The Placebo Effect

When Marci came down off the experimental ghrowlenexofang pills, she felt like she’d been run over and mauled by a truck-sized armadillo. Her heart was worn out after running its own marathon without her two left feet, and her brain felt frowsy. She grabbed a liter bottle of Coca-Cola and downed it in under seventeen gulps. Pressing ice to the back of her neck, Marci doubled over the kitchen trash and vomited. Not the sort of diet aid she’d had in mind when she signed up to review the latest hot fad on the Internet.

After tossing her cookies, Marci tossed the bottle of ghrowlenoxofang into the trash behind them. Who came up with these names?

Marci had had decent good luck with the Kilo Krunchers program and The 50 Stone Solution. Cutting calories, walking more, and drinking two liters of water, daily, were key to her intermittent successes. Self-discipline and consistency, she knew, would have enhanced the overall effect. It was so simple, really, that Marci was still kicking her own behind for all the money she’d spent, over the years, for one “quick weight loss fix” after another. She decided she’d rather be healthy, happy, and fat than to be thin, sick, and aching all over.

Unfortunately, the lawyers hired by the makers of growlenexofang didn’t see it that way; when Marci wrote about her experiences on her blog, she pulled no punches. And although truth was an absolute defense, the court costs and the hourly fee of the lawyers who articulated that defense took all but the last $400 Marci had in savings. She learned that the Living in Your Car Diet worked, but with only marginally fewer bad side effects than ghrowlenoxefang.

Finally, in desperation – and realizing that the tide of public opinion was set in motion by ads set to popular music videos and energetic dancers, not by logic and rational conclusions – Marci hit upon an idea that was bound to make her a wealthy woman. Using the computer at the local public library, she wrote a nonsensical book about “placeboxerfibonaccino” and touted its “miraculous fat-burning properties.” To make it sound like less of a chem lab experiment, she said that its key ingredients were secret, healthful ingredients known to aboriginal peoples around the world, who knew its sweet, healthful rewards and had safely used it in raw form for centuries.

It wasn’t a lie. The Placebo Fib, as she called her invention up in her head, was made of sugar. She could truthfully describe its sweetness, its energizing ability, and its naturalness. The key to losing weight was all in the instructions: Take one pill with a full eight ounces of water, eight times a day. Eight times eight to lose the weight! Catchy slogan, easy to remember. Marci made sure to include the disclaimer: No specific guarantee of weight loss, and placeboxerfibonaccino – PBF21, for short – would work best in conjunction with a sensible diet and exercise regimen, and only if used exactly as directed.

Marci crafted a series of promotional memes: quotes from Dr. Katerina Tevic (a pseudonym that might as well have been Dr. A Kcauq Kcud); stock images of fit women in yoga pants, carrying brightly-colored, diaphanous, incongruous scarves, jumping at the edge of a cliff at sunrise; photos of sugar cane growing on a gorgeous, tropical island.

She bought the pills online, without even having to fill out a form in triplicate, and replaced the generic label with a cheerful PBF21 logo and small print. They practically sold themselves on the free website she set up. A popular talk show host tried them and dropped three dress sizes before the Emmy Awards.

Marci moved out of her car and into a nice little apartment in a safe neighborhood. She was careful not to blow all her “ill-gotten gains” in the joy of the moment. She’d have no need of fancy homes, flashy clothes, and cars; realistically, she knew, she would need to travel light and keep one eye over her shoulder. The ride couldn’t last forever.

And yet… it did. No one died, no one complained. Marci had gambled correctly that people would sooner take a pill and follow a bunch of odd instructions than simply count calories, drink water, and exercise. She read studies that suggested a good night’s sleep was essential to boosting weight loss efforts, and got the idea to package PBF7+1 – a blister pack of seven pills with an eighth, colored purple, to be taken at bedtime in order to promote a deep and healthy sleep. She was a multimillionaire within two years.

Her drug had taken the world by storm; obesity across North America was at an all time low. Marci began to wonder what else she could cure. Cancer? The common cold? She was giddy with the possibilities.

No, Marci decided, after sleeping on it for a few nights. She’d been living on borrowed time as it was, but she knew that the FDA wouldn’t hesitate to swoop down like a condor on a mouse if she got greedy. Marci sold the rights to PBF21 and PBF7+1, bought a yacht, and vanished for seven years, giving the FDA and the IRS no reason to remember her.

Sailing was hard, exhilarating work. She never again struggled to lose weight, and she never had to live in a car again.

This is #5 for StoryADay May. Today’s story was inspired by an idea I had many years ago. I still think it would be effective, but the legality’s a bit…questionable. Fortunately, little things like “legality” needn’t concern us when writing fiction.


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at For more information on her children's books, please visit
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8 thoughts on “The Placebo Effect”

    1. I guarantee there’s no pain at all! Be sure to get up and move while following Marci’s diet – exercise helps to circulate the PBF21 through the bloodstream more effectively, for faster results. 😉

  1. And not a simple dead person. And if the clients got what they wanted out of the pills….. Mission Accomplished!

    I hope she retired to a south sea island, and raised coconuts.

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