Someone I follow on Twitter asked me to check out a product he was marketing called ViSalus. I’d never heard of it. Apparently, I’ve been living under a rock. It’s a multi-billion dollar weight loss program, featuring shakes, etc. It’s also a very successful multi-level marketing company (MLM). Two things about this really didn’t jibe with me – the quick fix nature of meal replacement shake programs and the MLM aspect of it. There’s actually a third thing, but I didn’t know up front (see ‘My depressions’ below). But, I respect the source, and know that he has very high standards and ethics, so I thought it was worth trying.
What it is & how it works
I decided to try their shake product in Sweet Cream flavor. I start my day with a protein shake
and an omelet, so I figured I could replace my shake or cut back on it and mix in this stuff. I feel strongly about eating whole foods and having the stomach digest real stuff, so I didn’t want to ditch the omelet. I bought one bag for just over $50 shipped. It claims to have about 30 servings, so it’s not too expensive per serving vs. what you’d pay at GNC or somewhere for a competing product. You have to do an auto-purchase plan, but you can cancel or delay anytime. I did notice it’s available for a touch less on Amazon and don’t have to do the auto-order, but you don’t get any support with that. If the person you’re buying from provides meaningful advice, that may be worth the $7 per bag difference to you, so you’ll have to figure that out for yourself. I tried to cancel my auto-order after getting the first bag, but they shipped a second bag instead of canceling. It wasn’t the end of the world, but that’s why I don’t tend to like these auto-sign up things. They have a way of auto-sending you more than you wanted (and charging for it).
The shake is a mix of soy protein and whey, plus a number of other ingredients (vitamins, minerals, etc). The soy is non-GMO, which is great, but it’s not an organic product (which the whey shake I use, love and recommend is). It has 12 grams of protein per serving (2 heaping scoops), which isn’t enough for me since I try to get 30 grams within 30 minutes of waking. My whey shake has 24 grams, the casein shake I have with dinner has 20 grams, and my omelet is between 8 and 15 grams (depending on size and whether I throw other stuff in it that has protein, like edamame or lentils). Still, it’s not too bad, and could definitely be mixed into other things to get me to 30. Being a protein shake isn’t really what it’s positioned as, so I can’t hold that against it.
As far as taste goes, it’s delicious. It’s seriously sweet (I think it’s too sweet – see ‘My depressions’ to understand why). I’ve had some terrible fake vanilla flavored shakes (when I was a fat teen, I tried Slim-Fast…ew), and this ain’t one of them. It’s really good.
They also include quite a bit with the purchase despite me getting the cheapest option they sell. I got a booklet that has a lot of tips and tools that mirror my 10 Principles quite a bit (setting goals, going public, tracking, etc). They also include these little flavor packs that add both flavor and some other benefit – e.g. strawberry with phytonutrients, banana energy burst, etc. They actually sound tasty. I haven’t added any of them, so I can’t comment on the taste or whether the claimed benefit is legit, but I’d at least guess the taste is good given how great the Sweet Cream tasted.
In addition to what came, I got a series of really helpful tips and ideas from the person who asked me to try it. They may be exceptions in terms of their commitment to helping, so I can’t speak for others selling ViSalus, but it was really helpful. They offered guidance on usage, creating goals, plans, etc, and gave me a number of recipes for how to make different shakes from the base product I bought. Like getting all the extra flavor packets, this was a surprising commitment given I bought the cheapest option I could get.
I should add that the product is lactose and gluten free. Some people see whey as an ingredient and assume that, since it comes from milk, the product must not be ok for lactose-intollerant people. Whey is one of the two proteins in dairy, while lactose is the sugar. Having an issue with one doesn’t mean you will have an issue with the other per se. I’m lactose-intollerant, and it’s fine for me. There’s less than 1 gram of sugar per serving, and lactose is a sugar, so there really isn’t anywhere lactose could hide anyway.
The company has a ton of hype associated with the products – testimonial videos, ginormous checks they give people for losing weight or selling a lot of their product, competitions for weight loss, etc. That’s fine. It’s not me, but it’s fine. Sometimes, paying people to lose weight helps get them over the hump and then they are just interested in being fit. The approach just isn’t really my style, so I sort of ignored it.
They are very into the auto-purchase approach, so if you just want to try it, be careful and ensure you’ve canceled any auto-shipping options you’ve been signed up for. As I mentioned above, somehow I screwed that part up, and ended up getting a second bag when I only wanted to try it with one.
Once I checked the product out, I saw one particular ingredient I didn’t like – sucralose. You probably know it by its brand name, Splenda. It’s not the worst thing in the world, and definitely the best artificial sweetener out there. However, like all artificial sweeteners, it does cause an insulin response in the body in the same way sugar does. This is the trick with a lot of ‘low glycemic index’ or ‘low GI’ items. They get the green light for diabetics and for weight loss, but insulin spiking is a key contributor to fat accumulation in the body. To fully understand this, you must read Gary Taube’s incredibly powerful book Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.
Aside from the inclusion of sucralose from a body chemistry standpoint, sucralose also tends to be extremely sweet. I definitely have heightened my sensitivity to sweetness since cutting almost all sugar from my diet, and I find this product way too sweet. It’s like a dessert to me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super tasty as a result, but I’d prefer something maybe half as sweet. You can deal with this to an extent by diluting it more, or including competing flavors (I put cinnamon and cayenne in most drinks I mix up, which helps, but you could also mix it into coffee or mix cacao powder in to help tone down the awareness of sweetness. The bitterness of cacao and coffee would be a nice balance to tone down the sweetness, for sure). Generally, I advise people to cut back on things that enhance sweetness to make you more sensitive to it, and thus less likely to go for it (or do so in lower quantity). If you satisfy your sweet tooth with less sweet for your tooth, so much the better. The high sweetness of this product on a regular basis will lower your body’s sensitivity to sweetness, so you’ll crave more before satisfaction is reached. Again, this goes back to the body chemistry of sweetness, whether from sugar or otherwise. Your body is easily fooled into thinking it’s getting sugar, and acting like it did. That’s not good. Stevia is currently the only non-sugar that doesn’t do this (and it’s not artificial – so much the better).
My bigger issue, though, is with the approach at play here – the quick fix diet. I don’t advocate anything quick (except intervals or speed work). To me, you really need to work at and for something for it to change your life such that your new normal is health. I’m not into the idea of losing X pounds for some event (high school reunion, ex’s wedding, etc) because as soon as the event is over, you have nothing driving you to be fit. The same goes for meal replacement shake approaches. At some point, if you’re lucky, you will reach your goal and come off the program. What happens then? You haven’t learned about healthful eating sufficiently (if you disagree, then explain why you didn’t lose weight without drinking a shake instead of eating food?) to maintain health. You haven’t changed your life priorities and values to have the health you deserve for yourself or set the right example for your friends and family. The approach this product is driving isn’t something I can really get behind.
I’m also generally very weary of multi-level marketing. Those three words are usually followed by one of the following three words – scam, scheme or ploy. This is MLM. That in and of itself doesn’t make it bad. Given the person who brought it to my attention, I set this part aside. I’m not looking at it to make money, so it’s really neither here nor there for me to care about it being MLM. I just need to evaluate the product itself, not how it’s marketed.
To buy or not to buy?
Diet isn’t ‘a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch and a sensible dinner’ (to quote the old Slim-Fast line). Unfortunately, this has become the American way. We can’t wait for our results, and we don’t want to work for them. Fitness and health are worth working for because it is that work itself that is the source of health. They journey is the destination. ViSalus is diet in the shake sense, unfortunately. I can’t get behind that part of it. Using it as a protein shake is more up my ally as part of my morning protein routine. In that respect, ViSalus is ok but not great. It’s definitely good at getting the results it aims to get for those who want to treat it as a quick fix weight loss tool. If that’s what you’re looking for, then I’d say you’re looking in the right place with that product (but I’d want to discuss what’s lacking in what you’re looking for). If you’re looking for a protein supplement, it works, but I’d recommend something less processed like Garden of Life’s vegan Raw Protein line (my current protein of choice – I mix it with a scoop of raw cacao powder to enhance the flavor), or, if you want whey, go with Jay Robb’s products.
For me, I gave it the two months I bought product for. Because I have put the work in and know what I need to do to be healthy, I think I can use this product effectively. But I also believe I could be as effective without it and would at least prefer something ‘cleaner’ (fewer or no chemicals and organic).
Either way, I did the work to enlighten my body. Will you do the work to enlighten.your.body?