The Failure Empire: Bob Greene Rakes It In, Oprah Fails
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
The scene is comic: Bob Greene sitting next to Oprah on her TV show, kicking off the New Year, as Oprah tries to explain to her viewing audience why she gained forty pounds – again. Not once did she turn to Greene and say, “Bob, I guess your program is just a bit too hard to follow, something must be wrong with it.”
This spectacle first caught my attention in December when Oprah made her weight-gain story national news by featuring her balloon ride to 200 pounds in the January issue of her Oprah magazine. As she talked about her weight problems on her TV show it became obvious that her story coincided with a sales pitch for Bob Greene’s new cookbook, which goes along with his Oprah-sponsored diet book. I see from some of the news stories that I am not the only one who thinks this is bizarre. However, it is an interesting case study for future university-level marketing classes in how to market utter failure.
As one of the top clinical nutritionists in the country, the oddities of this story began to perk my interest. After reading through the gibberish in the January Oprah magazine and sitting through my first ever entire Oprah TV show, I went out and bought a copy of Greene’s diet book. Within moments of reading the book it was easy to visualize my working title for this article, “Why Bob Greene’s Diet Fails Oprah.”
Upon further research a new question entered my mind, “Is there anything Bob Greene won’t do for money?”
I thought it was peculiar that Oprah was introducing Bob Greene as her long time friend and trainer, while allowing him to portray himself as a nutrition expert. Why wasn’t she introducing him in a factual way: “I just want to let all of you know that Bob Greene is part of Oprah, Inc. He doubles as my property manager for my 102 acre estate in Hawaii and together we have purchased a total of six other oceanfront properties nearby (one for a Bob Greene house, one for an Oprah guest house, and four to be left vacant). We have made over ten million dollars on the diet book that has resulted in my dieting failure. And Bob has made millions more promoting McDonalds and other junk food companies on my coattails. In fact, I’ve personally made Bob Greene a multi-millionaire many times over and I just can’t tell you how thrilled I am that I’ve gained back forty pounds while being an expert in, advocate of, and profiting from his advice.”
The New York Times interviewed him just before he and Oprah did their joint promotional webcast on January 12, a webcast that somehow managed an extremely accurate title: “Falling Off the Wagon With Bob Greene.” He told the paper, “It doesn’t bother me in the least, everyone knows she follows my plan, but when she doesn’t, she gains weight, and when she does, it’s the only thing that works for her. It’s a very positive thing for me and book sales aren’t suffering.”
Bob, that is not exactly what everyone knows. Oprah’s two big weight-loss experiences came on a liquid diet and by starving herself, not from following your diet and reaching an ideal weight. In fact Bob, following your diet is next to impossible – which is why Oprah so easily goes off it – and this simple fact is directly your responsibility and the fault of your diet program. Furthermore, Oprah’s following your program has resulted in her having a significant increased risk for breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and early death – nice friend.
Before I explain some of the many flaws in the Bob Greene diet approach, I first must get back to the subject of Oprah, Inc.
Please Don’t Super Size Me
I met Bob Greene briefly back in 2004. At the time, I did a popular one-hour segment every Wednesday morning on the local CBS radio station in Minneapolis (WCCO). The host of the program was the local media celebrity, Pat Miles. It was a very popular program as I answered non-stop call-in questions about how to use vitamins to fix your health – while continually pointing out the pitfalls of medications. The listening audience was a bit older, based on the high popularity of the radio station for many decades.
One day the show producer told me that next Wednesday we would be broadcasting from the Mall of America and I would be joined by Oprah’s trainer, Bob Greene. I’d never heard of Bob Greene and I didn’t know why he was coming – but it wasn’t long before I found myself in the middle of a rather surreal experience.
I showed up a few minutes before broadcast time. A typical WCCO crowd was filing in and taking up chairs, getting ready for the program. I asked the producer where Bob Greene was and she pointed to the children’s play area/stage about 200 yards away. There was quite a crowd of little children and their mothers – making a lot of noise.
As show time approached this crowd started moving towards the broadcast stage. In the front of the pack was Bob Greene, playing the role of the Pied Piper. And then my brain went almost numb – flanking him was none other than Ronald McDonald – dressed to the hilt.
I had no idea what was going on. The producer introduced me to Bob Greene and we sat down next to each other on stage. We had a few minutes so I attempted some shop talk. I mentioned how interesting all the new science on uncoupling proteins was, and that it was a huge breakthrough for exercise and weight loss (which I thought was his expertise). His eyes glossed over and he ignored my comment entirely, making an unrelated comment about the day. I thought to myself, “A fitness expert that doesn’t keep up with his own subject.” (Note: Uncoupling proteins are activated in muscle with a combination of sustained aerobics, healthy leptin function, and nutrients like Q10 – resulting in disposal of calories as heat without any adverse cardio effects.)
The program began and Bob launched into his promotion of McDonalds and how he was going to reach so many people with a health message and partnership. He was going to turn McDonalds addicts into salad eaters. As the audience began asking questions it was apparent that his knowledge of weight loss was extremely limited – based on exercising more and eating less fat – and mostly exercising more. His message fell on deaf ears for the WCCO crowd – who in many cases were lucky to be exercising at all.
All the while this was going on Ronald McDonald kept jumping around in the background – either suffering from hyper-stimulation from the chemical flavorings in the McDonalds food he must have eaten that morning or in dire need of some ADD medication. The whole scene was beyond comprehension.
I wonder what I might have said if I had known what the program was going to be. As it was, I bit my tongue out of respect for the radio station, which was obviously being paid by McDonalds to do this. I couldn’t believe I was sitting on stage with a phony health advocate who actually thought people would eat salad when they went to McDonalds – a place that in my opinion epitomizes the evil empire of junk food that is causing disease in America.
It wasn’t until I started doing research for this article that I even understood what happened that day. McDonalds was having a PR dilemma expecting extreme negative publicity from the film Super Size Me. They teamed up with Bob Greene to help promote his new book, offering a 60% off coupon the day he went on Oprah and promoted his new book, his salad campaign with McDonalds, and his bike trip across the Southern United States where he would be stopping at various McDonalds locations. After that day’s Oprah appearance Bob Greene sold 50,000 copies of his book – and that was just the start.
McDonalds struck a PR gold mine, using Bob Greene and Oprah to get 1 billion favorable media impressions, which completely negated the effect of Super Size Me on their sales. For its part, McDonalds produced 8 million promo flyers for Bob Greene’s book. The program was a financial win-win for McDonalds and Bob Greene – but not for little children.
The Bob Greene campaign was dreamed up to lure young mothers into McDonalds under the guise of eating a salad, who would bring their children for junk food feeding. And so it is that a pretend health expert, acting like the Pied Piper, helped keep children coming to McDonalds, and on the fast track to obesity and diabetes. On this point alone, Bob Greene should be banished from the national health scene.
The Bob Greene Business Model
Bob Greene’s business model is based on endorsement deals that provide a link to the Oprah marketing machine via Bob Greene. This is not a small-time operation. He has a lot of large corporate sponsors – which invariably means fake foods masquerading as health foods.
The foods he promotes are laden with metabolically disrupting amounts of soy (which is often genetically modified), highly processed ingredients, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, Splenda, artificial flavors, and various chemicals. There are so many anti-metabolites in the foods he promotes that it is a wonder any person’s metabolism wouldn’t gag to a halt eating the foods he promotes for profit.
His business couldn’t be better. After his recent exposure on Oprah he has now secured a new two-year deal on another product - Nestlé Pure Life brand bottled water, a line of water that is not quite so pure, as it uses Splenda as a sweetener.
Scientific evidence clearly shows that Splenda significantly alters healthy digestive balance. If Bob Greene knew anything about nutrition he would know that such a problem will help cause food cravings and obesity – as well as other potentially serious digestive problems. I guess this will now be Bob’s beverage of choice.
Bob Greene is Nutritionally Deficient
One of the themes of Bob Greene’s diet is that you walk around all day in a self-introspected condition while carrying on a psycho-babble conversation with yourself. Obviously you are an emotionally defunct, weak-willpowered individual. Therefore, you must get to the bottom of your deep-rooted emotional disturbances. Keep yourself focused: What are you hungry for? Why are you overweight? Why have you been unable to maintain weight loss in the past? Why do you want to lose weight? What in your life is not working? (This last question must have been ripped off from another Oprah weight-loss guru, Dr. Phil.)
You have to keep yourself introspected all day long because the hunger pains are never going to go away on Bob Greene’s plan. Why? When you eat all the snacks, carbohydrates, sweeteners, and artificial sweeteners he thinks you should have so that you don’t feel deprived – you will never get over your addictive problems with food.
You have leptin receptors on your taste buds and they can no longer tell which end is up. This means you are stuck craving and eating more food than you really need because you have a misguided sense of fullness based entirely on his high carbohydrate, sugar-and-sweetener-laden plan. Since you’ll never get rid of these ghosts on Bob’s plan, you better assign their cause to the lack of love you felt as a child – and if you happened to have had a great childhood then you better figure out what else is whacked out in your head. And then you can just keep focusing on that when you are hungry.
The only other alternative would be for Bob Greene to give up all of his endorsements, so that you could un-addict yourself from highly processed garbage “health” food that he promotes, which is loaded with addiction-enforcing chemicals.
Bob is trying his best to improve his neophyte understanding of nutrition. On page 152 of the January Oprah magazine he makes a rather feeble attempt to explain the pleasure of eating and dopamine levels in your brain – as if such information is brand new. I recall giving a lecture back in 2005 to the American Society of Bariatric Physicians titled, “Thyroid, Food Addiction, and the Metabolically Unfit Fat Cell.” Back then, I explained the science on how dopamine-related problems fuel food addiction and cravings, and what needed to be done to solve the problem.
The issue of dopamine and pleasure is very problematic for dietician-minded “experts” like Bob Greene. The information means that you have to have some saturated fat in your diet while you are losing weight, much more than a dietician or Bob Greene ever recommends, or the next time you are under high stress and your adrenals start crashing you will eat a bowl of ice cream, a bag of potato chips or corn chips (like Oprah), or you will be off to McDonalds or your other favorite junk food stop – so that you can get a pleasure fix to stop the acute trauma in your brain.
Diets that lack saturated fat set you up for this problem – as well as forcing you to overeat carbohydrates in an attempt to satisfy the lack of dopamine-related pleasure resulting from the lack of saturated fat in your diet. In other words, you may be able to stay with a low saturated fat diet as long as you don’t get too stressed. As soon as stress levels get too high, you must have salt and fat to calm your brain down. This relieves the feeling of stress in the short term, but it is a disaster to your weight-loss efforts. The combination of adequate saturated fat with increased soluble fiber will make you much more resistant to stress-induced binges.
After Bob Greene attempts to explain dopamine, on the next page he gives you his diet strategies for improvement, which all center on reducing saturated fat intake. His advice sounds fine on the surface, but it sets you up for eating binges. People don’t live in stress-free bubbles.
The only way anyone could lose weight on Bob Greene’s diet is if whatever they were doing before they started his plan was far worse – which lucky for Bob is a lot of people like the 237 pound Oprah of many years ago. The low protein nature of his diet means that you will lose muscle and bone while doing it, even though he has you exercising (you’ll just end up more tired rather than more fit). This sets you up for yo-yo dieting, like his prize student, Oprah.
Sure Oprah had a tough childhood. And she maintains an incredibly demanding and stressful schedule. And now her metabolism has taken another numbing hit from menopause. And she has a terrible yo-yo diet history. Bob Greene is clogging her thyroid with soy. And he has her addicted to the sweet garbage that he’s promoting. Over the years, his diet has made her insulin resistance and leptin resistance much worse. He’s increasing her risk for disease. And Bob Greene is totally out of his league.
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