Unmasking the Exploitation Tactics of Self-Proclaimed Gurus

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Have you ever wondered how people can get so popular promoting things that aren't backed by any evidence whatsoever? Have you ever wanted to become known for having special health and nutrition information that is unknown to anyone else?

If so, then you are going to want to read this blog post.


The Case of the Medical Medium

I am going to discuss the step-by-step formula for how people position themselves as nutrition and health gurus. We will outline the tactics that are used, how to gather compelling testimonials, and more!

The reason that I decided to write this blog post is because last week, Vanity Fair released the story of Stephanie Tisone, a woman who lost her life to breast cancer after delaying conventional medical care in favor of alternative health remedies.

In the article, Stephanie is described to have been a devoted believer, client, and employee of “The Medical Medium,” and her friends and family believe that this connection that she had with the Medical Medium was partially responsible for her decision to delay conventional medical care.

If you don’t know, Medical Medium is a man named Anthony William who claims to have been “born with the unique ability to converse with the Spirit of Compassion, who provides him with extraordinarily advanced healing medical information that’s far ahead of its time” (this is directly from his site).

Now you might be thinking, “How can anyone believe this?"

Well, Anthony has published 8 New York Times best-selling books and operates a very popular brand with a cult-like following he has been known to work with many celebrities, including being featured on an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

He has done quite a good job getting people to believe his story, and he is not the only one. Dozens and dozens of similar nutrition and alternative health gurus have convinced large groups of people to believe ideas that are lacking any type of evidence.

And I want to discuss how they do so in this article. What I am going to share now is the blueprint for persuading people that you have some specialized health/nutrition knowledge which is how someone can become very popular (and make a lot of money) as an alternative health/nutrition guru.

This formula is also the foundation of nearly every course that promises to teach you “How to Build a 6-Figure Coaching Business” and is a method that you will see employed throughout the health/fitness space as a marketing tactic.

I hope that this article helps you to be better equipped to identify when these tactics are being used and helps you understand how some people can build very large platforms promoting special protocols or dietary approaches that often lack evidence and are not special at all.

Step 1: Identify a vulnerable population

The first step is to start with a problem that a lot of people struggle with and are looking for answers for. It could be losing weight, hormonal issues, digestive problems, autoimmune conditions, etc. Any problem people struggle with and are desperate for a solution will work. These people are often vulnerable and desperate and willing to try anything.

Step 2: Come Up With a Solution and a Story

Second, you come up with a magical plan that is going to be the answer to those problems, and you pair that with a good story about why this works. When you talk about the plan or tell the story, it’s important to make bold claims with 100% confidence that what you are saying is true to give the perception that you have THE ANSWER to the problem.

For example, people who promote a keto diet say that the answer to people’s weight loss struggles is cutting carbohydrates. Often, they say that it works because cutting carbohydrates lowers insulin levels and insulin is our body’s “fat storage hormone.”

Step 3: Get People to Try What You Are Promoting 

Beyond speaking with 100% confidence, it is important to repeat this claim as much as possible to as many people as possible. Even if what you are saying sounds fishy, if you keep repeating it with confidence and telling people it is THE ANSWER, many people who are desperate for a solution will try what you are promoting.

Another thing that you can do here is say something along the lines of “Don’t believe me, then try it yourself.” This is a great way to get people to start trying whatever you are promoting.

If what you are promoting is some version of a restricted diet, such as avoiding carbohydrates completely, completely cutting out processed foods, or cutting out long lists of foods, this is likely going to lead to improved health outcomes. This is because when you force people to cut out a bunch of foods from their diet this often causes people to 1) reduce their energy intake, and 2) improve the nutritional quality of their diet.

When people try your method, they experience weight loss/improvement in their health, and this serves as the most effective method of persuasion. Even if you were skeptical of the information at first, that skepticism will be put to rest when it “works” for you.

If you develop a large enough platform you can get hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people to try what you are recommending. If what you recommend is a nutritious dietary approach, this is likely going to be helpful for a percentage of people.

In the case of the medical medium, he recommends following a mostly raw vegan diet and doing extremely restrictive cleanses while following rigorous supplement protocols. In most cases, this is going to be a much more nutritious diet than people were eating before, it is going to lead to weight loss for most people, and it is going to remove the top food allergies and food sensitivities that can exacerbate symptoms in individuals with chronic illnesses.

Not only that, but this diet incorporates lots of juices and smoothies, which can be helpful for many people with digestive issues who don’t tolerate whole foods very well and increase nutrient availability and absorption.

This combination of attributes will cause most people to feel better if they follow this type of plan in the short term. It can even produce what seem like transformational health effects for a percentage of people with chronic illnesses.

Step 4: Share the Positive Results (While Downplaying or Ignoring Anything Negative)

So, let’s pretend you get 1,000 people to follow the protocol, and 40% felt a little bit better, 40% of them felt no difference, 10% felt terrible, and 10% experienced transformational health benefits. The 10% who experienced transformation would think that they have found “the answer,” and they will likely rave about the program.

It is important to highlight these positive testimonials EVERYWHERE and as much as possible. This is how you create the perception that the claims that you are making are “true”. Endlessly sharing these stories helps build the perception that what you are saying really is a magical solution, and it sets many people up to believe that it will have similar benefits, which can perpetuate a placebo effect.

A placebo effect is when you experience a positive change from doing something because you expected to experience a positive change. So, if I start drinking celery juice and I believe it has magical healing properties, I will look for every reason why it has a positive effect on my health. This can lead to a perception that whatever you are trying is having a larger positive effect than it is.

In the case of the 1,000 people above that tried the method, some of the 40% who felt a little better might also think that they feel better than they do after they hear the stories, the 40% who no better may think they need to try whatever method is being promoted for longer, or in a different way to get the benefits, and the 10% who feel terrible are often told they are detoxing and can also be made to feel like they are not doing something right or need to keep doing it for longer…

And you rinse and repeat this process repeatedly to build up the testimonials and convert as many people as possible towards believing in your methodology. Because of the way you set it up, “I have this special answer that the government is hiding from you and you won’t find elsewhere,” the people that believe in you will usually tell lots of other people about it.

This helps grow your reach and build a larger and larger following of people who believe that you have specialized answers.

Occasionally you will have people from that 10% who are harmed by the protocols that you are recommending who will speak out about their experiences. But it can be easy to block and silence these people from reaching the audiences that you are trying to persuade.

Additionally, if you do a good enough job at positioning yourself as a guru you will likely have built a strong cult-like following of people who will also step up and defend you from any criticism because “it worked for them.”

And there you have it, this is how you position yourself as a health and nutrition guru.

But this is not without consequences.

The Harm That This Does

Let’s say that you are living with a chronic health problem. You are desperate for an answer, and you come across one of these gurus who claim to have the answer to your problems.

You buy into the belief, and you give it a try. You feel a little bit better at first, so you stick with it and continue to double down on these methods expecting them to produce the magical healing results that are being promoted.

But they never come…

And you have been led to believe that this is THE ANSWER.

Often paired with marketing that also causes you to distrust the medical system and believe that no one else can help you because that is how these GURUs often position themselves.

And this is how we have cases like Stephanie’s that were covered in the Vanity Fair article outlined above…

Or one of my clients, Emma, was led to believe that one of these restrictive diets was going to heal her Crohn’s disease, which led her to become malnourished and hospitalized on the verge of death.

Or a mother who I spoke to who put her child on a \Medical Medium protocol for Eczema which caused her condition to worsen and left her feeling lost and scared.

Or the 100s and probably 1,000s of people who have experienced negative health consequences buying into the idea of a carnivore diet.

These cases are not uncommon. People just don’t like to talk about them. They are often embarrassed that they fell for it and are often afraid of the backlash that comes with speaking out.

I, and several others, have received letters directly from Anthony William’s lawyer threatening litigation.

These exploitive tactics can have grave consequences, and the gurus that promote them are often willing to do anything in their power to keep the truth from being exposed.

Curious to learn more? Listen to the in-depth discussion on how self-proclaimed gurus exploit the public at the Nutrition Science Podcast.

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