Home All About Your Body Waist Trainers, Skinny Teas, and Supplements: Deconstructing Instagram’s Worst Fitness Scams

Waist Trainers, Skinny Teas, and Supplements: Deconstructing Instagram’s Worst Fitness Scams

by Erika Nicole Kendall

During this self-imposed relaxation period from Instagram – who’s interested in seeing a workout selfie every day with my same lazy top-knot with little pieces of ‘fro sticking out? I’m not even interested in taking them – I’ve realized that Fitness Instagram is quickly morphing into a digital cesspool.

Yes. A digital cesspool. Dramatics intended.Where there is the community of people who are striving together to achieve their weight loss and/or fitness goals, there are also the people who’ve successfully achieved the physique they’re after – or are at least making very visible progress – who then eventually are called to use the massive following they’ve amassed to… ahem… make money.

And far be it for me to shade a potential budding entrepreneur! I fully support people setting out on their own and finding ways to make money… when they do it honestly. Unfortunately, not everyone can say they’re doing that.

Fitness Instagram has become this place rife with voyeur porn – it’s not 15 second clips of a lady squatting to show form and function. It’s 15 seconds of you watching your screen in part awe, part bewilderment, part expectation….expectation that the entire 15-second clip won’t be of her, virtually spread eagle, with the camera looking right up her crotch as she squats in flimsy, see-through “workout tights.”

And, as expected, virtually all of it is women—there is no #eggplantfitness for women to gawk at. A woman from Instagram actually acquired a spread in Vanity Fair because of her exceptionally fit figure….complete with her exceptionally large rear end. Vanity Fair. Vanity. Fair.

Let that sit with you for a second.

Alas, wherever there is an abundance of sex, there likely will also be an abundance of selling… because sex sells.

But what’s being sold? Is everything legit?

Nope. And here, I’ll make the case for why, why they look like they work, and what you should do instead.

Let’s start with the diet pills, shall we? Everyone’s pitching supplements and fat burners. No one knows what’s actually in them. So, the “supplement industry” is something I’ve already covered extensively – these are pills that are manufactured in foreign countries (like everything else at this point, I’m afraid to say) and often the standards for manufacturing are so low, that no one actually knows what’s in them. That’s not to say there’s some death toxin chemical insert scary buzz word in them, but that is to say that they’re harvesting items that aren’t what they’re supposed to be picking and, instead of pills that are purely what’s expected, they’ve got fillers like wheat powder and other potential allergens inside.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been offered my own branded fat burner pill. I went through with the dialogue for just long enough to find out how the process worked, then I ultimately stopped responding.

Companies that manufacture diet pills and other forms of supplements are constantly searching for people who could brand their own product and sell it to a vast enough audience that they could turn a profit. It doesn’t require one major brand to get the job done — all it really takes are enough small brands to remain consistent. Sometimes they hire a third party to scope out brands and people who could market their own product; other times, they have someone in-house to manage that. I was reached out to by that third party.

Manufacturers contract with people who have “brands” that are popular, and tell them, “Listen. If you design your label and send it in, we’ll find someone to manufacture your fat burner pill, we’ll put the labels on and ship them, and you just have to do the marketing and sales through our joint e-commerce platform. We split the money or you pay us a flat rate per order,” or “You buy the pills in bulk and manage the orders and shipping with no split at all, just charge what you want.”

This sounds great when viewed from the perspective of an entrepreneur—money? and all I have to do is market? which, for someone like me, means look good and post pictures on Instagram all day?—but there’s too many problems, here. At the time I was first reached out to, I’d already made my stance abundantly clear on thermogenics, and wasn’t going to change my mind. But that showed me how easy it was to create a product and have it thrust into the limelight… and I’d only had about 40,000 “likes” on Facebook at that time.

Imagine what the game is like for some of these Instagram accounts pushing 350,000 followers? 750,000 followers? 1,600,000 followers?

The same can be said for those açai berry and garcinia cambogia pills that everyone hawks—Dr. Oz mentioned these on his show randomly one day, and manufacturers mobilized. Before too long, people who specialize in jumping in and marketing a product, getting as much money out of it as possible, and moving on to the next were quick to find a product they could market as garcinia cambogiaeven if there wasn’t a trace of the “miracle weight loss cure” to be found in the pills people were taking. Combine that with the accessibility of an audience on Instagram and a treasure trove of weight loss before and after photos to swipe, and you’ve got a situation where people who look like you seem to be promoting the success of a product you’re now interested in.

Ahem. (For the record, you know better. Of course I didn’t take this stuff. Although, tamarind—what garcinia cambogia is really known as—is delicious in sauces.)

The same goes for those “skinny teas” – manufacturing is all the same, all the same. Usually a black tea blend – in other words, something very close to the Lipton you can buy in the grocery store – with some kind of dried fruit peel added for flavor and senna, a known laxative, added to help you get the “skinny” look. (Trust me, it’s not making you skinnier – it’s making you poop, thereby lowering your weight a bit since you pooped out some pounds, thereby making you look slimmer…but you’ve lost no body fat, the stuff that you likely are most interested in losing. It’s not “skinny-making” at all.)

Find a manufacturer that will agree to make you a blend of the cheap tea you find at the 99-cent store and a little senna, package it and brand it with your label, and help you with distribution…and pow – you’ve created a product to market.

Then, there’s the game of identifying what “marketing” looks like. I mean, we can keep it cheap, right?

Let’s say you have a supplement brand that you want to promote on IG. The first thing you do, is go hunting for Instagram accounts that have lots of followers that are all targeting the fitness space, right?

How do they build such massive followings? This is where all the sexy squat videos and humorous fitness memes come in handy – they’re reliable, quick, and easy ways to build an audience.


Many of the largest accounts on Instagram actually buy and sell ad placements, hence why they’re constantly posting memes and sexy “thigh gap” photos, photos of hip bones and Nike frees and tight short-wearing women and, and, and… this is where that comes from. If you look up in the bio, you see links to websites where they offer a price – like what you see above – for purchasing placement on their page. Pay the fee, and you get your photo exposed to, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of people.

But, what if you don’t want to pay? What if you want to reach out to some of these accounts with the largest followings and have them post your photos without paying you?

Offer them a cut of the profits.

Ever seen a IG photo that offers you a “20% discount when you use my special discount code?” When you use that discount code, oftentimes there is a system that tracks how many people use the code assigned to that particular IG user, and that IG’er is paid based upon how many people use their particular code. It’s called affiliate sales, and it’s common on the net. I use affiliate sales here on the blog. The problem with affiliate sales, however, is the fact that just as it incentivizes sharing good resources that we’ve tried and value, it also incentivizes bad resources that are harmful and, in some cases, even dangerous.

That garcinia cambogia I mentioned earlier? That’s associated with “testicular atrophy.”

That green tea extract found in some of those “skinny tea” blends? Extreme liver damage.

That waist trainer? Well, we’ve discussed that before.

Speaking of which, it’s the same game with those, too. Random people find distributors, buytheir product in bulk, and do the shipping and order fulfillment themselves. Pay a celebrity enough money to take a picture of themselves wearing it and credit you for sending it to them? You pay them a few grand to make much more. Or, you could find a not-celebrity who merely has a large following… and boom – you pay them a few hundred to make a few grand.

And, because this is an industry where everything is judged by the appearance of the person marketing the product, there’s a large amount of fraud taking place—countless people rush off to the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Colombia, or Miami to get cosmetic surgery to craft the kind of body that will allow them to promote a waist trainer. If they’re careful, they’ll earn money both on the front end by tweeting or Instagramming it, and on the back end by getting a cut of each sale through affiliate sales and, before you know it, they’ve earned twice as much as what they spent for the body they’ve got. Women who’ve been in fitness for years will, out of nowhere, share their “secret” of being “obsessed” with waist training because if you’ve got this great figure, why not take advantage of it?

Instagram prospers because it takes advantage of the fact that a picture says a thousand words. Because of this, people get away with saying very little, but using their bodies to promote harmful and useless products. The amount of money at play here means there’s an incentive for everyone to try to get in. The accessibility of it all means it’s easy to blend in anonymously — get in, get as much money as you can, get out. The anonymity of it all means there’s less of an incentive to be honest and operate with integrity. And, because of the desperation so many feel when it comes to successfully losing weight, the pictures only add to the pressure and desire people feel… ultimately swindling you out of your hard earned coins.

I share all of this with you because I want you to think twice about what you buy. Some of these products aren’t safe. Some of them can cause extensive damage. Virtually all of them have a 100% chance of immediate failure. And, it only contributes to an unhealthy cycle of yo-yo dieting that’s guaranteed to leave you feeling dejected and unhappy.

Scroll your IG feed with caution… and your wallet tucked neatly out of reach. Your body—and your bank account—will thank you for it!

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L. April 20, 2016 - 5:39 PM

Erika, girl, thank you so much for doing all this research and having the integrity not to join in on that weird weight loss pill scam. I hope you and the new little one are doing well. Sending you lots of positive thoughts and well wishes.

Erika Nicole Kendall April 20, 2016 - 6:01 PM

Sending you positive thoughts and well wishes right back! <333

Michelle April 25, 2016 - 2:15 AM

I’m devastated over Prince too. We lost an icon. 🙁
Interesting article, thank you for educating us on the crazy scams going on.

Sonnie251 April 28, 2016 - 5:56 PM

Good Read. Thanks for sharing,

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