MLM and Fat Loss Products—Worth the Price?

Note: From a FOX examination of fat supplement items (such as the best foskolin or green tea pills) as promoted by MLM companies. The story is negatively biased in several ways (e.g., it falsely declares there are no academically trained experts who advocate for alternative dietary approaches) but does provide a caution about the claims of the pay-to-join MLM and supplement industries. The credibility of the best network marketing companies might be enhanced if its opportunities were offered on a free entry basis, making them less vulnerable to charges they are gouging their marketers. 

…In programs that operate under MLM marketing, participants hear about the product at hand through an ambassador or distributor who sells them the product then acts as their adviser throughout the program, like the relationship between Vargas and her coach.

While legal MLM companies can resemble fraudulent pyramid, or Ponzi, schemes, it is likely legal if it meets certain criterion outlined by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). According to the SEC, pyramid schemes and legal MLM companies both suggest participants can profit when they recruit new followers and often require a “buy-in” or fee of some amount to become a seller. Kaitlyn Iannuzzi, Vargas’ coach, said the sign-up cost to become a Plexus ambassador is $150, which includes the ambassador’s first month of products.

Some of the key characteristics of pyramid schemes are that they don’t offer a real product, promise a “get rich quick” model with little to no work required, and have a complex commission structure, according to the SEC. While some of the commission structures of popular cleanse programs could be considered complicated, companies like Plexus, Isagenix and AdvoCare do offer products and require their ambassadors to actively recruit new members to earn money.

The SEC monitors those companies that are publicly traded, while those that are privately owned may list their financials online.

Depending on his or her level and the program at hand, an ambassador for a popular cleanse program can earn between about $700 to over $1 million per year. The aim is that the more they sell, and the more people they recruit, the greater their earnings.

Laura DeAngelis, a 41-year-old personal trainer based in New York City, bought a supply of Isagenix’s 30-Day Challenge products last February and talks openly about her experience, but she isn’t an official, paid ambassador for the company.

DeAngelis said she felt the program helped kick-start her metabolism and lose problem pounds she wasn’t able to shed on Weight Watchers, a program whose tenets she has followed since 2004. When all was said and done, she lost 10 pounds in 30 days, and the program’s rules against consuming caffeine, alcohol and processed foods helped her refocus on what she was putting into her body afterward. DeAngelis said she paid about $300 for the 30-day supply of Isagenix products.

“Some people may look at the price tag and say, ‘That’s a lot of money,’” DeAngelis told, but “when I broke it down, it was fiscally responsible for me, so I think people need to sit down and see what they’re spending on junk food and other things.”

“For me, it was [worth it],” she added. “It was an investment for my feeling better.”

Iannuzzi, Vargas’ Plexus coach, would not disclose how much she earns as an ambassador for the company, but she said that income covers her student loans and mortgage in Orange County, N.Y. Iannuzzi, who is 30 and lives in Greenville, said she’s on her way to becoming a full-time ambassador for Plexus.

“I’m so passionate about the company,” Iannuzzi, currently a nuclear medicine technologist and a bartender, told “When you believe in something and believe it works, you want to share it with the whole world.”

Mangieri has met people like Iannuzzi who are ambassadors for cleanses because they support the product they’re promoting, but she said the absence of their formal education and certification in nutrition and dietetics concerns her.

“It’s not safe, and unfortunately the knowledge is not there to be teaching proper nutrition,” Mangieri said. “I don’t want to put out that these people selling it don’t care because I’m sure some of them do care about helping others,” she added, “but it is a business, bottom line. It’s about making money and getting other people on board.”

Both Vargas and Iannuzzi said they know Plexus’ products aren’t FDA approved, but that doesn’t concern them.

“No supplements are FDA approved— whether it’s the vitamins you’re taking, the protein shakes you’re taking, even the probiotic your doctor is prescribing,” Iannuzzi said. “I knew people in the health care field using these products and selling these products.”

Heller, also the author of “The Only Cleanse,” which outlines a 14-day cleanse based on whole-food and lifestyle choices, said one of her biggest qualms with many popular or fad cleanses is their lack of sustainability.

“[These programs] take the decision making piece out of it, and then the person doesn’t have to think about what they’re eating, they don’t have to plan ahead, they don’t have to cook, they just have to follow the program, and for some people that can be attractive for a short period of time,” she said. “But the reality of it is life happens … and then all of that goes down the tube because the person has not learned the strategies they need to manage real life.”

“Real life is a rollercoaster,” she said. “We keep hoping it’s going to be a nice, smooth easy ride, and for the most part it’s not. So we want to learn how to manage that in mind, body and spirit in a way that helps optimize our health and our coping skills.”

But for Vargas, Plexus’ TRI-PLEX program has done just that— in a way that no other approach she’d previously used had.

Last spring, after being hospitalized for irritable bowel syndrome, doctors discharged her with an antacid prescription. Vargas returned to her poor eating habits and her digestive issues returned. She then tried a 10-day, $250 celebrity cleanse that included shakes, multiple probiotics, and only an organic apple for whole food.

“You were literally starving yourself for 10 days. It was cleaning me out, but then I still felt like crap,” Vargas said. “So I started working out. Then I changed my workout regimen and did weight lifting to give me some energy or something. Nothing was working for me, not until I tried Plexus.”