It’s January, which means the onslaught of people selling Beach Body, Shakeology, Juice Plus, Isogenix, Juice Cleanses, Detoxes, Raspberry Ketones, and Insanity is upon us. These are usually sold through MLM (multilevel marketing) programs. Learn what questions you need to ask before jumping on board with a new trend.

Every day on Facebook there are a few new posts about somebody selling vitamins, holding a class at their library, or “teaching” fitness classes (from a DVD) at their church. I don’t fault anybody for trying to make a few extra bucks on the side. Heck, I still have a weekend side-job to help pay down my student loans. I just hate seeing my friends invest in products that may or may not work.

My goal with this article, and future guides, is to teach you some of the questions to ask when evaluating a product.

(As a disclosure, I am an affiliate with Precision Nutrition, Prograde Nutrition, and Perform Better. You’ll notice that there are no affiliate links in this article. Click the “Resources” tab to learn more.)

Why? I’d like as many of my friends and family to be as well-informed as possible. I get very frustrated when I see my friends wasting their money on products that have been proven not to work. It’s difficult to make blanket statements as to which products are good and which are bad. It’s more worthwhile to teach you how to look at a service.

Best not to buy from these guys. Photo source: http://www.healthnewsreview.org/

Best not to buy from these guys (Vintage Snake Oil Salesmen). Photo source: http://www.healthnewsreview.org/

This article is a general overview of how I look at and evaluate any multi-level marketing product. I’ll publish a second that explains how to specifically evaluate a supplement and its claims. For that article, I’ll evaluate Juice Plus and explain why the science doesn’t add up. I’ll also include a list of supplement types that I recommend.

I’ll later write a third guide on how to pick and start an exercise program. And I’ll cap it off with a fourth article on how to pick a personal trainer, nutrition coach, or other fitness professional.

With that said, here are some broad observations and tips:

 

1 – Learn who is trying to sell you the product, their background, and if they receive a commission.

Who is the person selling the product? Do they have formal training or education that makes them a “trusted authority”? As an example, I’m more likely to trust the vitamin recommendations of a registered dietitian than I am of a stay-at-home mom or realtor.

If it’s your doctor or chiropractor, ask them what education they have that is relevant to the product being sold. Many general practice doctors will readily admit that they’re unfamiliar with the science and practice of exercise prescription. If they haven’t studied exercise physiology, they may not be the best person to recommend an appropriate exercise program.

As an aside, there are many physical therapists and chiropractors without adequate training in exercise prescription for strength training. They’re absolutely skilled at physical rehabilitation, but may not have a formal education in the performance side of exercise physiology. They’re simply not qualified to recommend specific exercise programs.

It’s why many physical therapists will keep and maintain a CSCS (Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist) or CPT (Certified Personal Trainer) credential to prove their knowledge of both fields. There’s a big difference between telling somebody to walk everyday versus making a specific recommendation for an exercise program.

In addition, it may not be within their professional scope of practice to make specific recommendations to you. Scope of practice (what a profession legally can and cannot do) often varies by state, but it’s something to be aware of.

For example: I can provide general nutrition education and coaching to healthy clients. I cannot provide specific nutrition plans or provide nutrition advice for people with serious diseases, such as Type II Diabetes. That’s covered by Medical Nutrition Therapy, which is left to Registered Dietitians.

There’s nothing wrong with receiving a commission for selling a product. It’s a win-win for every party involved. Just be sure to do your own independent research on the product before handing over your hard-earned cash.

2 – Is there a better, comparable, or more affordable alternative?

If it’s a multi-level marketing (MLM) program (commonly called a pyramid scheme by detractors), there is usually an increase in price to make up for the salesperson’s commission.

With MLM products, such as supplements, even the good ones can be compared to less expensive products. Now, I’m not saying that a $10 multivitamin is as good as a $40 multivitamin. That’s usually not the case and you get what you pay for.

The good news is that many MLM programs have already been researched. Sites like MLM Watch and even Wikipedia often have the dirty details on several products. While your college professor may not have let you use wikipedia as a source, it didn’t stop you from using the sources listed in Wikipedia as valid information. Go one step further and read the sources. That’s where the real information is!

Example: MLM Watch thoroughly debunking Juice Plus

If you’re slacking on fruits and veggies:

1 – Pick up a tried and true powdered greens supplement, like Greens+. These will have the specific ingredients listed and often read like an advertisement for a garden. Best of all, they have the actual supplement facts so that you know what you’re getting.

2 – Eat more fruits and veggies! (Yes. It’s really that simple.)

LINK: Here are some easy ways to get more fruits and veggies in.

 

Specific Example: Shakeology

There’s really nothing wrong with Shakeology or any other shake-based meal replacement. But it’s just that, a meal replacement. It’s a multivitamin, a meal replacement shake, and a protein shake in one. Pretty good bang for your buck AND it’s convenient.

But it’s not a miracle, and don’t expect it to be one. It’s great for a quick fix if you’re super busy or prefer liquid nutrition for breakfast.

You can do just as well, if not better, by making your own power smoothie every morning. Simply grab some high quality whey protein powder, fresh or frozen fruit, healthy fats, and a blender. Invest in a quality multivitamin. If you’re concerned about “superfoods”, either:

  1. Eat more of them in a raw, unaltered state
  2. Invest in a high quality greens supplement.

 

3 – Are you buying from a “health coach”, or a vitamin salesperson in disguise?

Selling vitamins doesn’t make somebody a health coach. It makes them a vitamin salesperson.

Nothing wrong with it, but there aren’t exactly prerequisites to sell vitamins. In most MLM programs, all you need to do to sign up is pay an entry fee. You’re typically recruited by the person that sold you in the first place.

Each other sales person that they sign up boosts their income. Hence the “pyramid scheme” title. The bigger your sales team below you, the more money that you can earn. There are MLM programs with great products to sell. But be aware that the price is typically higher for MLM products than over-the-shelf alternatives.

There are certifications for health coaching, but it’s largely a meaningless and unregulated designation. Anybody can call themselves a health coach, with or without training, education, or certification.

Certification itself may not mean anything, as most programs are not vetted by independent, 3rd-party organizations. Two programs with good reputations include ACE’s Health Coach Certification and Duke University’s Integrative Health Coach Professional Training.

*ACE: American Council on Exercise

 

4 – Do you know what kind of an exercise program is right for you?

If you haven’t worked out consistently for 3 months or are overweight, I am begging you, do not do Insanity. Unless you want to pay a physical therapist or an orthopedist later to rehab your smashed and swollen kneecaps.

It’s not a beginner program. Nothing about the name “Insanity” should imply that it is for beginners.

Before I agree to work with a new client, I require two things:

  1. A Functional Movement Screen. I administer these for free to check for good flexibility, mobility, and stability before beginning a program. Other screens exists that are beneficial. Either way, do some kind of exercise pre-testing. Not for fitness, but for ability.
  2. A physical. Blood pressure, bloodwork, and a discussion of their health with their doctor.

If you are a beginner, there are some great programs out there for you. I’m a big fan of “Bulletproof Athlete” by Mike Robertson, as well as the “Turbulence Training” series by Craig Ballantyne. If you’re looking for an in-person coach, ask your prospective coach about their approach to beginners.

I follow the model recommended by the NSCA*, which involves a slow and steady “ramping up” period. We focus on building a specific quality, like muscular endurance, for 2-4 weeks before moving onto the next. This is what’s known as “Linear Periodization”. It’s outdated for athletes, but is still a useful model for beginners. After 3-4 months, we progress to more difficult and advanced training programs.

Bottom line: If you’re out of shape, get “in shape” before beginning anything crazy or “extreme”. If you’re overweight, please avoid jumping around until you’re stronger and leaner. Your knees will thank you.

*NSCA: National Strength & Conditioning Association

 

5 – Cleanses, Detoxes, and Weight Loss Claims (Ask “What else should I be doing to see results?”)

The scientific consensus is clear: You don’t need to detox your colon. Your liver is also fine, unless you have a history of alcohol abuse, some serious health problems, or hard drugs. In which case, consult a doctor.

If you want to really fix up your gut health, look into elimination diets, FODMAP diets, and probiotics. Forewarning: These diets are HARD work.

If you’re interested in why most cleanses and detoxes do more harm than good, I recommend reading my article: “Fat Loss Debunked: Why Crash Diets Do More Harm Than Good”.

In addition, many trends advertise for weight loss. It’s what most people use to measure their health. (I encourage you to ditch the scale – here’s how). The problem is, not all weight loss is equal. A crash diet often causes a loss of lean muscle mass (muscle tissue).

Losing lean body mass can decrease your metabolism. It’s possible to lose weight while becoming fatter (increasing your body fat percentage) on a bad diet.

As an example, I saw a Shakeology ad posted on Facebook that boasted of a 2lb loss in weight in “just two days”. A weight loss of 2lbs can be as simple as daily changes in hydration. It tells you nothing about the type of results experienced and if they are valid. It’s a simple cash grab from a misinformed salesperson.

What matters are changes in body fat percentage, clothing size, or measurement (waist size, hip size, etc.). Track those changes, and evaluate a program based on those kinds of improvements. Ask what the typical changes are in body fat percentage.

In addition, ask the question: “What else?” As in, what else did that person do to see results? Did they improve their nutrition? Did they exercise regularly (5-7 hours per week)?

It’s unlikely that a single, solitary improvement lead to a person’s transformation.

 

Conclusion

All in all, it’s up to you to evaluate a product or a service.

To recap:

  1. Ask who is trying to sell you the product or service, what their education is, and why they’re selling it
  2. Ask what alternative products are available, and if they’re more affordable
  3. Learn the difference between a health coach and a vitamin salesperson
  4. Learn what type of exercise program is right for you. Be honest with yourself.
  5. If it’s a weight loss program, what type of weight was lost? Fat? Or muscle and lean body mass?

 

My next article will explain how to evaluate a supplement. I’ll delve into Juice Plus and explain why the research doesn’t stack up, in my opinion. After that, I’ll focus on how to start an exercise program as a beginner and how to choose a personal trainer.

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