High Priest of a False Religion
As an indication of the nutritional awareness of Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchhoff, one might simply look at his AM beverage of choice – sugar-free Red Bull (as he casually reveals in this recent WSJ blog interview). Okay, so he starts his day with something sickeningly sweet that happens to contain poisonous artificial sweeteners. Maybe he’d get a pass on this personal lapse in judgment if he was at least against these substances professionally. But he is not.
When it comes to providing a positive service experience, the dictum “the customer is always right” usually makes sense. But especially for expertise-driven service businesses, it is critical to differentiate between managing the service experience (e.g., responsiveness, fixing problems, staff friendliness) and the content of the service itself. For example, a physician shouldn’t agree to an unnecessary operation simply because their patient desires it — though the physician and their staff should always be pleasant and efficient. A driving instructor shouldn’t allow their student to drive recklessly simply because the student wants to — though the instructor should always be supportive and give instructions politely. A good service experience and saying “NO” are not incompatible. Indeed, you need and fully expect experts that you hire to tell you “NO” when required in their judgment, whether or not you want to hear it.
So why is the word “NO” so completely absent in commercial weight loss programs?
If you’re not training for the space program, why are you eating packaged meals?
If you’re old enough to remember Tang, a powdered orange flavored drink mix introduced in 1957 and soon thereafter advertised as “the drink of astronauts,” you’ll remember a time when eating packaged “food-like products” was a complete novelty. This was of course something you’d only do if you had absolutely no access to REAL food – e.g. in outer space
Let’s be clear, this product was not especially healthy – but if John Glenn drank it on a Mercury mission, then people could overlook that fact and give it a try. Of course due to its high sugar content and the associated aura of space flight and science, kids like me loved it.
Looking back, this moment marked the start of the “Manufactured Food Marketed as Scientific Ingredient Mixture” era, where the specific benefits of a particular nutrient or the simple practicality of a product (e.g., lasts for years without spoiling) was used as a “cover” to justify its artificial nature, and to obscure its lack of nutritional value.
Do you think that fake brownies and artificial cheesecake are actually healthy?
Imitation desserts are some of the most featured products in advertising by the nation’s leaders in commercial weight loss programs, including Medifast and Nutrisystem. Don’t believe me? Take a look:
So, even more important, do you think THEY believe that these fake desserts are really healthy for you?
Should your weight loss program be run by a giant candy and ice cream company?
A lot of people apparently think so – because Jenny (formerly Jenny Craig), one of the nation’s three largest weight loss businesses, is owned and operated by Nestle, which is both the world’s largest candy company and the world’s largest ice cream company (their brands include the famously fattening Haagen Dazs)– bigger than all of its competitors including Hershey, Cadbury and Breyer’s. (Note: Nestle also owns the well-known liquid diet product Optifast, so they’re really doubling down here).
It seems almost too diabolical and cynical to be true. But Nestle has, in fact, found a way to profit by making you fat, and then charging you later to help you try to get skinny. Even if the Jenny program works for you in the short term (I’ll reserve my comments on the quality of this program for now — See Blog Post: Are You Training to be an Astronaut?), you can be sure that they’ll be right there with some candy and ice cream to sell you after you’re done!