Herbalife and the Dangers of Diet Culture


Before you read, I would just like to let you know that there is a trigger warning of body image and eating disorders.


Last year, I began to notice that there were a bunch of nutrition shops that seemed to be popping up everywhere all of a sudden. These nutrition shops all had variations of the same name, like “insert town Nutrition”. And what was super shocking was the social media presence of it all. All over Instagram stories, people were posting with their weight loss shakes or their protein teas. I actually fell for it for a little while, and while I never actually went into one of the stores, I was dying to try one of their shakes. 

After looking at the menu of the shop closest to my house, some red flags started to go up in my brain. First of all, these products are all marketed as “weight loss products” or high-protein. While wanting to lose weight isn’t inherently a bad thing, through social media, these products have been marketed to teenage girls as ways to lose weight easily. They are also often marketed as meal replacement shakes, smoothies, and teas. At about 150-200 calories each, these drinks are in no way enough to constitute a meal. Already, society puts too much emphasis on weight and how to lose weight. I’m sure everyone has heard of a diet like Whole 30, BeachBody, or WeightWatchers. This plethora of diets and weight loss products makes people (and especially girls) feel as if they are not good enough based on one number on a scale. Due to the prevalence of eating disorders, this societal pressure of weight loss is just incredibly dangerous. By marketing these drinks as meal replacements and ways to lose weight, these shops promote unhealthy eating habits that are very dangerous.

Additionally, through some research, I found that the majority of these shops use Herbalife supplements and mixes in their drinks. Herbalife is a multi-level marketing scheme (MLM) that sells health and weight loss supplements. Not only are MLMs illegal in the United States, but they prey on vulnerable people in order to make money. I’m sure you’ve seen an MLM on Facebook, like for skincare products, supplements, etc. Multi-level marketing schemes, also called pyramid schemes, are confusing processes. Basically, they are in the shape of pyramids, where members sell products to people and try to recruit new members. When they make sales or recruit people, members receive a percentage of the profit, and the rest of the profit goes up the food chain, so the person that recruited that member gets a percentage, and then the  person that recruited them gets a percentage, and it keeps moving up the pyramid until the profit gets to the highest member and they receive the rest. What actually happens is that members are tricked into joining the pyramid based on promises of getting rich quickly, and they often end up either making little to no money or actually losing money based on the product they have to purchase. The only person that truly makes money in the pyramid is the person at the very top. These nutrition shops that have popped up all over are actually fronts for Herbalife. Basically, they are owned by members of the pyramid and sell products while also trying to recruit new members. The owners of these shops often make very minimal profits due to the nature of the pyramid. MLMs are manipulative and illegal, and not only are their products scams or dangerous, but they also prey on vulnerable people.

Interestingly, due to the fact that these Herbalife products are supplements, they are not regulated by any government agency like the FDA. This means that the supplements could have almost anything in them, including heavy metals, bacterial contaminants, toxic compounds, and psychotropic agents. Herbalife has actually undergone many lawsuits due to the fact that their products allegedly can cause liver damage and even death. According to the Journal of Hepatology, there are over 22 cases of liver damage associated with Herbalife products, and two cases of life threatening damage that required immediate liver transplant surgery that was only successful in one case. While Herbalife might seem flashy and intriguing, a quick weight loss is not worth the price of potential liver damage, disordered eating habits, and becoming a victim to a multi-level marketing scheme, so stay away!

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