Slim Slippers: A Precautionary Tale
Mr. Dunkle, a former top Reader's Digest editor, is founder and CEO of DietPower, which produces nutrition and fitness software for the personal computer and the World Wide Web. This article is an expanded version of his first "Duck Hunt" column that will be a regular feature in DietPower's monthly e-mail newsletter.
"What if I told you there is a way to lose weight without joining a gym or changing your eating habits?" says the front page of GetSlimSlippers.com. "Get Slim Slippers® are the way. Weird though it sounds, they actually work."
They certainly look weird. They're so tiny, your heel hangs off the back. People might think you borrowed them from a nine-year-old. But the Get Slim web site quotes a lot of wearers who swear by these things. One is Megan McCarver, a certified yoga instructor, who says, "Wearing them only 15 minutes a day will tone you from the inside out, causing you to shed inches as well as weight!" The site's "Reflexology" page promises even more:
According to Reflexology, Acu-Point Channels and Chinese Medicines, a regular foot massage will increase your lifespan by helping to balance your body. Unlike western medicine practices, which focus strictly on symptom relief, eastern medicine focuses on correcting the source of the health problem. However, correcting the source takes time. For every organ in our bodies, there is a corresponding area on the soles of our feet.
The purpose of the Slipper is to stimulate the areas that effect digestion and weight control, such as the Stomach, both Intestines, Liver and Kidneys, with magnets and pressure point therapy. The Get Slim Slippers are designed with No Heel, and a bulgy middle that, when combined with powerful magnets, stimulate the untouched sole of the foot, thus activating the nerves responsible for digestion and eating habits.
The side effect is you lose weight.
The "Additional Information from a Scientific Perspective" page explains further:
1st: They make you laugh at the sight of them! That's excellent for endorphin flow through the body....
2nd: The slippers shape and magnets placement "tone" the digestive tract with strategic stimulation to the reflex zones and acupuncture meridians responsible for affecting the entire abdominal cavity, including reflex areas for the thyroid gland—which is so critical in metabolism.
3rd: The actual structural foot placement in the slipper with the heel of the foot left"dangling" off the back, begins to align posture—taking pressure off the spinal column and potentially relieving typical low back pain, and continuing to correct shoulder and neck distress.
When the body is structurally aligned, the internal organs also rest more comfortably within the cavities. At least two processes occur when that is the case. (1) Absorption of nutrition becomes better. (2) The need or craving for food as compensation for discomfort of pain or fear quietly diminishes. . . .
Even if weight is not an issue, people seem attracted to the slippers as they seem to boost energy, help posture, and generally uplift one's spirit when worn and walked in for just a minimum 15 minutes a day. The first, most noticeable effect in more trim people is a looseness at the waistbands of pants and skirts as well as a difference in digestive processing.
Another page (Get Slim Slippers The 'Magical' Shoes") offers insights attributed to an Israeli "reflexology specialist" who explains that the construction of the slippers forces postural changes that automatically tighten the abdominal muscles and causes the sensation of "gathering in." Then:
This 'ingathering' of the organs results in the following: women will suffer less from bladder/kidney problems; the intestines will work more regularly; people suffering from vein problems or sluggish feet will feel lighter and have less pressure on the veins. In addition, there's a possibility that hemorrhoids will disappear. Continued usage will influence the upper body. This is because as soon as the waist is released from pressure, the burden will lift off the shoulders and neck area. This results in more efficiency in the area of the chest, in breathing, in alertness, and less throat infections. Because Get Slim Slippers strengthen the lower abdominal and waist areas, they actually rehabilitate two of the most important central systems of the body. One is found in the lower abdomen and connects to the existing fears, (notice how we feel fear as abdominal distress), the second, happiness in life and vitality. The magnets in Get Slim Slippers are located in the high arch of the sole of the foot—which is the area that controls the stomach organs, liver, kidneys, digestive system, and the bladder. The magnets stimulate the nerves in that layout and pain is relieved in its parallels. At this point, blood circulation is regulated in the area. Getting fat is a result of the inner system being sluggish. A tired digestive system is equal to a slow metabolism/ thyroid and loose muscles. With the help of Get Slim Slippers, the muscles get stronger and the digestive system works more efficiently. On the mental level, as we fear less, we lose less energy and we need less food.
I don't know about you, but if I could lose weight, live longer, and enjoy the health benefits listed above just by wearing slippers, I wouldn't care how silly I looked in them. In fact, I'd be willing to pay thousands of dollars for the opportunity. Yet these cost only $49.99.
"Give Me Two Pairs"
To learn more, I phoned Get Slim's 800 number and got Thia Smith, a Californian who helped to introduce the slippers to this country. (They're from China.) I told her that my company (DietPower) wanted to test the slippers and, if they proved effective, consider selling them in our online health shop. "How do these things work, anyway?" I asked.
"They're a tool that causes your heart to beat faster and your metabolism to run faster," Smith explained. "They're based on time-honored principles, especially reflexology."
Reflexology claims to speed blood to certain organs by massaging "pressure points" on the hands, feet, or other body parts. By supporting your weight on your instep instead of your heel, Smith said, Get Slim slippers massage pressure points connected to the heart and digestive organs. In addition, she said, embedded in each slipper are three strategically placed magnets. These, too, influence the digestive system. Together, she said, the magnets and the foot massage cause your body to burn more calories, leading to effortless weight loss.
Or at least that's the theory. "We're the first ones to say these aren't based on science," Smith said. "But they do work. We have thousands of customers who say so."
Indeed, Get Slim's web site is peppered with testimonials. " I've lost 20 lbs in 10 weeks," writes Lisa Lisnek. "I know it is the Slippers because nothing else is different in my routine." And Johnella Ellis writes, "I'm constant losing weight, and keeping it off. I have more energy, too."
When I asked Smith how she got into this business, she said that her boyfriend's father's best friend's son, who runs the factory in China that produces the slippers, gave her a pair when he visited the United States. "I was skeptical at first," she said. "Then I noticed after three or four weeks that my pants were looser." She discovered she had lost eight pounds. The slippers were already popular in China, she said, "and I thought it unfair that we didn't have them in this country."
At the end of the call, I said, "Give me two pairs." With a $10 discount for the multiple order, my total came to $90 plus $6.95 for shipping and handling.
The slippers arrived a couple of days later, neatly housed in a polyethylene zip bag. They had tough, cellulose-like soles and tastefully-printed canvas tops. They were amazingly lightweight—only three ounces each. The bag also contained a user's manual and a message from Chai Chalamish, CEO of Get Slim's parent company (Digicom-Matsu Industries, Inc.) in Los Angeles. The message said, "Only by following the instructions will the Slippers make a change in your life. Respect and be One with the Slippers." I wasn't sure how to follow that instruction, so I began reading those in the manual.
The manual was littered with spelling and grammatical errors. ("The side effect is you loosing weight!") Clearly this was no Fortune 500 company. But the manual did declare, in no uncertain terms, that the slippers "will help you in getting slimmer." It said each user reacts differently, though: "Some could lose up to 14 pounds in 21 days, however others could loose only 10 pounds after 40 days."
The directions were simple: Wear the slippers only 15 minutes the first day, and gradually build up to longer periods—but not more than 2-1/2 hours a day. "Wearing the slippers while sitting will not be effective," it said. I would have to walk in them. If I followed these rules, the manual said, I would notice effects "after a mimimum of 3 weeks." I spent the rest of the day practicing my pronunciation of the word mimimum.
I wore the slippers faithfully for a month. Since I spend most of my days sitting at my computer, I used a stopwatch to keep track of the time I actually walked in them. Although I wore them an average of 3.3 hours per day, my walking time averaged 25 minutes.
I obeyed all the instructions. I started off gradually. In fact I had to—my arches, bearing almost all of my weight, hurt fiercely the first few days. (If you've ever climbed a round-runged ladder in your bare feet, you know the feeling.) I never went over the 2-1/2-hour limit, and I tried to "respect the slippers" in spite of jeers from my office mates. In a sense, I even "became One with the slippers"—they delivered a terrible foot odor each time I took them off. Apparently, the canvas uppers don't "breathe."
I didn't change anything else in my routine. I got almost no exercise. (A calf injury had put a stop to my daily jog more than a month before.) And according to DietPower, my diet remained remarkably stable: my daily calorie intake stayed within 10% of last year's average, and my percentage of calories from fat, carbohydrate, and protein changed by no more than a single point each.
Meanwhile, I monitored three other things:
- My weight, using our Tanita body-fat scale. (It's accurate to 0.2 pounds.)
- My metabolic rate, using DietPower nutrition software. (Your metabolic rate is the number of calories needed to maintain your weight. DietPower recalculates it every day by analyzing your exercise, food, and weight logs.)
- My resting pulse.
The results of this 30-day test were amazing:
- Instead of losing weight, I gained 3.0 pounds.
- Instead of rising, my metabolic rate plummeted—from 2695 calories per day to 2312.
- My pulse did not change significantly.
In other words, if the slippers had any effect at all, it appeared to be the opposite of what the company claimed.
I had given the second pair of slippers to a friend in Washington, D.C., who lost 64 pounds last year with the help of DietPower. She had agreed to stop using DietPower and wear the slippers instead. I phoned her up. "So how'd the slippers work?" I asked.
"Awful," she said. "I only wore them a couple of times. They're so intensely uncomfortable, I just couldn't keep it up. I figured just having them in the vicinity might be of some help, though—because of the magnets. But I've done nothing but eat and gain weight since trying them. They failed miserably."
I wasn't surprised at these results. There is no credible scientific evidence that either reflexology or magnets can do what Get Slim claims. Reflexology has no scientific basis. Although reflexologists claim that manipulating pressure points can enhance the flow of "energy" to various organs, they have never identified the physical pathways involved. Nor have they proven their claims with controlled scientific experiments. And most studies of static magnets (the kind used in footware) have found no measurable effect on any body function.
Work "Like Magic" in Israel
A few days after my trial period ended, I phoned Get Slim's 800 number again. This time I got Mr. Chalamish, the company's CEO. (Thia Smith had left the company three weeks earlier, he said.) In an accent that I had trouble deciphering (he's an Israeli who has lived in China for ten years), Chalamish told me that the reason I hadn't gotten any results was simple: I hadn't followed the instructions. I had walked in the slippers only 25 minutes a day. "It's an improvement of day and night if you get to the two hours," he said.
"What two hours?" I said. "The manual doesn't say that."
"Yes it does." He directed me to the sentence warning that people shouldn't wear the slippers more than two and a half hours a day.
"That's a caution, not a recommendation," I said. "If you want people to wear them at least two hours, why doesn't the manual say so?"
"Because what happens, people don't want to take them off."
"With this slipper you feel you are walking on air. You feel uplifting."
Clearly we were not communicating. But after a few minutes of back-and-forth, Chalamish finally got his point across: some people lose weight wearing the slippers only 20 or 30 minutes a day, but others—like me—need two hours.
I asked Chalamish whether he had controlled studies proving the weight-loss effect. "No," he said. "We started selling only last October."
"Most companies test their products before they sell them, don't they?" I said politely.
"Well, we tested in Israel first. We exported to Israel two years ago, and it's working like magic there." He said his father and mother had tried the slippers and ended up ordering dozens of pairs for their Israeli friends.
I reminded him that in any group of people given a medical device, there will always be a few whose health improves and who believe it's because of the device. He replied that he knew the slippers worked, "because the people would not have written us letters if it didn't."
Finally, I questioned him on the two therapies that the slippers are said to exploit. I asked whether he could point to any studies proving the effectiveness of reflexology. "It's a science," he said. "You can study it at a university." I also inquired about studies demonstrating the health benefits of magnets. "I cannot tell you any right now," he said. "But magnet studies are all over."
Eventually, I learned that Chalamish was not a medical expert; his field is electronics. His company's chief products are baby monitors, video door phones, alarms, and other security devices.
The conversation ended with Chalamish urging me again to walk in the slippers at least two hours per day. My daily jog won't count, because I'm not supposed to run in the slippers. (I have no temptation to do this. Just thinking about it makes me wince.)
Since I don't have two hours per day to walk (nor do most Americans—they average about half that much), I've decided to retire the slippers for now. (I gave one to Wally the Schnauzer. So far, he hasn't touched it.) If anyone out there has better evidence that they work, contact me. Maybe I can be persuaded to rearrange my schedule for a second test. But I doubt it.
The Press Weighs In
At bottom, I think Get Slim's claims are laughable. Yet the American press, always eager for a good story, has latched onto these slippers like a hyperactive puppy. The Get Slim web site lists 25 items in newspapers, magazines, and TV and radio broadcasts, ranging from the New York Daily News to local CBS, NBC, and Fox affiliates. A few items appear to have been ads, but the National Examiner's story is headlined, "Magnetic Slimming Slippers Turn Your Body into A Fat-Burning Machine."
My quick review of this coverage shows reporters blithely parroting the company's claims. They insert the usual qualifiers ("according to the company," "a company spokesman says"). But they don't bother to check the claims with credible scientific or medical authorities. That, after all, is beside the point. Journalism these days is not about seeking the truth. It's about selling newspapers or getting a chuckle between commercials.
By the way, six of the people whose testimonials appear on Get Slim's site—Johnella Ellis, Rhonda Funes, Megan McCarver, Cheri Reeder, Elaine Strajcher, and "Jussta" (no last name)—are identified on the site as Get Slim dealers.
This article was posted on February 28, 2002.