15 Most Controversial Health Figures
Last Updated: Oct 07, 2011
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Just because you’re trying to help others become healthier, doesn’t mean everyone supports your methods.The health and fitness space is a crowded one, and sometimes, only the voices with something controversial to say (or a controversial way to say it) stand out. But controversy isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes it helps shed light on an issue that really needs our attention (like our diet, workout methods or what we think we know about those two things). Take these 15 high-profile experts as examples. They've created their own unique brand -- and occasionally rubbed people the wrong way in the process.
You might not know this professor from Kansas State University by name. But in 2010, he provided evidence to support the idea that a calorie is just a calorie when he created “The Twinkie Diet.” For 10 weeks, Haub ate nothing but Twinkies, chips, Oreos and other “unhealthy” foods. The result: He lost 27 pounds by limiting his intake to less than 1,800 calories a day (comprised entirely of junk food!). It's definitely not a diet LIVESTRONG.COM can stand behind (though who doesn't love an Oreo every now and then?), but it certainly is an interesting conversation starter about calories and their role in weight loss.
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Arguably one of the first ladies of fitness, Fonda popularized fitness with her workout videos in the 1980s. “The Jane Fonda Workout” became the highest-selling home video ever, with more than a million copies purchased. She also re-branded in 2010 to help make older people more fit. Nothing wrong with any of that! But Fonda’s controversial health moment occurred when she confessed that she started taking testosterone at age 70 to help boost her sex drive.
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As a reality TV star, Frankel appeared on three different reality shows. She used her star power to create the popular liquor brand Skinnygirl, which she sold in 2011 and has since expanded to a wide variety of snacks, appliances and cookbooks. However, despite claiming that her product came from natural food sources, it was removed from Whole Foods when it was discovered that it contained sodium benzoate, a preservative that has the potential to take on a carcinogenic form. There's also the argument that simply because a product is low-calorie (the main claim of her products), that doesn't necessarily mean that it's healthy. Frankel also came under scrutiny for her rapid weight loss following her pregnancy.
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While she's no health expert, the extremely polarizing reality TV star has endorsed two fitness products. One, a toning walking shoe, and the other, a weight-loss supplement -- both of which have come under fire for reported false claims. All of which brings to mind the phrase, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
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Simmons is a pioneer in powerlifting. He was the first man to ever bench press more than 500 pounds, and then beat that record by benching 600 pounds. He even squatted 920 pounds at the age of 50. And his facility, Westside Barbell, is the best-known strength facility in the U.S. But some question his extreme measures and the toll they take on the human body. As evidence, look no further than the man himself: He suffered a variety of injuries including breaking his vertebra and tearing his biceps.
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For some people, the marathon is the most extreme form of exercise, putting the body through intense physical and mental exertion. For Dean Karnazes, it’s a way of life. Karnazes is an ultramarathoner (technically, any race beyond 26.2 miles but usually closer to 50 miles) who once ran 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 different states. He even wrote a book about the experience, 50 Marathons 50 Days: The Secrets to Super Endurance. But his extreme challenges have caused many to question his health practices and the strain on the body created by running ultramarathons.
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Warner earned celeb status when her gym was featured on the Bravo TV show “Work Out.” But she came under fire when she made insulting comments about clients who worked out at her facility, including a fitness model and a former breast cancer survivor. As a result, the show lost ad support and was cancelled, so Warner sold her gym. Warner floundered for a few years following. But in the years following, Warner got her life back on track, writing three books including, This Is Why You're Sick and Tired (And How to Look and Feel Amazing). Who doesn't love a comeback story?
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Anderson’s client list reads like a cover of US Weekly: Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and Jennifer Aniston are among the long-list of passionate followers. Anderson describes her method as “empowering the small muscle groups to help you achieve long, lean muscle and leave you body looking sexy and feminine.” While her followers are strong, many fitness experts criticize her approach to strength training, particularly because she believes that women should only lift light weights. She also came under fire in 2012 when she told DuJour magazine, "A lot of women use pregnancy as an excuse to let their bodies go, and that's the worst thing." She later apologized, but the public was not pleased.
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Few people have done a better job of drawing attention to the childhood obesity crisis than Jamie Oliver. In 2010, he launched “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” in an attempt to change the way schools offer food to kids. While no one questioned his intent, it wasn't without controversy. While encouraging lower-income families to cook healthier, he vastly underestimated the cost of the items he recommended, rather than demonstrating how to cook with items more within their budget. Additionally, some have questioned his techniques on his shows in Britain, such as his suggestion that women withhold sex until their husbands learn to cook.
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Also known as “America’s doctor” and Oprah’s physician, Dr. Mehmet Oz is a cardiac surgeon who hosts “The Dr. Oz Show.” He is also the author of six best-selling books, including the YOU series. However, many have questioned his authority because of inaccurate claims on his show and his promotion of pharmaceutical companies that are connected to his personal business ventures. As a result, in 2015, 10 prominent physician's wrote a letter to Columbia University, urging the institution to sever ties with Dr. Oz. But he remains the director of the Integrative Medicine Center in their department of surgery.
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A best-selling author and entrepreneur, Ferriss wrote “The 4-Hour Body” in 2010, and his book became an instant bestseller. In it, Ferriss shares his personal experiments and his suggestions for building muscle, burning fat and adding incredible strength. His incredible claims, such as losing 20 pounds in 30 days without exercise, were questioned by many in the health profession. Yet as with any radical new ideas (regardless of their validity), Ferriss has his share of incredibly devoted followers who swear by his methods.
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DR. ROBERT ATKINS
Before low-carb diets were as popular as they are today, there was Dr. Robert Atkins. Dr. Atkins espoused removing all carbs from the diet in order to put the human body in a state of ketosis liposis, where the body uses fat as energy. Many have criticized the diet because of its extreme nature, and its reliance on high-fat foods such as meats and cheeses. Some of his critics even point to Dr. Atkins' cardiac arrest in 2002 as evidence that this type of diet is unhealthy and even dangerous. Then in 2005, his company, Atkins Nutritionals, filed for bankruptcy.
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Horton revolutionized the world of at-home fitness when he created P90X, a training and diet DVD series that has sold millions of copies. Horton, a former actor, is best-known for generating a cult-like following for his fitness program, which has helped many men and women transform their bodies. The problem isn’t the results, but instead the pseudoscience -- specifically “muscle confusion” -- used to explain the effectiveness. The idea is that individuals need to constantly switch up their exercises and workout routines in order to keep seeing results. While there's a hint of truth in that statement, most fitness experts agree that it's more a slick marketing scheme than sound workout advice.
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Considered a modern-day diet crusader, Taubes has played a vital role in questioning some of the most common dietary practices. In 2002, he wrote an article that criticized a low-fat approach to losing weight, and in 2007, his book “Good Calories, Bad Calories” questioned the long-held belief that all calories are created equal. Obesity is caused, Taubes argues, not by the quantity of calories you eat but by the quality. Carbohydrates, particularly refined ones like white bread and pasta, raise insulin levels, promoting the storage of fat.and that refined carbs are the cause of most health problems.
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One of the best-known personal trainers in the world, Jillian Michaels' claim to fame is directly linked to her presence on hit TV show “The Biggest Loser.” While the contestants on the show lose hundreds of pounds, many health experts question Michaels’ exercise selections, her background as a trainer and whether her tactics are sustainable and healthy in the long run. Additionally, several class-action suits have been filed against Michaels regarding the ingredients and claims in her weight-loss products.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Who do you think is the most controversial of these health figures? Are you a fan of Jillian Michaels, Dr. Oz, Tony Horton or Gary Taubes? Who were you surprised to see on this list? Is there anyone else you would add? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
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