This past weekend I received a message from Megan Griffith, owner of Kinetic Fitness and Training, north of Charlotte in North Carolina:
"I don't know how to deal with all these MLM, particularly Shakeology and It Works, peeps attacking my clients and gym members. It is killing me. I want to scream. Every time one of my beautiful amazing clients posts a photo of themselves proud and happy in the gym, they get an inbox message telling them that "abs are made in the kitchen" or "kitchen first, gym second". I really am at my wits end. Most of these ladies are finally starting to unravel all the BS they've learned, and it kills me to see the MLMers hounding them. How do you handle this?"
Let me first start with the overlying assumption of the things I'm about to say: visible abs are not an indicator of health, nor are they "made in the kitchen". I'm going to provide some advice on how to keep our clients safe and sane from the practices of MLM predators. We could spend all day debunking claims that MLM companies make in regards to their "results", but luckily a lot of my friends have already done that. Just click the links throughout this post to read more about the "why not" behind fitness and diet MLM companies. This post is focused on the "what now?".
I'll be honest, I've thought and said on many occasions about how badly I want to take all of my clients, put them in little bubbles and keep them free of the toxicity that can sometimes be involved with the fitness industry. I want to post and tag photos of them being badass all over facebook doing deadlifts and kickboxing and just doing amazing things and not have to worry about if a second cousin of theirs is going to chime in with a comment that will do anything but lift them up in a healthy positive way.
It absolutely kills me when someone comments something that they might not even know is not particularly helpful:
"Keep your hands up when you kick." -The Person Who Doesn't Stop To Use A Compliment Sandwich And Thinks It Is Okay To Comment On Someone Else's Exercise Form In A Public Forum
"Are you sure this is good for your knees?" -Concern Troll Who Doesn't Know Much About Exercise, But Feels The Need To Let You Know They Care About You....r Knees. Also Bad At Compliment Sandwiches.
"Keep this up and imagine what you'll look like by summer!"- Person Who Thinks They're Complimenting Your Will To Workout But Obviously Doesn't Get It.
Now imagine the above characters have the same initial reactions to seeing photos of your clients in action doing amazing things, except now they qualify for one or more of the following:
1. Have invested a significant amount of money up front in product that is now on them and their livelihood to re-sell and turn a profit (or at least make back their initial investment).
2. Have been indoctrinated by the idea that independent wealth is just a facebook comment away and
3. that sales start with empathy, and empathy apparently is sending messages and making comments to your loved ones about your concern for their wellbeing and your product is just what they need. /sarcasm
In the same way we are all prey for the $60 billion/year fitness and weight loss industry, we are now all fair game for our loved ones who fall into the above criteria.
MLM companies have taken their overpriced, mediocre and sometimes dangerous product and found a way to give it "credibility" by putting their marketing and salesforce in our homes, at our family gatherings and in our social networks.
What can we do to protect the ones we love from falling victim to the skeezy sales tactics of these MLM companies? The same things we do to protect them from the predatory diet industry itself.
Set the foundation in your practice through leading by example.
Set the standard first for anti-fragility, second for high regard to evidence based practices and products, and third for anti-fragility (see what I did there?).
If we can show our clients that they are incredible beings beyond the touch of haters, and also that these products are bullshit, but mostly that they'll never need a product like that because of all their awesome, then they're likely to be unfazed by, or in the very least better prepared to deal with, messages and sales pitches from diet companies and salespeople who thrive on instilling the idea that there is still something wrong with us.
Here are a few ways to put that Anti Bullshit Sandwich into practice:
1. Share credible, evidence based nutrition information on your personal and professional social network.
Allow your clients to see how firmly you believe in not duping the public in order to sell them a product.
2. Use your first client meeting (oftentimes YOUR sales meeting) to casually work in "You Don't Need That Shit. Not Now, Not Ever" language.
Potential client: "I've always wanted to lose weight, a few of my friends have done it with a bootcamp, and my sister in law does Herbalife. I'm just not sure where to start."
You, trainer: "I'm hearing that you want to lose some pounds. We can do that by creating healthy, sustainable habits and focusing on enhancing your overall quality of life. The truth is, we don't really need any sort of diet products to do any of that".
3. Create skeptical clients by helping them realize "That's Them. This Is Us."
Encourage your clients to engage in critical thinking by making The Diet Industry something that you guys are not a part of. You are different. You are a facility that helps individuals realize their full potential. You help them add to their quality of life. Your focus is on full health, not quick fixes. Make everything you do about that. (Yes, I realize that this bullet point is loaded and I could write a textbook on this topic. Luckily for all of us, I instead put these concepts into a two day workshop).
4. Whatever you do, don't rant, hate, or be negative.
Remember, these people are still our clients' loved ones and people they value and trust. Our main goal is helping them and reinforcing that trust. If we rant about how stupid and pointless these products are we are insinuating that the people they love are also stupid for falling into the MLM trap. The fact of the matter is, they're not stupid. The sales people are victims, too.
Also, it's important that no matter what it is we are criticizing or shedding light on for our clients' benefit that we always stay as positive as possible while doing so. Although I might joke about the compliment sandwich, Body Positive Fitness is all about using tools to motivate individuals to take their quality of life into their own hands.
Dissing someone's grandma for selling DoTerra is not helping that person see the light. In fact, it is probably pushing them further away from you.
5. Teach and show your clients that they are enough and that they are "doing fitness right".
If you see a blatant predatory comment on someone's facebook post or photo, don't be afraid to comment after them "Hey Julie, you're just killing it in this photo. Keep doing what you're doing!". Reinforce to your clients that they are enough, just as they are.
The Diet Industry thrives on telling people that they are not enough and leading them to believe that they cannot trust themselves. It leads us down a path of self doubt so that we are more likely to open our wallets for help.
Give them ownership over their fitness journey and they're no longer "doing what a trainer says" but owning their actions and their activity. Having autonomy over their fitness allows them to stand on stronger ground to believe in it and defend it.
Number five is a doozy and it is the complex idea that I've dedicated my entire practice and career to. I developed a system and a two day workshop to help you do the same in your practice.
Possibly most importantly, do NOT let the concern trollsalespeople stop YOU, trainer, from doing what you are doing.
Keep sharing photos of your clients kicking ass.
Ultimately, what these companies are doing and the sales practices they are taking part in are NOT sustainable. The whole reason Fit2point0 even exists is because consumers are getting smarter and are able to make better informed decisions. They realize that this industry is full of extremes, which are usually the opposite of full health.
What we are doing is sustainable, future-proof and making the world a better place.
What they are doing is not.
End of story.