I have a confession to make. I talk about this with my clients, friends, and family all the time, but it is the first time I am sharing it publicly. In reality, this has taken me over a year to write; mostly because I wanted to convey the right message – but also because sometimes it’s difficult to look back at past “learnings” when you’ve come so far. But, I believe the need to share my story with others outweighs the desire to let it be…
If you are like me, supplement companies like Advocare, Shakeology, Isagenix and others are blowing up your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram news feeds. You’ve probably wondered what these are and whether they’re right for you – my opinion [personal & professional], I want to share with you today.
Most all fitness professionals (including myself when I first started training), get their nutrition information from the media and “hearsay” – like magazines, published books, articles or blogs, fellow co-workers/instructors/trainers, the professional you trained under (who heard it from someone else) and so on. The number of exercise-based nutrition myths floating out there without any real proof are outrageous… but we’ll get to that. 🙂
One of the things that I find the most inspiring, yet disparaging about the science of nutrition is its intrigue and accessibility to everyone. It’s something that gets people fired up, feeling good and excited to share – which is awesome! However, because it’s so accessible, sometimes we forget that it IS an actual profession with experts, one that’s been exploited by the media and publishing industry and diluted by its conflicting messages. And the most challenging part as a fitness professional is that people WANT nutrition advice from you – and do need some guidance in order to see lasting physical results. So instead of either gaining the expertise from further education or referring out, most fitness professionals decide to create their own programs, based on things they’ve heard or personally experienced; and some, delve into the realm of supplement sales.
I believe [most of] those selling these supplement products have the best intentions – the storyline of “helping people” with “superior nutritional products” is inspiring and powerful. The draw of being able to make a lot of money, create your own schedule AND have financial freedom while “improving other’s well-being” is tempting for anyone. The unfortunate thing, however, is that these individuals – your trainers, your group fitness instructors, your neighbor and your co-worker, have all been misled and just don’t know that these products are unnecessary and possibly even harmful to your health. Why? Because they have no expertise or training in the topic of nutrition. How do I know? Because I used to be one of them.
And I am not writing this to shame or put down anyone selling Advocare [or any other supplement brand], who is aspiring to help people get healthy. It is a noble cause indeed and I appreciate people’s passion for it. However, I believe that knowledge is power and with it we can make the best, most educated decisions. So, without further ado [and a little nervousness on my part], my confession…
Over three years ago, I was approached by a fitness professional whom I trusted and respected about selling Advocare. She told me how amazing the products were, how they were created by a collection of leading doctors and scientists; she raved about the high-quality, superior ingredients that rounded out the “nutritional gaps everyone has, no matter how healthy they eat” to make sure that all the bases were covered. She said it would improve my own athletic performance and help me lose weight, with the amazing perk that I could make a lot of money on the side “helping people get healthy”.
Of course anytime someone tells you that you can make a lot of money while helping people [and not working very hard], the concept is intriguing. Especially for myself as fitness professional, I use my body a lot. So the goal eventually, for all of us fitness pros, is to find a way where we can make money without physically being present – because eventually, we cap out the money we can make on an hourly basis and in all honesty, albeit intensely rewarding, it’s very physically draining work.
As such, I hesitantly agreed to try selling Advocare. I say “hesitantly” because from the beginning, I had an unsettling feeling. Three main reasons caused this:
#1: Regan [my husband] was skeptical from the get-go (and never would try the products);
#2: in my gut, I felt there was a conflict of interest peddling “health” products; and
#3: anytime I asked questions about the ingredients or exactly what the products did, I never got a straight answer.
For me, in order to sell something to my clients and those around me, I wanted to know exactly what every product did and why someone needed it. The fact that I could never get a straight answer and that finding these answers online was difficult, also raised some red flags. I can [thankfully] and gratefully say that I never went to “Success School”, never had any “mixers” and never had any “distributors” under me from which I made money; but as the story goes [and as you may have guessed], I decided to ignore my intuition + the red flags and move forward in my own personal selling of the product.
At that time in my life, I was doing a lot of research about nutrition on my own – learning through both experience and personal findings. I developed my signature 28 Day Nutrition Program, based in real food recipes developed in my own kitchen and “kind of” sold Advocare on the side. I would mention it to clients as an option to “add-in”, but never forced a sale.
In a year, I had over 50 people participate in my nutrition program with an average weight loss of 10 lbs. and 9 inches in those 28 days. Of those 50+ people, only 8 opted to supplement with Advocare products.
Drum roll please.
As they say, the proof is in the pudding — those 15% who chose Advocare didn’t lose any more weight than those who simply followed my real-food meal plan. And in fact, the biggest difference in the scale came from those who didn’t use the products. So, does the product make a difference? The answer — is NO.
It’s not about the supplements; it’s about the food you’re taking in, daily movement, the thoughts you’re holding, the life you’re creating and the love you’re giving. And I believe that real food is the best way *and only way* for everyone’s body to receive the nutrition it needs. My goal – and what I teach clients, is to eat real food [at least for 85% of the time] and stay away from processed, chemical-ized junk whenever possible.
So, the next logical question would be to ask – what is IN the supplements; are they real food or processed, chemical-ized junk?
When I finally made the decision to trust my intuition and quit selling the products, my “advisor” [in Advocare-speak, that’s the person who brings you onto their selling team] told me that I was making a mistake. As I said from the beginning I never felt good about it. And when I started looking deeper into the ingredients that made up Advocare’s staple products – such as Spark, the Herbal Cleanse, Catalyst and MNS 3 [all part of their 24 Day Challenge], the same ingredients I was telling clients to avoid in their FOOD – like those found in all the processed food and chemicalized junk found on grocery store shelves – were in Advocare products.
If I personally practice and tell clients to stay away from artificial anything as a ruling guideline for eating, then the same would hold true when prescribing supplements. And on top of that, I believe real food trumps scientifically-extracted or chemically-created nutrients anytime. A real food is much more than the sum of its nutrient parts [like the Vitamin C or beta-carotene inside it]; and there are so many phytochemicals, antioxidants and nutritional benefits that are at work inside that whole food, outside the “measurable, big time” vitamins & minerals we hear about. If you isolate nutrients and remove them from their “whole” real food state, the nutrients aren’t alive anymore and we really have no idea how they act outside the whole food they were created to exist in. In essence, most supplement formulas are composed of these dead nutrients – removed from their natural state and isolated from their real food state.
So, the answer you’re looking for is in all the information I’ve provided and something you intuitively know. Food is better. Real food is better. If I tell a client to avoid ingredients in their food that s/he can’t pronounce and/or don’t recognize [such as aspartame, sucralose, maltodextrin, magnesium stearate and silicon dioxide to name a few], then the same holds true for all things that enter their bodies – including supplements.
In case you’re wondering how the story ends, post-Advocare and over the last three years, in my own personal journey of health and also my career journey as a fitness professional, I have done extensive research on food, food psychology, food theories, living the fullest & happiest life, fitness methods, the human body and nutrition science [as it relates to food]. In May 2013, I enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition [the largest nutrition school in the world] to become a holistic health coach. Over those three years, my relationship with food has shifted, my perception of myself has grown, my body has become stronger & more balanced, and my life has expanded with happiness and gratitude. I have maintained the same [healthy] weight for over 3 years, while increasing muscle tone and strength, lost body fat and increased my energy levels ten-fold.
But it was ALL a journey. There were ups, downs, detours and hiccups. I decided that I wanted to learn more about health & nutrition, but that I also wanted to figure out what worked FOR ME. Believe it or not, there is no blanket approach, theory or method that works for everyone. One person’s food could be another’s poison; and my choice method of exercise could be counterproductive to your body’s needs. And that’s just another reason why these “blanket” supplements aren’t the answer. Personally, today, I take a living probiotic (fermented coconut water) and on the recommendation of my acupuncturist – a food-based iron supplement. I think it’s important to note that “supplements” in general are not bad or good; but quality and ingredients matter; and we shouldn’t be taking them without reason or professional recommendation. Regardless of where you fall on the “supplement spectrum”, I encourage you to always be a health detective. Don’t just believe what you hear or read – experiment and be willing to toss aside that which does not serve you. Ask if what you’re hearing makes sense and above all things, trust your gut and listen to how your body feels.
A FEW EXTRA NOTES:
THE SCIENCE: The truth is, we have no idea what putting processed and chemicalized junk in our food does – but based on our common sense and the health crisis around us, we can make the connection that when science began messing with our food’s ingredients 30 years ago and moving away from real food, it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. But somehow this chemicalized food “product” has become our “normal”, staple way of eating – invading our grocery stores, restaurants and homes.
Think back to when cigarettes were “normal” – people had an idea that it wasn’t good for you, but it wasn’t until 30 years later when research finally came out that we understood and the medical community followed. Right now, at this moment in time, we are about 20 to 30 years out from when we began adding all these artificial ingredients to our food. You might have noticed that some research IS starting to emerge on these things – for example, the surmounting evidence starting to build against high fructose corn syrup [which was once considered as a good alternative to sugar] is now being touted as one of the biggest health concerns and mistakes of our time.
So, what do we do about the research? It might not be in place yet fully, but we can use our common sense to know that eating real food, that is grown or raised with care, is just better. Real, living, whole nutrients are far superior to those dead ones found in a pill. And we as humans are all different and all have different needs, so one blanket nutrition strategy or supplement strategy does not work for everyone.
MY VIEW FROM A FITNESS PERSPECTIVE, I have to say that it saddens me to see how many “fitness professionals” have jumped on the tiered marking supplement train – making the same mistake I did; and in the same token, it worries me that non-fitness professionals [those without certification or acquired knowledge] are also prescribing certain fitness, nutrition and supplement methods to friends, family and acquaintances. I think we all fall victim to the [misguided] assumption that if something falls under the “health and fitness” tree or is promoted as such, then it IS in fact, healthy. But the question that always plagued me when I explored selling or using Advocare, was WHY do I need this? And the answer is, YOU DON’T. Really. See, the argument for taking supplements is that they “round out the gaps in your nutrition”, but if you’re eating a healthy, balanced, real food based diet, than blanket supplements aren’t necessary.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering – no, you don’t need protein powder either. 99.9% of ALL protein powder is just another form of over-processed junk; and if it’s not, the price tag per ounce is more than you’d pay for high-quality, grass-fed, pastured humanely raised animal meat, so again – I vote for the real food, unprocessed options [and for my vegetarians/vegans out there, there are so many great plant-based proteins out there that have a smaller price tag too!]. And plus, honestly, I don’t know a single person – including myself AND my husband (who is a ridiculous athlete, btw) who work out hard enough & for long enough to need more protein than you could eat through your daily diet. Professional athletes – a different story, perhaps, but let’s be real – you and me, we don’t workout and compete as a career and rely on our athletic performance to earn a living. Our 30-60 minute workouts, no matter how much weight we’re lifting or how much we’re sprinting, pale in comparison to the training regime of professional athletes. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret – what you really need is a lot more vegetables, not protein (I dare you to try that and not feel the difference!). I know what I’m telling you might be contradictory to everything you’ve heard about supplements from trainers and fitness professionals in the past, but it’s the truth. Protein from real food is not only higher quality and more easily metabolized by our body [because it’s REAL FOOD], but it’s also the real deal and all you need. And most people don’t need more protein – they just need more actual food. The best thing you could do for your body post-workout is to refuel it with a nutrient-dense meal [breakfast, lunch or dinner].
To my fellow trainers: I know the pull of money making potential within all MLM supplement opportunities is tempting; and not just tempting, but downright hard to turn down when you’re given actual dollar amounts. But before you jump on, I encourage you to do some research and soul-searching. Just because everyone around you is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s the answer. In 6 months of non-pushy, hardly-talking-about-it, “sales”, I made an extra $5000 – and I know if I had actually put my heart into it, I could’ve been making 6 figures (as my “advisor” is now). But money doesn’t mean happiness; and personally, I had to ask myself: at what cost would I be making money? The answer for me was clear: there is a better way to help people and we have the opportunity to lead. If you’d like to discuss further, have an open discussion with me about it or just get more information – I am here. My door is open, without judgement at all times.
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