I gotta be real for a second.
Something has been on my mind lately because I’ve been talking to clients who are becoming increasingly frustrated. Frustrated because they are trying the latest weight loss fad and it’s not working. Patches. Drinks. Wraps. Detoxes. And, the last straw, (which compelled me to write this blog post) was a comment from a potential client who said another “health coach” recommended a product and asked what I thought of it. When I pressed further about this health coach, she revealed that it was a person selling a product through a network marketing company. Well, a big red flag went up and I started to dig further. While the company promoting the product was careful to use the right terminology from what I can see, their sales people clearly weren’t.
So – I want to level set with y’all. Just because you sell a health and wellness product, you are NOT a health coach. Nope. Sorry. Not even close. You are an advocate. A sales representative. A promoter. A consultant. But you are not a health coach. There is an education that must be completed. Testing and certification. Not to mention continuing education requirements and scope of practice regulations that go with that title. Those of us who have put in the work and achieved those certifications have a different level of expertise to offer clients. We work with doctors, physical therapists and other allied health professionals to provide a vital service in the healthcare continuum. Here’s a litmus test — ask yourself this: would your doctor refer you to a promoter of a product to be part of your healthcare team? Probably not. So, don’t confuse them with a recognized professional.
Now, before all my network marketing friends get worked up, I’m not against what you’re doing. In fact, I used to be active with a similar company. I was a Beachbody Coach and sold their meal replacement shake and workout programs. I have zero problem with people finding ways to make extra money or create a full-time career selling products they believe in. But even in that company, I felt uncomfortable using the term “health coach” to describe what I did. Let me just note – they never encouraged us to use that title, but I saw plenty Beachbody folks doing it anyway. And it’s not just Beachbody. I’ve seen plenty of It Works, Plexus, Le-Vel, Arbonne, Modere, and Isagenix sales consultants use the title Health Coach and it concerns me.
Let’s talk about the word Coach.
Coach. Seems innocent enough, right? It summons images of a dad on the sidelines at a soccer game. Or, a favorite high school coach with a whistle, shouting plays from the bench. The definition of a coach is…“one who instructs, trains and teaches.” In the world of health, wellness and fitness (and many other professions), to instruct, train or teach requires you to have the proper credentials or licensure. This is different in other industries where you can be a coach because you have the business experience or have achieved certain levels of success.
But even if you just use the term coach in the spirit of encouragement and support (which is what many coaches do and is perfectly fine), I’m starting to see behavior online from untrained (albeit well-meaning) people who are going beyond encouraging and advocating to promising results, making recommendations to people with health conditions and injuries, and citing results and medical claims without any substantiation.
I have seen “health coaches” recommend exercises to people with spinal injuries, counsel diabetics on which supplements they should use, and make claims that the products they sell can cure, reverse, or improve medical conditions like autism, epilepsy and cancer (yes, cancer). Even if those statements are true (which most are not), an untrained person who signed up to sell something 2 weeks ago should not be making those claims without the credentials to do so.
Instead, these sales reps or advocates should be sharing their journey, results, experience and feelings about the products. They should be a “product of the product” and tell their story to sell it. People want authenticity and they want to see results from someone they know and trust. I did well with Beachbody because I did the programs and got the results. I shared with people what worked for me. When I knew I wanted to do more, I obtained the education.
Protecting your health and your wallet.
As the “New Year, New You” madness starts to build (only 35 days until January 1, 2018!), how do you protect yourself (and your wallet) from that well-intended, sometimes off-base, friend who thinks they are a health coach and have just the miracle product for you? Here’s my advice:
- Talk to your doc. If you have an injury, chronic illness or other condition that nutrition and fitness might improve, get your doctor’s approval before starting a program or using a supplement. When you are on certain medications, you need to watch your heart rate and dietary supplements can sometimes interfere with their effectiveness. Your doctor can provide detailed instructions on what type of exercise you can do and how to modify your diet to achieve better health.
- Do your homework. If you are an otherwise healthy individual looking to get fit or lose some weight, do your homework. First, about the product but then also about the claims that someone might be making or posting online. It’s incredibly easy to find random “before and after” pictures out there and post them on your account to show results. In fact, stealing people’s before and after pics is an actual thing. When they show you before and after pics, ask for theirs.
- Ask about THEIR results. If your friend or family member is super excited about a product, workout, supplement, ask about their results. Did they lose weight? Did it help with their energy, sleep, flexibility, strength, etc. Ask a lot of questions before paying for a program or product. Ask for references too.
- Request the research. I’ve worked in marketing for 20+ years. Companies are good at spinning even mediocre study results. If a company is making claims, they should be make the research readily available. And, when you have that research, go back to point #2, check it out on your own or with your healthcare provider.
- Hire a credentialed professional. Your health is not something to mess around with. Invest in a certified personal trainer, registered dietitian nutritionist, or health coach for peace of mind and sound, unbiased advice that’s not tied to a product.
At the end of the day, assume innocence. Your friend, family member or colleague is probably just eager to share this new product because perhaps they’ve achieved great results. I highly doubt there is malicious intent. But even with all the good intentions in the world, taking health advice from someone with no relevant education or training could do more harm than good to your body and wellness. Instead, look to them to be part of your support network.
As always, be your own best advocate. Be smart, be safe and ask questions.