So you’ve been approached by an Isagenix representative – A Dietitian’s first hand experience with the product.
About 9 months ago I couldn't go a day, let alone a few hours with out hearing about Isagenix. Some of my clients were using it and I was hearing about it more and more from my colleagues. As with most things in nutrition, I like to try certain things out for 3 months to get a first hand perspective on what it’s like myself to better advise my clients. I did this for Vegetarianism, Carb Cycling, Atkins and now I decided it was time to do it for Isagenix and detoxing. Now before you continue on with this post I need to fully disclose that this is my personal experience with the product and not a direct attack on it or the people that are happy with it, that being said, let’s move on.
Isagenix, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the brand, is a company that creates a whole line of products aimed at the health and wellness categories. Their primary product base promises weight loss with before and after photos of its users boasting six pack abs, leaner and happier people. They achieve this by having “Nutritionally complete” shakes, cleanses, detoxes, reducing your cravings and suppressing appetite. This is done with an onslaught of herbal ingredients and whey protein powder. Now that you have the jist of what Isagenix is about it’s time to dive into the actual experience. Now I won’t go too far in depth with the scientific issues with Isagenix as you can read about it on Abby Langer’s (a fellow Dietitian) review here, I’ll just talk about how the product made me feel.
Now we all know how I feel about cleanses and detoxes, and a first-hand experience with the concept has made me hate it even more. My first cleanse day felt like I was going through withdrawal from pain killers from when I was hospitalized. It felt awful! I couldn’t think, I had no energy and was irritable. I just wanted to rip someone’s head off. I went to the Facebook support group for Isagenix and was horrified to learn that the Isagenix reps claim that this is “normal” (In what world is this normal?) I tried to last 12 hours but I couldn’t do it, I had to eat not for my own wellbeing, but for the sake of everyone else around me. After I ate the world was good again, I could do something as simple as read where as I couldn't even concentrate enough to do this during the cleanse. In fact the whole detox experience was reminiscent of a really bad hangover as I was stuck to my couch just marathoning TV on Netflix.
So then I contacted the Isagenix support pages asking them for this amazing research that has been done on their products and I was extremely disappointed. This amazing research had nothing to do with the product at all. I was sent poorly conducted research on intermittent fasting to justify detoxing, which isn’t related at all! There were also more poorly conducted and privately funded research papers on individual herbal ingredients found in the product with no significant findings, in fact all the research papers showed no clinical or statistical significance in a small group of 10 people. When I got in touch with the support staff at Isagenix I was told there was exciting research coming out on the product, 9 months later and nothing. I was then sent to videos on their website which feature the Isagenix Dietitians speaking at a large conference explaining how the product works. Aside from flowery language and high-energy evangelical-like public speaking about the product the video offered nothing. They only spoke to the scientifically found ingredients in the product, which is only the Whey protein, and completely ignored the herbal ingredients.
There’s no denying that the way the videos, representative meetings and any material sent your way about this product is so overwhelmingly positive that you’d think that this is some sort of cult, and it’s not too far off. The popularity of the product isn’t due to the taste (as it’s awful) but in the group support that you get when you enter a network-marketing business model (think legal pyramid scheme). They promise the glory of starting your own business (which it isn’t) and financial relief from the real world (which it doesn't), often citing one or two high level Isagenix representatives earning multi-million dollar salaries and lying on the beach all day mis-representing the majority of the representatives. Furthermore, the Facebook support groups are saturated with gym and mirror selfies with people talking about how the product has changed their life even though the vast majority of the pictures shown have been manipulated in on way or another. No I don't mean they were photoshopped, but if you want to look like you have a ton of muscles or lost a ton of weight then get a good workout in at the gym, snap a shirtless photo in the mirror as your 'after' pic (making sure you pic the right angle to over exaggerate everything) , then proceed to go home, binge on soda and heavily salted snacks to get you midsection as bloated as physically possible as your 'before' pic (and remember to pick the least flattering light and pose, oh and don't forget to frown). Low and behold you have the secret to the majority of before and after weight loss product pictures (Don't worry, I'll be posting a video explaining this at a later date). The promise of that kind of life coupled with the infectiously positive representatives is the appeal, at least for me because the products offered nothing in regards to health. I was starving all day trying to replace 2 meals with those shakes and wanting to commit a felon on the detox days. Did I lose weight? Of course I did, that’s what happens when you’re starving yourself. I lost about 5lbs of muscle mass as confirmed via skinfold assessment but I missed food. I mean I REALLY missed food. I was constantly thinking about it, craving it and just waiting for dinner every single night, at which point I would end up binging on dinner because I was so damned hungry. It’s not even funny; Isagenix took Hangry to a whole new level with me. I hated “eating “ lunch with my coworkers because they’d actually have food and I’d have a stupid shake that came out of a vacuum-sealed package that I hated. I was alienated and angry and just wanted the whole experience to be over. Let’s just say I didn’t end up lasting the 3 months that I originally wanted to do, it was close to a month before I stopped their suggested system and used the shakes as snacks and post workout shakes, at which point I returned to normal cognitive and physical functioning. Oh, and I gained weight at this point.
All in all I think you get the picture, I hated the experience, would never do it again and wouldn’t promote it. I get that there are people out there that can do something like this, but I highly suspect those people didn’t care much about food in the first place. For the rest of the population, I’m afraid this falls under the category of a band-aid solution. This is another product that creates dependency and isn’t realistic or sustainable. Furthermore it doesn't address the underlying issue, so no matter what you're just avoiding the actual problem. So if you’re considering Isagenix or any other similar product like Shakeology or Usana, then ask yourself: “Is this something I can do for a year or five?” because if the answer is no, then you might as well explore other ways to get healthier and to create true sustainable change.
Ben Sit, RD, Sports Dietitian
Owner, Founder and President of Evolved Sport and Nutrition
Complete Lifestyle Management
Of all the hot topics in nutrition, the one that keeps holding onto centre stage is sugar. The World Health Organization (WHO) released an updated guideline in 2015 regarding sugar intake for adults and children. They recommend reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake. WHO suggests a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake. The premise behind this is if we ingest calories from these free sugars, it may reduce our intake of nutritionally dense foods. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that an increase in free sugar intake is associated with increase in body weight.
Sugar is a term used to describe a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are our main source of fuel, and we need them to survive and be healthy. Sugars are small molecules, either one or two molecules bonded together. Some are naturally found in food sources such as fruit, dairy, and honey while others are added to foods. Both are similar molecules, and WHO categorizes them as “free sugars”. Although sources from dairy and fruit have natural free sugars, they contain other health benefits and are not so much of a concern as are foods that have sugars added during manufacturing and processing.
Obvious sources of free sugars include sugar-sweetened beverages such as pops, juices, energy drinks, and chocolate milk. Other obvious sources include cakes, cookies, and candy. There are however, some food sources that aren’t so obvious; fruit flavoured yogurts, granola bars, cereals, salad dressings, sauces (ketchup, bbq sauce, teriyaki), flavoured hot drinks (hot chocolate, pumpkin spice latte), peanut butter and bread. Other items that have high sources of free sugars (not added, but naturally high) are things like cold pressed juices, homemade smoothies with lots of fruit, or granolas sweetened with agave nectar to name a few.
Let’s back up a minute. It’s great that these recommendations from WHO are available, but what does it really mean for us Canadians? Nutrition labels must list the amount of sugar per serving in packaged products, but they don’t have to indicate how much of that sugar is added. So how can we know if we are having too much?
An easy place to start is to consider if there are any sources of added sugar in your diet. Take a look at the example below:
Breakfast Vanilla Latte with 2 toast, peanut butter and jam
Lunch Salad with protein, fruit, chocolate chip cookie, water
Mid-Afternoon Snack Commercial granola bar, tea with 1 tsp sugar and milk
Dinner Chicken, Rice, steamed veggies, 1 cup of juice
Evening Snack Fruit
There are 6 sources of added sugar; the latte, jam, cookie, granola bar, sugar in tea, and the juice. If your diet it somewhat similar to the example above, you’re likely getting over 10% of your total calories from free sugars and mostly in the form of added sugar from low nutrient food sources. So let’s make some adjustments; swap the flavoured latte for plain, try no-sugar-added jam, keep your cookie (we are human after all), switch to a no-calorie sweetner in your tea or go without, bring a homemade oat bar with little added sugar, and replace your juice at dinner with water or herbal tea. By making small changes you can easily reduce both the amount of free sugars and overall calories you consume.
Now how do you go about setting a goal that is individualized to your lifestyle? Research has shown that if you set small, realistic goals in a reasonable amount of time that you are more likely to reach them. If you are a person who drinks pop every day and you make a goal to eliminate it entirely without allowing yourself any flexibility, chances are you won’t be successful. Having a black and white mentality to change is not beneficial when setting realistic, achievable, long-term goals.
Emilie Trottier, RD, Sports Dietitian
Sports Dietitian at Evolved Sport and Nutrition
Complete Lifestyle Management