientific background whatsoever and 9 years before she bought her highly dubious PhD).

Q: Where is your scientific authority?
A: No idea. I don't think she has any.

Q: Are you a nutritional biochemist?
A: No. Gillian Mckeith has no degree-level scientific training in biochemistry.

Miscellaneous quotes

Quotes about Gillian McKeith

Gillian McKeith Links

Ben Goldacre from the Guardian has written a number of articles on "Dr" Gillian McKeith in his "bad science" section: John Garrow (Emeritus Professor of Human Nutrition, University of London) should be congratulated for his £1000 "Show me your theory actually works" challenge. View details of his challenge for Gillian McKeith.

Rachel Cooke from the Observer has recently written an interesting article on "Dr" Gillian McKeith (favourite quote: "Much of what she says is patent nonsense"). Rachel also kept a food diary for a week and asked "Dr" McKeith, as well as someone who actually has scientific training, to review and comment on it: read "Dr" Gillian McKeith's food diary comments.

New Scientist magazine recently did a rather nice, light-hearted feature on McKeith after I sent them some quotes of hers that I found rather funny. Read the New Scientist article on Gillian McKeith and blue-green algae or read the follow-up letter sent in, pointing out the risks of ingesting dangerous toxins from this so-called "superfood".

If you want a little light-hearted entertainment, why not try Gillian McKeith's tongue test?

Also great entertainment value are the songs and animations available from http://www.stablesound.co.uk/. For example, watch the superb animation of Gillian McKeith singing "I just want to look at your poo". Also highly recommended is the mp3 featuring another ligh-hearted take on "Dr" McKeith's approach to nutrition.

From The Times, read a critical analysis of the nutrional content and claims for "Dr" Gillian McKeith's living food love bar (summary: "The nutritional and product claims for McKeith's bar do not stand up to closer scrutiny").

Rob Lyons' article: Dr Gillian McKeith's diet, as seen on TV, is pure quackery

Robert's Precautionary tales of Dr Gillian McKeith - information on some of "Dr" McKeith's claimed qualifications.

Is Gillian McKeith a quack and a danger to our health? - Mail on Sunday article about Gillian McKeith.

Gillian McKeith's home page - don't go here looking for useful information, only go if you want a laugh.

Discussion of Gillian McKeith's advice - plenty of people are highly sceptical of what McKeith says, and rightly so.

Channel 4 profile of Gillian McKeith

Interview of Gillian McKeith by the Herald newspaper, Glasgow - "TV health guru admits buying doctorate by post".

More doubts about Gillian McKeith - Ray Girvan's comments on the questionable claims of "Scottish nutritionist" McKeith.

Wikipedia entry on "Dr" Gillian McKeith

Review of Gillian McKeith's book "You are what you eat" - "the vast majority of her ideas about the relationships between nutrition and health have no scientific basis whatsoever".

Last updated May 2011