The problem with Dr. Oz

Plus: a post on Lenny Kravitz's dumbbells is on its way!, a set of Barbie weights I don't totally hate, "you don't look anorexic." This is Link Letter 59!

The problem with Dr. Oz
Snake oil sales aren't just a rip-off; they're a symptom of a broken system! 

“You should take care of your health,” says the guru.

“Yes,” I say, nodding my head.

“In order to do that,” the guru continues, “you need to lose weight, and the easiest way of doing that is taking these ‘reds and greens’ fat-burning pills.”

Here the wellness guru just took like four leaps of logic—health means weight loss, weight loss means fat-burning, fat-burning means pills, the pills are “reds and greens”—and they shuttled me right down the path to their online store with the pills so smoothly, I barely noticed. Surely someone would not make FOUR bold leaps of logic right to my face if it wasn’t true. Surely also they wouldn’t take something that’s a relatively serious concern (my health) and leverage it into getting me to do something relatively trivial that will barely move the needle (taking “reds and greens”). If they are saying all of these things in practically the same breath, they must all be of equal weight. Right?

I’ve heard again and again from people how their actual doctors will recommend that their patients lose weight but give zero guidance as to how to go about it. One reader relayed that their doctor just told them to “eat less.” Oh, okay.

By contrast, TV doctor Dr. Oz, who guested countless times on Oprah’s talk show before breaking out into his very own time slot, has offered no end of actionable solutions over the years. He was ground zero for many of the diet and health “rules” and trends people continue to parrot today. Zoodles. Homeopathy. Raspberry ketones. Green coffee extract. Fear of GMOs.

For many, many years, he was straight-up adored, not just by Oprah but by his own growing fan base. His TV show won industry awards. No one died. How could he be bad? How could so many smiling faces in the audience be wrong?

We have a finite amount of resources, time, and patience. Every problem exists on a Concern scale, from nothing to worry about to grave and mortal danger. When someone fills my precious brain space with distracting busywork, it takes my eye off the big-picture ball. When they inflate a problem, or solution to the problem, to be much higher on the Concern scale than it is, that’s not some kind of right they have in a capitalist society; it’s not just annoying; it’s a weird and harmful way to spend your time.

Women and marginalized people, in particular, are heavily socialized to act grateful for any gesture of “help” at all with concerns that everyone is already dismissive about. The defense we are supposed to mount goes like, Well, I DID lose 10 pounds on the Mediterranean diet once. I DID feel better when I started taking raspberry ketone pills. I DO think zoodles taste almost as good as real pasta. I thought the jade egg was kind of fun. Sometimes the wellness gurus will even directly dig their fingers into those wounds, whining through their tears, Couldn’t we be grateful that they are just trying to help?

At the risk of stating the obvious, no one owes gratitude or deference to people who are “solving problems” that don’t exist. Not everyone needs to lose weight (a great new link on that below). In the event that someone does want to improve their health, there are many ways to use time and money before “green coffee extract” comes into the equation. A minority of Dr. Oz’s claims were based in science, but many were not, which only adds to the overall confusion.

Part of the issue with snake-oil salesmen is how easily they’re reinforced by window dressing. If I show up at your door and I say, “There are giant rainbow leopards roaming the neighborhood that can shoot laser beams out of their eyes! It’s a good thing I’m here, because I can cast a spell that will put your home in a protective bubble that can’t be penetrated by the leopards’ eyeball lasers,” you are, hopefully, somewhat unlikely to believe me.

But if a very popular and famous person pulls their little doctor friend onstage during their talk show and says, “Here is my friend who is a doctor with a doctor degree from the most respected institution in the land, and I just LOVE these ‘reds and greens’ pills he recommends!” and he blushes and folds the rippling forearms extending from the sleeves of his scrubs and says, “Aw shucks, I’m just trying to help,” you are, understandably, somewhat more likely to believe in his reds and greens than my leopard-retardant spell.

Our modern informational terrain is so wild and dense that we have never been less able to keep up as individuals. It has never been more irresponsible to hop online and gush about some new product without looking into the thing even a little bit. People and institutions with clout do have some responsibility to use good judgment and, frankly, have some taste and dignity. They are still accountable for how they use their power.

So it sucks when a dumb thing gets popular out of nowhere, and now we have to worry about whether it might be, in fact, the solution to all our problems. But when people whose responsibility it is to keep up some basic guardrails on what they endorse, fail us—like doctors in scrubs—it sucks all the more. And then we have to Do The Research on not just the things but the people suggesting them, and the people suggesting we listen to those people, and it becomes a ratking of Mess, just a cast of cartoon villains kicking down the tower again and again.

People love to wave their hands and say we shouldn’t listen to celebrities on matters that celebrities are not experts in, which is most of them. This is true. But the bigger issue is that we do not have institutions that we can trust to take care of us better than celebrities. No one would be searching for “reds and greens” or fen-phen or Ozempic or acai bowls if we could all go to the doctor—a real doctor, not a TV doctor—without cost as an obstacle, and feel like that doctor was actually listening and going to help us. We could have time and energy to cook whole foods and work out if we had, for instance, living wages and a robust child care system. Extremely rich conservatives work hard to sow fear among us, because it means they get to give the money that should go to all of us to police instead, so they can buy more and more military weapons to stand around with and hassle us in the street at a breathtakingly dystopian level, over doing things like sitting down, having street-legal utility tools in our pockets, or not having our identification.

If I had to give Dr. Oz credit for anything, it would be consistency. There is such resonance between being a TV doctor who abstracts real concerns about health into much pettier ones and then presents his latest snake oil as the solution, and being a conservative politician who pushes fear about [gestures broadly] crime and free speech and “secure elections” and then presents himself as the answer. By running for office, Dr. Oz isn’t just enjoying the fruits of having been Dr. Oz for decades; he’s ensuring a future for all the Dr. Oz’s to come. It would be touching, if it were not so gross.


~Discord Pick of the Week: You might think I’d hate these small, Barbie-colored, barbell-style weights where the product photos are literally tilt-shifted to make them look even smaller and cuter than they already are.

While I don’t think anyone should buy these (the Discord spent more time than should have ever been necessary puzzling over how much the actual barbell weighed), I… don’t hate them? Current barbell weights are beautifully standardized, and it’s hard to mess up buying a size of barbell that doesn’t go with the plates you buy, even if you get them from different retailers. But in terms of how they are calibrated to the average person who would benefit from lifting, the standard form factor is a bit unwieldy. Forty-five pounds is pretty heavy for a barbell; seven feet is pretty long. The lightest standard-size plate around that you can use to set up deadlifts is usually 45 pounds, and that’s pretty heavy to be trying to move around just to learn to do a deadlift for the first time.

A setup that is right-sized for early beginner practice could feasibly weigh as little as a few pounds (PVC pipe bar, wooden or plastic bumper disks to stand in for plates). But these are not common to find. The standard is not nearly as accommodating as I would like it to be! In a perfect world, a program like LIFTOFF that ramps people up to a standard barbell wouldn’t even have to exist.~

Resistance training protects against muscle pain through activation of androgen receptors [in male and female mice]. I’m tossing it on the pile of “good things that lifting does and never gets credit for, not once, hope that changes!”

An 86-year-old bodybuilder in Japan just broke the record for being the oldest guy to compete. Let’s go, Toshisuke Kanazawa!

‘You Don’t Look Anorexic’: A look from writer Kate Siber at people with “atypical” eating disorders, who seem to possibly vastly outnumber people with “typical” eating disorders (we don’t know because the people in charge are fretting too much over creating rigid criteria). Seems like we should reassign some words! I appreciate this, as someone who fell into this category, had orthostatic hypotension among many other eating-disorder-related issues for years, and never thought twice about it.

Self-care is expensive and lonely. It doesn’t have to be.

I missed this at the time, but a few months ago, everyone got very worked up about some studies that suggested they found “the optimal dose of strength training for health and longevity.” Friend of the blog Greg Nuckols had a much more sober take on it at Stronger By Science.

An 1880s boxer’s routine to prepare for a match includes… walking 18 miles a day, and bathing three times a day (once in whiskey).

I don’t need to read the rest: Harvard Scientists Find That Weight Loss Isn’t Always Good. Okay, fine, I’ll read the rest: “In lean individuals, all weight loss was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes—ranging from a 9% increase for exercise and a 54% increase for [diet] pills.” It was also associated with long-term weight gain. There is a lot of unpacking to do for the conclusions about people with higher body weights; for instance, I’d be willing to bet that unsuccessful and aggressive weight-loss attempts are harmful to everyone regardless of weight, but researchers often refuse to look beyond weight as a source of health issues.

Still, this is among the heaviest of blows to the concept of weight loss I’ve ever seen! Beyond weight loss that poses an immediate risk to health, like on the level of a bad eating disorder, we rarely ever see it treated as anything other than the ideal. But is—I’m clapping—is👏 the world👏 ready👏?? For the idea👏 that weight loss👏 might be un👏 healthy👏?? Catch me in a lawn chair sipping a cold drink watching the whole diet industry burn to the ground!


The fight for the soul of Pilates. Pilates people are mad at other Pilates people because they aren’t allowed to use photos of Joe Pilates [real person] doing Pilates [activity]. I know I could construct a buffalo buffalo buffalo-type sentence here, but unfortunately my valuable time was spent elsewhere.

Some guy is once again trying to say deadlifts are dangerous, and that people should instead do, uh, an extremely specific strain of deadlift (“90-degree eccentric isometrics,” which are basically slow RDLs). Make people afraid of generally accepted thing and present your extremely specific prescription as the only safe solution is such a boring and tired marketing formula, but go off, I guess.

A funny blog via clever interpretation of the FDA’s new “healthy” food rules: Many cereals are no longer considered “healthy,” including Raisin Bran, Special K, Frosted Mini Wheats, and Corn Flakes. Who needs bathwater when you can just go ahead and throw out the baby??


I mentioned this on Instagram stories, but I am loving and adoring the book Dawn of Everything by Davids Graeber and Wengrow. It not only calls into question several accepted truths about how society works (humans naturally need to dominate each other; agriculture is the highest expression of organized civilization; everything needs to be organized around property) but presents viable and ample alternatives that once existed before Europe ruined everything! I think at least weekly about how murderers etc. don't necessarily have rigid patterns; those are just the cases that cops are able to solve, due to the fact that they are able to identify and follow a pattern. Something similar is at work with our received wisdom about ways that humans "are" that make farming and property inevitable: Researchers just rejected everything that didn't fit the case they wanted to make. This happens all of the time! A generous reader recommended this short podcast with David Wengrow as a good way to get your feet wet with the arguments of the book.

Eight deranged days on a Gone Girl cruise. Stick with this one even though the cruise seems to have barely anything to do with the book. (Reminds me of the fact that the movie is better than the book and the movie has become a “will watch anytime” for me.)

You’re gonna love tomorrow: the art of aging with grit and grace.

There are some OGs around here who have been reading my work since I was a wee baby blogger at Ars Technica, and they may remember the time I tried to play Dwarf Fortress. For the first time ever, this accursed game I don’t understand is getting a tutorial. The comments led me to this other famous “Let’s Play” of Dwarf Fortress. Try to play it, if you dare! You will find me at Overwatch 2.

Not unrelated, I love the idea of this text-based game, The Wolf of Derevnya.

I’ve been watching The Mole: The Next Generation (really good) and The Watcher (algorithmically-generated garbage). If you’ve never read the article The Watcher is based on, boy, are YOU in for a ride. The update is great too.

That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—