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Why I Protest Weight Loss Companies (even when they try to deny they are selling diets)

Why I Protest Weight Loss Companies (even when they try to deny they are selling diets)

One week ago today, I was gearing up for my peaceful protest of Xynergy, a meal-replacement and supplement company that was hosting an information session in my city. My intention was to educate and empower individuals who were led to believe that this company would be the answers to all of their health woes. My intention was to shed some light and truth on the incredibly broad topic of our health, and warn against the dangers of extreme diets or “lifestyle programs.” I believe that everyone will take their own path to healing, and ultimately we all have the freedom to make our own decisions about the products we use and the companies we support, but I have had enough of our culture of quick fixes, weight fixation, and manipulative, body shaming marketing. This protest wasn’t just towards one company, it was towards ALL companies who are trying to convince people into spending an incredulous amount of money on yet another program to lose weight, companies who are causing physical and mental harm to people with restrictive eating plans and appearance-based measures of health, and using the propaganda of a “healthy lifestyle,” to pretend that they aren’t selling diets.

 

I’ve written quite a few articles on this topic before, but following my protest, where I was actually confronted with people who so strongly believe in these companies, I found I had much more to say. My thoughts and my protest signs are below. And I will continue to fight this fight!

 

To the woman who instantly called the RCMP because she felt I was being “rude” for showing up to her event with my signs an opinion that challenged her sales pitch: Well I’m glad that I ruffled your feathers, and if you didn’t have anything to hide from the people walking into your event then maybe you wouldn’t have been in such a rush to get me out of there. You weren’t mad because my protest signs and my messages were compromising people’s health, you were mad because I was there compromising your profits. If you truly cared about improving health and empowering individuals you would have been happy to have my signs up at your event.

Thank you to the two women who actually engaged in conversation to me in an attempt to explain their personal philosophies on health and how they apply these products into their lifestyles. Both of these women were educated, affluent, and seemed to be genuinely concerned about helping people to feel healthier. I’m sure that they are not intending to hurt anyone or deliberately do harm. If only they were the ones marketing this company because what they were saying certainly is not reflected in how this event was promoted nor in how these products are promoted!

They tried to explain to me that they pick and choose the products this company sells to support their overall healthy lifestyle, and that using these products is not meant to be a long-term solution but rather something to help people “get back on track.” To me, this screams “quick fix,” and money grab. It raised a lot of red flags and a lot of questions. If these products and plans aren’t meant to be something to be used for long-term health, then what is the point of using them at all? What happens if people do not have the education or power to know what to pick and choose to support their health, and they are manipulated by this company’s grandiose statements about life-changing results? What happens after this “short-term reboot” period… do they magically stay healthier for good? What happens when people want to quit buying the supplements and shakes or run out of money to continue these “lifestyle changes”? What type of support do they get then? How does this program actually address and support the underlying emotional and psychological issues that people may have with their bodies and with food? How does this help people to develop an intuitive, independent relationship with their bodies and with food, instead of relying on external entities to tell them what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and how they should feel (in other words, the definition of a diet)? How does this program promote a balanced as opposed to a restrictive approach to eating in which people aren’t distrustful of their appetites, view foods with rules of good/bad, clean/dirty, or cheat foods? How does this program support individuals who don’t achieve miraculous weight loss results or life-changing health outcomes and are left feeling like failures (even if they may still in fact be making healthier choices as a result of following the program)?

 

The women kept going on and on about how this program isn’t a diet, it isn’t restrictive, it’s based on a “whole foods” meal plan that involves eating frequent meals and snacks throughout the day, and uses supplements to help “reboot” the body. I wanted to believe them, really I did. But that’s just simply not what this company is selling. I fail to see how such company advertising slogans of: “A new you in only 8 days!” and “Formulated to help any one lose weight fast and feel great while doing it” are indicative of anything but a diet.

With the current nutritional research we have, it is simply unethical to recommend dieting or the pursuit of weight loss diets. The best available science has shown that they do not work. Not only do they not lead to sustainable weight loss, but they actually cause people to gain weight in the long run, and can actually worsen our health than if we just accepted our bodies and learned to care for them using a holistic approach to health.

 

If all that this program and company stands for is promoting a whole foods diet and helping people to nourish their bodies, then why not heavily promote that? Why not create a program for people to get in touch with their own bodies, pay attention to their own hunger and fullness levels and energy levels throughout the day, and how their body reacts to certain foods, instead of oversimplifying nutritional health by prescribing one-size-fits all, portioned and timed meal plans and skipping meals in favour of low-calorie meal replacement powders? Why not address the barriers to accessing and preparing an affordable, whole foods diet without heavily relying on supplement powders? On one of their meal plans that I looked into, it recommended that individuals limit their consumption of high sugar vegetables and fruits. You’ve got to be kidding me! They are going on and on about how people just don’t eat enough whole foods, yet their plan is trying to restrict people’s intake of nutritious vegetables and fruits by telling them that they contain “too much sugar” and to instead use a powder to replace a meal. I’m sorry but something about that just doesn’t add up to promoting a whole foods diet that gets people back to basics.

I wasn’t there to protest a whole foods approach to eating, giving people a meal plan to help them remember to eat, or using a packaged smoothie mix every now and again. I use smoothie powers and supplements too, but I am not disillusioned enough to think that they are the cure-all for my health ailments and that they will change my life (because they won’t do anything unless I am also paying equal respect and attention to the other components of my health as well), nor do I attempt to convince anyone else that their best, healthiest selves are waiting on the other side of a costly 30-day meal plan or 8-day cleanse. Most of the supplements you could buy at your local natural health food store (or just make your own damn smoothie with real fruits and vegetables) for a fraction of the price, all that’s missing is the fancy branding. I was there to protest how they are actually selling themselves, which is by using advertisements of extreme weight loss, sensationalistic health claims, and the promotion of disordered eating. And yes, taking supplements to suppress appetite and have a laxative effect, and promoting appetite suppression using little emoji characters with an “X” across the mouth as branding on your website is without a doubt supporting and encouraging eating disorders.

The other argument in favour of this program that I heard was that people don’t have time to eat because they are too busy, so these plans help people to just get some nutrition into their bodies with shakes and supplements, and supports them with an eating plan to tell them when to eat. Yes, I completely agree that we live in a culture of convenience, and many people forgo nutritious food choices for work, errands, commitments, and “productivity”. While the intentions behind providing people with nutrition to fuel their bodies as opposed to not eating at all (or eating fast food for every meal), may be honourable, what they fail to realize is that this approach is actually supporting the systemic health problem of people being over-worked, over-scheduled, and over-stressed. It doesn’t actually support people in restructuring their lifestyles, their values around work/life balance, and their beliefs about their worth as a person if they are not running around tackling a huge to-do list every single day. It simply gives them a more nutritious option to stay in their hamster wheel of stress, busyness, and work work work. Meal replacements do not support people in taking the time to value themselves by carving out space to nourish themselves on so many levels with regular meals around the table with loved ones.

How does this program help people to address their stress levels and make lifestyle changes outside of dietary ones in order to improve their health? You cannot supplement away the lifestyle choices and barriers to health that are impacting someone’s quality of life. And no matter how perfect your diet is or how many superfoods you cram down your throat, if you are not addressing stress levels then nothing is going to change. Stress is the #1 predictor of disease and the underlying factor in so many chronic ailments. To effectively help an individual make lasting changes that support their health, you must work with them on an individual basis. We are all completely unique in our genetic make-up and in our lifestyle choices and challenges as well. Addressing our health holistically cannot be done with a blanket approach and feel-good marketing. These companies sell you a certain lifestyle, and by buying their products you are promised access to that lifestyle. Unfortunately, the positive changes are short-lived and shallow because they focus on the instant results, not the deep self work required to restructure your lifestyle and the slow, gradual changes needed to achieve long term health improvements. Ever notice how most of the testimonials of people who have used the products have a lifespan of like 30 days or 1-3 year? I’d love to see some long-term 5+ year testimonies, if they exist, and some clinical studies to back their health claims.

The only “evidence” these companies have to promote the efficacy of their products is anecdotal stories from individuals who have tried the products and experienced some benefits from them. Most of these individuals also have a vested interest in the company, as is typical of network marketing. While I would never discredit or deny an individual’s experience, it is important to keep in mind the sensationalistic nature of their advertisements and success stories. It seems obvious to me that if a person went from not focusing on their health whatsoever, not eating a nutritious diet, and not exercising, that as soon as they do start incorporating any healthier lifestyle choices they are going to feel better! Correlation does not equal causation. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars per week on glorified multivitamins and drink powders in order to start making healthier choices and changing your lifestyle. Also, look into the placebo effect. It is important to keep in mind that anecdotal evidence holds no merit in the scientific or medical community, as there are so many subjective factors involved in each person’s experience of lifestyle changes and the subsequent health impacts. Spare me the emotionally manipulative personal testimonials and show me the hard facts of clinical trials and third-party testing for the safety and efficacy of nutritional supplements and lifestyle programs.

 

Another of the arguments posed to me at the protest by the “believers” was that they have holistic nutritionist and doctors working as sales reps within their company and recommending the programs. To which I ask, why would any nutritionist or doctor recommend starvation diets or supplementation with laxatives and appetite suppressants for extreme short-term weight loss? To me, any nutritionist or doctor worth their salt would be helping patients on a one-on-one basis, and closely monitoring any medically necessary weight loss as a medical intervention, not operating on the assumption that one dietary and supplement program is the most beneficial or safe for all individuals. Furthermore, I would be hesitant to trust the judgment of anyone who determines that the best use of their years of hard-earned education to obtain the credentials of a Medical Doctor, Registered Dietician or Registered Holistic Nutritionist is really to be selling products in a weight-loss pyramid scheme. Of course the sales reps have nothing but amazing things to say about it, their sale rewards are based on them selling you the product. There are no requirements for sales reps to have any background in nutrition, health, fitness, or any related field. Some of their sales reps do, but it is completely optional and up to the sales rep to inform themselves. Keep in mind that even if an individual does have some sort of background in nutrition or health, as soon as they become part of a multi-level or network marketing scheme, they now have a vested interest in that company and are no longer providing unbiased nutritional advice or product recommendations.

 

The supplement industry is largely under-regulated. There are no clinical studies to substantiate the claims made by individuals using the products sold by this company, and I’m sure that if they had found the supplements to cure cancer, arthritis, asthma, fibromyalgia, etc. that these products would be making international headlines, not just success stories being spread around their private social media groups and recruitment meetings. There are plenty of ethical supplement companies out there who operate in a traditional business model, not on multi-level or network marketing model that relies on emotional manipulation and sensationalistic marketing to push products. Transparent supplement companies out there who will:

  • Readily provide third-party test results and/or clinical trials of the safety and efficacy of their products;
  • Clearly communicate the sources (synthetic, natural, animal, plant, etc.) of the vitamins and mineral compounds within their supplements;
  • Use the most bioavailable forms as opposed to the cheapest forms of these vitamins and minerals for their supplements so that your body can actually absorb and utilize the nutrients in the supplement

 

At the end of the day, these companies are private businesses. They are not performing a public service in healthcare. They exist to make money. If they truly cared about improving people’s quality of life and long term health outcomes, then they would be addressing the whole person, not just physical health and weight loss as a means to achieve an optimal lifestyle. If they weren’t into body shaming, then they wouldn’t be marketing weight loss as their number one benefit and using extreme weight loss before and after photos as bait to draw people to their meetings. But one of the promoters that I talked to said it best herself when defending their poster, “Everyone wants to lose weight!” Just because the diet, weight loss and beauty industries have convinced our culture of the myth (emphasis on MYTH, not fact) that thin is healthy, beautiful, and desirable, does not make it right to continue to advertise or use it to lure people into your program, no matter how health promoting it may be once they start it. You don’t need to directly come out and say that fat bodies aren’t healthy or beautiful to be promoting body shaming messaging! In a society where the rate of negative body image and the prevalence of eating disorders is steadily on the rise, how is it helpful to anyone’s health to continue perpetuating unrealistic body ideals and a hyper-focus on appearance and weight loss as the best indicator of health? Heavy people (like the images of your before photos) can be healthy and happy, and thinner people (like the people pictured in the after photos) can be unhealthy and miserable! By continually pumping out images like this it only serves to reinforce weight stigma and the simply untrue beliefs about weight and health that our thin-obsessed culture has bred into us. Maybe the people in the after pictures do feel healthier and have experienced health improvements, but that has very little, if anything, to do with their weight and likely has more to do with the fact that they dedicated time and effort to themselves to focus on improving their health.

A sense of belonging and a positive support network are crucial components to our health and our sense of well-being. I think this is an area of our health that network marketing companies are completely successful at supporting, but one that they can also exploit. The power of community can be so incredibly healing, and it is much easier to start making healthy lifestyle choices with a group of like-minded individuals supporting your choices and boosting your confidence. But, it can also be dangerously blinding when people just buy into the company messages and company-produced educational material, without zooming out of the community to ask questions, demand unbiased information, and challenge the nutritional dogma of the company when it fails to align with current research.

It’s so important now more than ever to be an educated consumer. It is so easy to spread misinformation like wildfire, and our culture is always desperate for the next quick fix. I just want people to realize that their worth is not attached to what they eat, that our health encompasses so much more than what the physical body looks like, and improving our health involves so much more than just the measures we take for our physical health. These programs may very well contain certain elements that do help support people’s health, but they fail in so many other ways to adequately address health from a balanced perspective and promote size diversity, body acceptance, and an intuitive relationship with food. And I don’t expect them to – because they are for-profit businesses that are part of the diet and weight loss industry, and they thrive off of people being insecure in their bodies and having a narrow picture of how to improve health. To me, the risk to our individual health and to the health of society as a whole isn’t worth any reward that being involved in these companies may bring. I think an individual would have to be incredibly self-aware and have very healthy, balanced relationships with their bodies, food, and exercise to begin with, in order to safely participate in these types of programs. I am a firm believer and advocate for creating your own, personal definition of health that works for your unique life. Rather than buying into these lifestyle programs where something external from you, who doesn’t know anything about your life or your body, is dictating what your health should look and feel like. It is so important that any health-motivated choice reflects our respect for our bodies and a desire to nurture them, rather than torture ourselves just to meet some external expectation.

If you are struggling with health issues, chronic conditions, or suspect that you have nutritional deficiencies, then I would recommend working together with your doctor or naturopath, a clinical nutritionist, or a certified holistic nutritionist to come up with an individualized plan that is suitable to your unique body and lifestyle, where you will be closely monitored and supported throughout your path to healing. If you suspect you may have nutritional deficiencies or hormonal imbalances, I would recommend getting blood, saliva, and urine testing done to determine what exactly may be happening in your body and then move from there on how to best address it. Don’t rely on a company to assume that you have deficiencies and imbalances for you so that you must buy $500 worth of their supplements as a “cure.” Maybe you could benefit from a nutritional supplement, but if you self-diagnose or allow unqualified sales reps to convince you that you couldn’t possibly be getting all your nutrients from food, then you are likely just throwing your money down the drain on something you don’t even need.

 

And a final word to the police officers and security guard who told me that protesting really isn’t the best way to raise awareness or an appropriate way to express my opinions, and that I should just stick to social media instead: Are you f*cking kidding me?! I agree that social media is a great communication tool and yes, it can help you reach a wide audience, but armchair activism can only get you so far and it is a very passive form of resistance. It’s easy to find inspiration and connect with likeminded individuals online, but true social justice movements and cultural changes starts by people taking action in real life! And that involves standing up and challenging the oppressors right at their source, not sitting around waiting for people to “like” your Facebook status or comment on your blog post.

 

Take care of yourselves, my friends, respect your body, do your research and never be afraid to stand up for what you believe in.

 

-Brooke xoxo

Coconut Red Curry Vegetable Soup

Coconut Red Curry Vegetable Soup

It’s been raining all weekend here in Fort McMurray, and rainy days usually call for a big bowl of something warm and comforting. I was lucky enough to be gifted a package of red curry paste straight from Thailand from my friend, Na, and I’ve been savouring its delicious flavour and heat in curries and soups like this ever since. This Thai-inspired coconut red curry soup are bold and bright, and it makes for a filling plant-based meal whether you serve it as is or over Jasmine rice. It’s the perfect thing to make on a grey, drizzly day when you need something creamy, spicy, and soothing.

 

 

Coconut Red Curry Vegetable Soup

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Author Brooke McMillan

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons virgin coconut oil
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2" piece fresh ginger root, sliced into three pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 cups shiitake mushrooms, sliced (can substitute with cremini mushrooms)
  • 796 ml (19 oz.) can diced tomatoes with their juices
  • 400 ml (14oz.) can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1-2 Tablespoons coconut sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 small head broccoli, chopped into florets
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Fresh limes
  • Fresh cilantro

Instructions

  1. Melt the coconut oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the carrots, onions, and a pinch of sea salt to the pot and sauté for 5 minutes, until the onion becomes fragrant.

  2. Stir in the garlic, ginger, curry paste, and turmeric. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously to coat the vegetables.
  3. Add in the mushrooms, tomatoes and another pinch of salt. Cook for another 3 minutes, to soften the mushrooms. Add in the coconut milk, water, coconut sugar, and broccoli florets. Bring the soup to a low boil, then reduce the heat, cover slightly with a lid and simmer for 10-12 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked.
  4. Season to taste with salt, and adjust the sweetness by adding in more coconut sugar, if desired. Discard the three pieces of ginger. 

  5. Serve the soup garnished with fresh cilantro and fresh limes to squeeze over top.

Cheesy & Spicy Roasted Sweet Potato Fries

Cheesy & Spicy Roasted Sweet Potato Fries

I made these with my grade 7 students recently and they were too good not to share the recipe here! They converted quite a few sweet potato fries sceptics into believers. I generally find the addition cheese is a great way to convince kids to try new, unfamiliar, or less-favourite vegetables! The cheese also adds a delicious crispy outer coating to the fries, which is perfect since roasted sweet potato fries never get super crispy like regular potatoes. If you or your kids aren’t fans of spicy foods, then feel free to leave out the black pepper and cayenne pepper altogether for a mild and cheesy version.

 

And since I always like to share some sort of tip or advice with a recipe, here’s a good one that may come in handy if you ever find yourself in a spicy emergency: if you’re ever working with hot peppers (either fresh or dried spices) and happen to get some in your eyes or other sensitive area, then soak or rinse the area with milk not water! Chilies contain oil compounds called capsaicin, which is what causes the sensations of burning or heat when we eat them or when they touch our skin. Milk contains a protein called casein that binds with spicy capsaicin oil and then washes it away, which is why milk is often the beverage we turn to for relief from spicy foods! Since oil and water don’t mix, it seems obvious that the water would have no effect on the capsaicin oil, and it actually just spreads it around which makes the burning worse. In the past year I’ve had two students find themselves in this unfortunate situation, the first with a jalapeno pepper and the second while making this recipe with the cayenne pepper. In both cases we soaked their hands in milk and soaked a cloth in milk then gently held it over their eyes. It takes about 10 minutes but eventually the burning sensation reduces and all is well. Hopefully you don’t have to learn this lesson the hard way as some of my students did, but just in case you do now you know how to give yourself spicy pepper first aid! The other recommendation I have, which I usually do with my students if we are chopping fresh spicy peppers, is to wear rubber gloves so that the hands are protected and the capsaicin oil doesn’t get onto them at all.

 

Hopefully that little story didn’t scare you away from making these sweet potato fries spicy! The little bit of heat tastes delicious in combination with the sweetness of the potatoes and the salty, rich cheese. I hope you enjoy making and eating these bright and bold fries!

 

Cheesy & Spicy Roasted Sweet Potato Fries

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Author Brooke McMillan

Ingredients

  • 2 small sweet potatoes, cut into French fry sticks (I usually use my pinky finger as a good measurement of length and thickness for the fries)
  • 2 Tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more if you want them really spicy)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place the cut sweet potatoes in a large bowl and stir in the oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne until the potatoes are evenly coated.

  3. Place the potatoes on the baking sheet, leaving room between each fry so that they are not overlapping. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender and browned on the outside.

  4. Turn the oven to Broil on High. Combine the Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in a small bowl. Sprinkle the cheese mixture onto the sweet potato fries. Broil the potatoes until the cheese is melted and golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately!