The dangerous world of MLM’s and “coaching”
I want to preface this by saying that I am not writing this to shit on any woman in particular. I am all for women being entrepreneurs, women trying to become healthier, for women building communities and supporting other women. I used to think that MLM’s (in particular ones who sell ‘health’ products i.e. Beachbody, Arbonne, etc.) were a victimless crime. I decided it wasn’t for me but I wasn’t going to engage the topic because I didn’t want anyone to feel attacked. I figured that they were just trying to help other women become healthier and being cheerleaders and I am always wildly hesitant to critique other women, we already get plenty of criticism from society and ourselves. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt it was something I needed to speak on.
I also want to preface this by saying that I was once a Beachbody coach. I KNOW, embarrassing, but hear me out. When I was a young trainer all I wanted in the whole world was to help other women fall in love with exercise the way I had. I was hungry for clients to work with, a platform to speak with, and a community to learn with. Enter: body positive Beachbody coach with promises beyond my wildest dreams. Promising me community, clients, and most importantly, INCOME. She said I could run my ‘business’ however I wanted. I could make it inclusive, and nonrestrictive, and fun, and everything else I had ever wanted. So despite the gut feeling that I had, I signed up. And honestly, the Beachbody workouts aren’t bad. But I can firsthand attend that the training these programs and companies give you does NOT qualify you to give health advice. In any way.
Fast forward 2 years, I am a full time Wellness Director at a gym, I train in person and clinical clients, I have a few more certifications under my belt, and I am headed back to graduate school for Kinesiology at the end of the month. Every single day I talk to a wide variety of people about their health and fitness and help get them on a track that works for them. Key word: works for them. MLM companies are founded on the idea that “it worked for me, it can work for you too!” which while well intentioned, is naive and untrue. Anyone who actually works in the health and wellness field will tell you that there is no one size fits all plan for fitness.
Each human comes with their own beautiful mess of complications (one of the things I love the most about my work). Everyday I get to hear wild, powerful, sometimes heart wrenching stories of family situations, health situations, bad coaches or doctors, accidents, cancer, tragic injuries, and so much more. Every life circumstance, every physical circumstance, every financial circumstance, plays into a person’s health and it takes a qualified and educated practitioner to be able to ask the right questions and give appropriate health advice. No matter how “well intentioned” you are, no matter how much you’re just “trying to help” being uneducated in these topics and presenting yourself as a health coach or wellness coach is dangerous. Women deserve so much more than the bottled advice you’re regurgitating from your upline and the overpriced protein shake you’re going to make them buy. Giving health advice to someone without proper training is completely unethical. Full stop.
Did you know that a “health coach” is actually a health profession involving degrees and nationally accredited certifications? It’s not just a cute title you can put in your instagram bio because you post your prepackaged workouts on your stories. This title, the same for basically almost any title with the word “coach” in it, is getting thrown around like wildfire. I noticed a huge uptake during quarantine of people suddenly becoming “life coaches” or “business coaches” or of course my least favorite “nutrition/health coaches.” So from a petty standpoint, for you to one day decide that you’re a fitness coach and claim that you do the same thing that I do is insulting to me and all the education/work I’ve gone through to get to this point. People go to years of school, pay lots of money, and spend lots of time studying so that they can effectively help people with their health.
In my Personal Training certification alone I learned:
- How to prescribe exercise with/around pain
- How to cue form and technique and how to scale exercises depending on the individual’s ability
- How to help people with chronic diseases exercise safely
- How different age groups respond to exercise
- The psychology of behavior change
- The effects medications can have on HR, BP, exercise output potential, etc.
- Kinetics of movement
- Muscle fiber types and how to best train them
- How to actively listen and engage with our clients to meet them where they are at
We learn all of these things to safely advise and help our clients.
I could go on. Here is how MLM’s train their coaches (and i do know this from experience):
- How to make instagram stories
- How to make instagram posts
- How to make instagram captions
- How to take selfies or film workouts
- How to (and this is a direct quote) “present yourself as an expert”
- How to talk about their products
- How to make sales
They learn all of this to learn how to make sales.
You know what else I learned in my certification? That as a personal trainer it is outside of my jurisdiction to give specific health advice, especially with regards to supplements. I can encourage you to eat more vegetables, or drink more water, or refer you to a Registered Dietician, but I cannot tell you to use or buy any particular supplements, nor can I offer to make you a meal plan. That would be out of my realm of what I am qualified to do. So if I as a Certified Personal Trainer cannot recommend this then WHY TELL ME WHY as an Arbonne “health coach” is it ethical to promote $100+ protein shakes. For that price I could point you to 100 more qualified coaches who will give you sustainable and lifelong strategies and results. You can ALWAYS ask a “coach” what their credentials are. A good coach will be happy to tell you. And for the record, amount of weight lost, amount of women “helped,” amount of instagram followers had are not credentials.
I could go through and individually break down specific programs. I could tell you why the idea of “boosts” and “resets” is indicative of shitty advice and an unsustainable plan. I could tell you why the obsession with transformation pictures and weight loss is harmful. I could tell you why the white mercedes thing is a cult. I could go on for a whole book about this but I won’t. I think I got my point across without destroying anyone’s life. I am always open to dialogue about anything that I post online so feel free to reach out to me if you want to chat about it! Happy Friday and for the love of everything don’t join an MLM (and if you are going to, just won up and say you’re an Arbonne consultant and take “health coach” out of your bio please and thank you).