What is ViSalus?
ViSalus Sciences sells health and fitness products in the form of dietary supplements, protein shakes, energy drinks, and the like. Like all weight loss and fitness programs, they rely on heavily Photoshopped images and anecdotal evidence to prove that the products work. Miraculous stories of people losing 100 plus pounds are not uncommon on the Web site, but they are, misleadingly, uncommon. Here's the fine print:
"Results not typical. Healthy weight loss is 1-2 lbs. per week. Results vary by amount of weight you need to lose, diet, exercise, and adherence to the program. ViSalus products are not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Note: You should not take this product if you are pregnant or lactating, or using blood thinning medication. Please consult your physician prior to use."
|"Results not typical."|
Perhaps the products are not so miraculous - perhaps ViSalus is a pyramid scheme using these products to disguise itself as a "legitimate" multi-level marketing company.
What is a pyramid scheme?
Don't sugar coat it, guys. Multi-level marketing (MLM) is a pseudonym. Scheming companies promise exorbitant gains after a "minimal" investment, but they don't tell you just how much work you'll have to put into it. What do I mean? Let's look at what a pyramid is real quick.
|Pyramid: tall, pointy, smaller at the top than the bottom. Most famously found in Egypt.|
As an initiate at ViSalus you'll find yourself at the bottom, part of the herd. How do you advance? Well, you have to find someone to take your place. How do you do this? Well, convincing people that the company is legitimate through social media like Facebook is one route, of course it also helps when the company promises a miracle product, free cars, Hollywood vacations, and prizes for referring more customers.
"Joining a pyramid is risky because the vast majority of participants lose money to pay for the rewards of a few people at the top." - Bureau of Consumer Protection
The money flows upward. To incentivize you, the company pays you for each person you persuade to join the scheme. You pay dues in the form of monthly memberships and advertising kits (and perhaps little pieces of your soul), as does each "entrepreneur" below you. These dues flow upward to the company executives, who in turn rub their hands together greedily and laugh manically. Meanwhile you'll be lucky to break even let alone make a significant amount of profit.
A legitimate pursuit?
Google search results for ViSalus reviews are inundated with copycat sites that simply repeat the same information ad nauseum. Objective reviews on the company or their products are nonexistent. The first two pages of the search results (and many more following, but let's be honest, who looks that far?) are sites linking to supposedly legitimate and "third party" reviews. If ViSalus is good at one thing, it is marketing. They've certainly mastered the art of flooding search engines.
|Pseudoscientific evidence: a shadow on the wall.|
My point here is that there are no objective studies on the company's products. The white papers they present on their Web site are full of jargon and do not directly relate to any of the products ViSalus offers. Again, they are unrelated to the products. Even if they were related, the layman is not going to be able to understand these papers.
ViSalus, if you had hard evidence for the success of your product then you would not throw jargony fluff on your site as proof. That's Public Relations 101. Kudos on the stock image of a scientist filling a test tube, though. Priceless.
With lack of evidence comes...
False analogies. Here's one:
"Think about how often we manage to change the oil in our cars. Probably every 3,000 miles, right? But how long will we go before we give our bodies the tune up it requires?"
|Cars are not people!|
One major problem here - cars are not biological. They have no means of self-repair, they have no caloric intake. Excess gasoline does not become fatty gasoline deposits that make the vehicle feel self-conscious. While it sounds good, the analogy lacks logic.
But what about your health?
As in all things: moderation and a healthy amount of skepticism. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry published a study on dietary supplements that ends with a few tips on staying healthy and being aware of miraculous products like the ones ViSalus offers.
1. Demand scientific studies
ViSalus offers no hard scientific proof that their products work. They rely on extreme anecdotal evidence to pull in desperate consumers. The white papers on the Web site are not even related to the products.
2. Follow the FDA criterion: only follow nutritional advice if proven to be safe and effective.
It was in the fine print. ViSalus products, along with similar weight-loss products, are not evaluated by the FDA - period.
3. View the nutritional advice of “experts,” ... with a hypercritical eye. Their track record is poor.
Yes, this even means the supposed experts that ViSalus puts under its "Science" page - Dr. Michael D. Seidman and Steven A. Witherly.