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Anthony Robbins

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Anthony J. Robbins is a motivational speaker best known for his seminars which have people engage in fire walking. Robbins' book Awaken The Giant Within brings to mind another title, The Bigness of the Fellow Within by chiropractic guru B.J. Palmer. The gist of these books is to think and act BIG -- a kind of self-imposed grandiose philosophy. Robbins attained a moment of fame when it was publicized that President Clinton had him come to Camp David to teach some of his methods for success [1].

In 1995, Robbins and his company, Robbins Research International (RRI), Inc., agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they exaggerated the profit potential of franchises for his motivational seminars. According to the FTC, prospective franchisees paid fees ranging from $5,000 to as much as $90,000 for the rights to conduct and charge admission for seminars featuring videotapes of Robbins presenting his motivational techniques. To resolve the FTC allegations, RRI and Robbins and RRI agreed to pay up $221,260 in redress to franchisees, and $175 each (up to a maximum of $49,875) to buy back any unused kits franchisees bought in addition to those initially supplied under the franchise arrangement [2].

Forbes magazine profiled Robbins (and others) with a by-line that said "Mark Twain wrote about them in Huckleberry Finn, but he never dreamed that modern technology would turn riverboat hustlers into big-scale entrepreneurs." [3] The article provided insight into what has been called "the American sweet dream of success"-- a dimension of human vulnerability exploited by multilevel marketing schemes, diploma mills, and health career training that appeal to adults, such as chiropractors, who take up potentially lucrative careers later in life.

Robbins's Unlimited Power promotes wacky notions about health and nutrition. In chapter 10, "Energy: the Fuel of Excellence," Robbins gives "six keys to a powerful, indomitable physiology." He acknowledges that "much of what I say will challenge things you've always believed. Some of it will go against the notions you now have of good health." But, Robbins says, they have "worked spectacularly for me" and the people he has worked with.

Key #1: The power of breath. Robbins presents ideas on deep breathing that are full of hot air! He says correctly that oxygen uptake is an important, but seems ignorant of the fact that the body automatically adjusts the breathing rate to meet its needs and that deep breathing (which can't be sustained) has no significant effect on oxygen uptake. He also claimes that breathing differently activates the lymphatic system, which he inaccurately describes as the "body's sewage system." These notions are part of the psuedoscience of "lymphology."

Key #2: Eat water rich foods (fresh fruits and vegetables). Although eating fruits and vegetables is a good idea, the information Robbins provides is faulty. He says our water is bad because of chlorine, fluoride and minerals and says that drinking distilled water is the "best idea," which is false. Robbins reveals his ignorance about physiology as he misinforms readers about how the body rids itself of metabolic wastes.

Key #3: Food combining. Robbins combines misconception, misinformation, and misguided advice based upon the crackpot theories of Herbert Shelton, a self-styled "nature doctor" who operated a "health school" in Texas. In 1982, the widow of William Carlton of Los Altos, Calif, who died after 30 days on a diet of distilled water won a $873,000 judgment against Shelton's school that prescribed the diet. Carlton was the sixth victim in five years known to have died while undergoing treatment at the school [4]. Among Shelton's disciples have been Judy Mazel who wrote The Beverly Hills Diet (1981) which was said to be "ludicrous" and "full of misinformation so strange that it would be funny, except that so many people seem to believe it" [5]; and, Harvey & Marilyn Diamond, authors of Fit For Life (1985), a book so wrongheaded as to be the equivalent of a geography book teaching that the earth is flat. Robbins states that the Diamonds were his former "partners."

Key #4: Control consumption (eat less). Telling Americans to eat less is generally good advice, unless they are anorectic which is not uncommon among health neurotics who follow Shelton's advice. Robbins' claims (incorrectly) that animal undernutrition studies are "undoubtedly applicable to humans because it works in every species thus far." The only species studied thus far are rats and mice with comparisons made between caged animals on either restricted or unrestricted diets. Rats and mice are extremely active in the wild with voracious appetites. Caging such animals greatly restricts their physical activity. Restricting foods to some while allowing others to overeat results in early death in the overeaters, not exceptional longevity in the restricted animals. Observations of free-living humans supports dietary moderation but not undernutrition. Ascetic people who deny themselves pleasing foods don't live longer; it only seems longer!

Key #5: Effective fruit consumption. Fruit is fine, but following Robbins' advice would be fruitless. He says "fruit is the most perfect food." However, no "perfect food" exists. Milk comes closest to being a complete food, but even mother's milk is too low in iron. Robbins unjustifiably condemns milk by quoting anti-milk zealot William Ellis, D.O. and misusing information about individual sensitivities such as lactose intolerance.

Key #6: The protein myth. Robbins is correct when he says that most Americans eat far more protein than the minimum required, but he is wrong when he says that "nobody has any idea how much protein we need." The amount of protein needed is affected by age, gender, athletic training, pregnancy, wound healing, and other factors, but these are considered and covered by RDAs. Robbins misquotes Dr. Mark Hegstead as saying that humans will adapt to whatever level of protein is available. Kwashiorkor is a protein deficiency disease common in malnourished people who obviously could not adapt. Robbins misrepresents Francis Lappe's (author of Diet For A Small Planet) retraction about the necessity of combining incomplete vegetables to meet protein needs. Her retraction stated that it is not necessary to combine incomplete vegetable proteins at each meal, that such combinations are necessary only in the total diet. Robbins is also wrong about meat swarming internally with colon bacteria. His authority was J. Milton Hoffman, ND, PhD, whose degrees were from diploma mills -- including the notorious "Donsbach University." (Hoffman wrote a book extolling the now discredited health and longevity of Hunzaland, and selling supplements that supposedly would provide the same for his customers.).Robbins extols vegetarianism as essential for good health. Although there is nothing wrong with smart vegetarianism, Robbins' version is nutritionally inadequate. Robbins recommends the American Natural Hygiene Society, which promotes Shelton's dangerous ideas [6]. He also advances the unfounded notions about diet and crime promulgated by Alexander Schauss, a self-styled expert who promotes himself with dubious credentials [7].


  1. The Bill-and-Newt gurus. U.S .News & World Report, Jan 23, 1995.
  2. Anthony Robbins agrees to pay more than $220,000 in consumer redress to settle alleged franchise rule violations. FTC news release, May 16, 1995.
  3. Gubernick L. The Happiness hucksters. Forbes, Oct 9, 1995..
  4. Los Angels Daily Journal Law Reports, Sept 21, 1982.
  5. ACSH News & Views, Jan-Feb, 1982.
  6. Kenney J. Fit For Life, some notes on the book and its roots. Nutrition Forum 3:57-59, 1986.
  7. Parton N. Self-claimed nutrition expert faked credentials, probe finds. The Vancouver Sun, Sept 13, 1988, pp B-1, B5.

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© 1996 National Council Against Health Fraud. With proper citation, this article may be reproduced for noncommercial purposes

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This article was posted on July 9, 2003