Tired of seeing weight loss multi-level marketing schemes and scams on your Facebook? We are too. Read on for a how to on spotting these bogus products and quick summary of each one.
Among the usual status updates, wall posts and photo uploads, we’ve been starting to see a whole new genre of social media posts. Lately, our Facebook newsfeeds and our Instagram timelines have been flooded with before and after photos.
“Are you ready for a change? I was, and you should be too! If you’re interested on how I did this for myself, PM me NOW and let’s get started on your weight loss journey TODAY!”
Hm, sounds intriguing and exciting and so you message your friend to find out what she’s been up to and to congratulate her on her seemingly more toned bod. And then, it comes. The marking pitch. The product push. The reason so many of us feel the need to mass unfriend or block people on social media sites.
You may find it super annoying, but what is this charade all about anyway? Unless your friend REALLY likes her Shakeology (which apparently means she has no palate at all – watch me try the crap here), this is probably a Weight Loss Multi-Level Marketing Scheme. The use of selling products through friends and colleagues is not new, but it has definitely become more prevalent with the rise of social media. And while this method has historically been tied to the diet industry, it almost always involves non-nutrition professional ambassadors whose goal is their bottom line, not your health. The result? There’s a lot of crap products out there with no scientific basis being bought and sold by untrained lay people. It’s pretty much a recipe for a serious scam for everyone involved.
Weight Loss Multi-Level Marketing vs Pyramid Schemes:
So what’s the difference between the weight loss multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes?
Pyramid Schemes are fraudulent, illegal schemes where those who enroll are asked to pay money upfront for membership. Participants in a pyramid scheme make money primarily from enrollment fees (or new sales people) rather than by selling products. Therefore, there are NO actual sale of any products, just a fake investment.
Weight Loss Multi-Level Marketing Schemes, pay a commission to distributors when an actual tangible product is sold. Like diet industry pyramid schemes, participants are still asked to pay money upfront in order to enroll. The difference is that participants in a weight loss Multi-level marketing scheme make money directly from enrollment fees AND by selling products. This makes weight loss multi-level marketing schemes a lawful investment. Annoying, yes, but legal.
Common Weight Loss Multi-Level Marketing & Pyramid Schemes
If you have a social media account and are on it at all, you’ve probably seen some of this crap going around. Here is just a taste of some of the BS I see everyday.
Weight Loss Multi-Level Marketing Scheme: Shakeology
Shakeology is advertised as shakes and smoothies that taste like a “sinful treat,” but are packed with protein, healthy fats and fibre. They also claim they will reduce food cravings, keep you fuller longer and give you more sustained energy. Well, I tried it (watch us here), and I wanted to vomit right away, so… I guess it reduced my food cravings? Grainy-medicinal-poo-water-flavour aside, this stuff is loaded with a ton of questionable ingredients that I don’t recognize. I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable drinking it as a “meal” twice a day.
Weight Loss Multi-Level Marketing Scheme: Vi Superfood Shakes
The Vi Lifestyle provides users with a complete menu of meals, drinks, snacks and supplements to guide them in completing one of the Vi “challenges.” These challenges range from a 90 day to 12 month time period and often focus on shedding a certain amount of pounds. The program seems to specialize in meal plans, but revolves around meal replacement shakes. They also make outlandish and out right false statements like, “less fat being consumed means less fat in the body”. Hello! 1990 is calling and it wants it’s misinformed diet back. Today we well know that there are multiple types of fat and many of which are incredibly important for general health and even weight loss. As for their “Superfood” shakes? Like the Shakeology, a lot of the ingredients are unrecognizable and processed. #Puke.
Weight loss Multi-Level Marketing Scheme: Beachbody
The Beachbody challenge includes a planned diet (including our beloved Shakeology), a thorough fitness routine and a ton of different products you can buy (and encourage others to buy) for your “challenges”. The company’s main focus is to associate weight loss with income and profit by becoming a Beachbody “coach”. At least the website isn’t hiding their lack of knowledge, they out right claim that you don’t need to be an “expert” related to fitness or nutrition in order to become a Beachbody coach. So…. If you don’t mind taking potentially dangerous health advice from a regular Joe or Jane without any training or education, then I guess Beachbody is for you. As I’m sure you already know, the “coaches” promote Beachbody products on social media and their blogs, and earn a commission directly off sales. AKA. They don’t care if you do or don’t need this stuff, they’re going to tell you that you do. And for the record guys, you don’t need any of this stuff to promote good health. Not the shakes, not the “boosts” (like their fibre supplement or “green” supplement), and definitely not their stupid color-coded containers to measure your food.
Weight loss Multi-Level Marketing Scheme: Arbonne
Arbonne markets nutrition products as well as beauty, skincare, bath and body products. Their products are based around “plant based protein”, and they also sell a bunch of random supplements (like green coffee bean extract) that potentially may be dangerous for some individuals if not cleared with a health care professional first. Their whole mantra is about being pure, safe and natural, but honestly, most of their products could not be further from natural. You know what’s natural? A local organic piece of chicken breast. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to supplement your diet with a protein powder, but I would much rather take advice on which to choose from a sports dietitian than a rando sales person fronting as an “expert”.
Weight Loss Multi-Level Marketing Scheme: Herbalife
This is an American based company that specializes in nutritional supplements, weight management, sports nutrition and personal care products. They also offer one-on-one coaching with another Herbalife member, a.k.a another ordinary individual “just like you” providing nutritional support and recommendations to combat the obesity epidemic. See a trend here? They are currently facing allegations proving whether or not Herbalife is a diet industry pyramid scheme, or a weight loss Multi Level Marketing company. Interestingly, if you go on their website, they seem to promote their members’ financial success just as much as their weight loss journeys. In other words, it’s about sales, not health. Also, I haven’t tried them, but a lot of their shakes are considered low calorie meal replacements with under 100 calories. Consuming so few calories for an extended period of time not only would be miserable, but actually may slow down your metabolism and make it harder to lose weight (read about real metabolism boosters here). SKIP-IT.
Weight Loss Multi-Level Marketing Scheme: It Works! Wow Wraps
Ugh.. this one is gross. It Works! specialize in body wraps (that ultimately attempt to shrink your size) but they also have essential oils, and nutritional protein supplements sold by regular folks on commission. Wow Wraps are basically saran-wrap like sheets that tightly wrap around parts of your body (abs, legs, anywhere you can think of) to help quickly lose inches and pounds in this targeted area. They go for almost $100 and they tell you to must drink copious amounts of water when wearing them and avoid salty fast food to shrink that body part. Um… obviously you’re going to look tighter if you’ve dehydrated yourself. Reviews from multiple customers online have shared their negative opinions and dissatisfaction on this product as they saw little to absolutely no results with the help of the wraps. Duh.
Weight loss Multi-Level Marketing Scheme: Isagenix
Isagenix focuses their sales on weight loss products, dietary supplements/meal replacements, snacks and even skin-care items. If you read a lot of the ingredient lists, you’ll see that fructose is usually one of the first ingredients. Looks like someone didn’t do their research when creating a so-called “weight loss” product. Studies show that elevated fructose consumption may play a role in elevated triglycerides, fatty liver, increased fat storage, and leptin insensitivity (increase appetite). In other words, I guess this is what happens when you take advice from people without any nutrition training. They also use the oh so common marketing trick of advertising their products as having “natural flavours”, a health halo that is loosely regulated and doesn’t necessarily mean it’s derived from natural sources. Want something natural? Try a peach.
Before and After Secrets
If you peruse any of these websites (and please don’t, for any reason other than to scoff at the crap you’ll find), you’ll notice they all have a “success story” section with before and after photos. The truth is, the scam behind these photos have been well documented. Stick out your gut in a before photo, suck it in in the after photo. Wear an unflattering too-tight white bikini bottom in the before, and a nice-fitting black bottom in the after. Slouch over in the before, and stand tall in the after. Change the lighting a bit and boom- you’re 10 lbs lighter. And this isn’t even taking photoshop into consideration. The bottom line is, don’t believe every amazing transformation you see online. Most are just some good selfie skills.
Should You Believe the Hype?
When it comes to Weight loss Multi-Level Marketing, we have one piece of advice. If it’s too good to be true, it likely is. Next time a Facebook friend pushes you into engaging in these programs, keep some of these points in mind:
1. You’ll never know how safe or effective these supplements will be.
All prescription drugs and non-prescription drugs (aka nutritional supplements) are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. But, nutritional supplements are treated more like “special foods.” This just means that supplements aren’t considered drugs, so, they aren’t put through the same strict safety, scrutiny and effectiveness requirements that prescription drugs are. Our nutritional supplement world is totally under-regulated and under-researched, so there’s a good chance that the supplements sold through these multi-level marketing schemes just won’t work. There’s also a chance that they’ll be down-right dangerous.
2. Consider the real purpose of these companies – money!
In 2013, Forbes rated the vitamins, minerals, and supplements (VMS) industry as being worth about $32 billion in year. Every year, VMS companies rake in a total of $32 billion in revenue. Forbes also claims that number is expected to top $60 billion by 2021, so health and nutrition companies shouldn’t be slowing down financially anytime soon.
3. Your Facebook friend is biased.
Remember that a weight loss multi-level marketing scheme is based solely on the recruitment of new users or members. Your Facebook “friend” will most definitely be biased about their promotional posts and will likely sensationalize their experience to capture your attention.
4. Who’s dietary advice are you listening to?
Know who you’re taking dietary advice from. Check whether or not your Facebook friend promoting that product has any formal education or credentials related to nutrition or dietetics. As a dietitian who cannot IMAGINE promoting such a quack product, I just have to say that I almost hope they don’t for the sake of our profession. Having said that, I’ve seen a few (and they didn’t like my YouTube video much). Either way, be sure to check with an unbiased Registered Dietitian or Doctor who isn’t selling the product to make sure the dietary supplements being promoted would support and improve your health.
I hate to be a debbie downer, but any product (or person) who promises you sensational results will most likely fail to provide sustainable, healthy weight loss. Skip the hokey products, ignore the hype, forget the before and after photos and focus on what you can do in the long term. Here are some great Summer tips to get you started.
Have you tried any of these diet industry multi-level marketing schemes? What did you think of them? Are you sick of seeing your friends promote these products? I would love to hear your experience!
Research by Martina Luketich
Updated on May 12th, 2020
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.