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Dairy Rehab Part II: Marketing under false pretenses

After fasting for exactly 12 hours, I arrived at the YMCA to have my finger pricked and a blood sample scanned for cholesterol and glucose results. On the scale in the women’s locker room, I learned that, as suspected, I’ve gained ten pounds since I moved to Colorado just over a year ago (I blame you, chardonnay!). The nutrition consultant from a local firm looked at my results with a furrowed brow (it only took five minutes to scan my blood sample).

“Your cholesterol levels are a little high, but I’m not as concerned about that as I am your glucose levels. Normally we would be very concerned at the level of 99. You’re at 96. This means we should look into this matter because it may indicate that you are pre-diabetic.”

Those are words I never expected to hear in my life. ME? I exercise regularly, I only buy organic food, and I have not eaten fast food since the late 1900’s. A year ago my health insurance company accused me of being underweight and threatened to drop my coverage. I do love sugar, though.

“Um, are you sure? Because I feel inclined to tell you that I binged on dairy and chocolate and sugar yesterday. Could that affect my results this morning?” I was in pre-denial.
“The reason we had you fast for 12 hours was to ensure all of that would be out of your system in time to take a blood sample. I’d like you to come to our studio tomorrow so we can take a closer look at what’s going on…Other symptoms of a pre-diabetic include belly fat that’s really hard to lose.”

I cross my arms over my waist and sucked my stomach in. “Isn’t that everyone?” I asked, feeling more than a little dejected. I mean, what does it mean to be pre-diabetic? You either have Diabetes or you don’t. Anyone who doesn’t have Diabetes could potentially be pre-diabetic, right?  I made an appointment to come back the next day for a more comprehensive consultation.

When I arrived at work five minutes after receiving the news, I informed people of my “condition” and that death was imminent.

“Good morning, Jody, how are you?”

“Well, I’m dying. Thanks for asking.”

Before the challenge started, I was scared to change my diet. Now I’m scared not to.

For lunch I ate equal parts kale, chard, red bellpepper, carrots, red cabbage, and radishes with low-sodium vegetable stock. Hoping I could lower my glucose levels for a second blood reading, I kept sugar out of my coffee and resisted the cravings.

A word on cravings. I notice that after I eat I immediately crave sweets. Not only that, I look forward to sugar and I feel happy when I have it. It’s as if I’m unconsciously rewarding myself, but for what? For finishing a meal? Big accomplishment.

Anyway, I wanted to be “clean” for my nutrition consultation in case they tested me for sugar again.

The nutrition consultation was offered for free by a company partnering with the Engine2 Challenge through Whole Foods, but is not affiliated with Whole Foods at all. (Several companies sponsoring the program offered free services, such as yoga classes or a one-week gym membership to help participants stay focused and committed to a healthy lifestyle). When I arrived for my appointment at the “studio” one of the nutritionists had me fill out several forms detailing my health history. This took about 15 to 20 minutes, and when I was finished the young woman, who was not the same person who made the appointment with me, said, “I’ll go over this with you and then I’ll show you the equipment.”

The equipment? I assumed she was referring to some kind of special health appraisal unit that was cutting edge, and would aggregate my biometrics in nanoseconds. But as she led me to a private room, we passed through a room with six or seven odd-shaped fitness machines arranged in a half circle lining the curved wall. The walls, by the way, were painted a deep red and adorned with several large gold frames hung crookedly on purpose. There were chandeliers casting dim light on the two women using “the equipment” in rhythm to the pop music playing overhead.

In the private room, decorated like a beach, the nutritionist scanned my paperwork and asked a few pointed questions, but mostly confirmed what I already wrote down.

“I’m here because my glucose levels were sky high,” I said, “I scored a 96 in glucose. But I binged on junk food the day before I took the test. I’m sure my levels are lower now. Right?”

“We tell our clients to modify their diet when that happens, which you’re already doing. And we find out what they do for fitness. Let’s go try out the equipment. I’ll introduce you to our trainer.”

That was it? She spent less time “consulting” than I did filling out the forms. And nobody ever said anything about fitness equipment the day before when I made the appointment. It was described to me as a “nutrition consultation”, not a personal training session. Pay close attention here; it’s important that I describe what happens next because it will serve a purpose.

As she introduced me to the trainer, a woman slightly older than I am, they both glanced at my winter faux-suede boots, which hardly pass for athletic footwear. “You can just take your boots off and do this in your socks.”

“Nobody told me I would be working out today. I was told I needed to come in to take a closer look at my glucose levels.”

The trainer nodded affirmatively, but said, “I’ll show you a few basic positions on the machine and then you can schedule a free training session with me if you like.”

I was confused. But with bovine acquiescence, I complied and took my boots off.

The “equipment” vibrates as you stand, sit, or kneel on the platform, forcing you to adjust your center of gravity to maintain stability. “Oh, I get it. It’s like a full-body Shake Weight™ machine,” I said, through rattling teeth and an unnatural vibrato.

They tried to get me to come back for a full workout session, never once acknowledging the reason I came in the first place. I never even saw the person who seemed so concerned about my future chronic illness.

And here is where I would like you to pay attention so we can all learn from their mistake. Are you a retailer, fitness gym, or any other brick-and-mortar establishment? Are you luring people through your door under false pretenses? If so, stop now.

When I walked out of the studio an unsettling feeling came over me. I couldn’t quite detect what it was exactly, aside from feeling a little duped. But then it hit me. What could have been a meaningful relationship between a client and a caring nutritionist was reduced to a marketing ploy that turned me into a captive audience. Often business owners think if they can just get people in the door to try their product, taste the food, or experience the service it might grow their business. So they say anything to get folks through the door, only to under-deliver and trap the person into “experiencing” the product themselves.  This will leave a bad taste in your customer’s mouth 100% of the time.

Granted, my glucose levels were high the morning I was tested. Which is why I thought a “nutrition consultation” warranted a second reading once the junk actually left my system. If I score a 96 on glucose consistently, that would be worrisome. But not after drinking a mocha, cramming three servings of cookies in my mouth and washing them down with hot chocolate, and then going to sleep.

The most important link between you and your customers in trust. The “nutrition consultation” was a physical manifestation of internet spam. They hooked my attention with a scary semi-diagnosis and then pretended I came for a fitness orientation all along.

But I won’t let it get me down. It’s the end of Day 3 as I write this, and I feel great. I’ve remained alert and focused all day long. A classic insomniac, I slept well last night. I’m looking forward to our first Engine2 meet-up tomorrow evening, where I’ll learn “how to live without dairy”.

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