Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Thought for the New year

When I was in the 4th Grade, and dinosaurs walked the earth, there was a boy in my class named Robert. Now Robert had a tough life. He wasn't very popular. He was fat, not especially good looking, or smart, and not blessed with any talent or sports. His social skills were, to be kind, non-existent. Unsurprisingly, he was painfully shy. Fourth graders being who they are, Robert was the victim of ceaseless pranks, teasing and the sort of indifferent and casual cruelties that only other children can inflict. I am not proud to admit that I was one of his tormentors.

That January, right after Christmas Vacation (it was a Parochial school) Robert's mother had a meeting at school about the problem. "This needs to stop," she reportedly said. "I don't know what else I can do. I've told him 'Robert, you have a new shirt, new pants, new socks and shoes, and even new underwear. You're a new boy. Now go into that classroom and act like a new boy'."

But here's the thing. Robert was still Robert. Despite the new shirt, new pants, new socks and shoes and even the new underwear, Robert was not a new boy.

As the clock ticks away the last few minutes of 2011, how many of us are standing in Robert's new shoes? We look back at the year, its triumphs and defeats, and firmly resolve that next year will be better. We'll stop the snackin' and slackin' and get back in shape. We'll improve our diet, and we'll get up and moving more. We'll rebuild that relationship that we have been neglecting. Take our business or career to a new level. Start that new hobby or activity we've always wanted to try. Reduce our debt. Save for retirement. Be better. Be happy.

But here's the thing. You are still you. Despite all the heartfelt good intentions, you are not a new you. If you want 2012 to be different, than YOU need to be different.

I will leave you with a thought from Stephen Covey's wonderful book, First Things First:  "Each decision we make is an important decision. Some may seem small at the time, but the reality is that they add upon one another to become habits of the heart that move us with increasing force toward some destiny. We are not the product of our past, we are the product of our choices."

I wish you a happy, healthy and successful New Year.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Seriously. What is "Network Marketing"

It's a scam. It's a pyramid scheme. Its overpriced products. It's a "get rich quick" scheme. They just want to sell you a garage full of stuff and cut you lose.The products are usually either bogus or are available somewhere else to the public at the same or lesser prices. The idea is recruiting new people to either buy into the program or else to buy products that are grossly overpriced.

Everyone has an opinion about multi-level marketing (MLM). Are there MLM companies out there guilty of all of the above and more? You bet there are. But there are plenty of dishonest traditional companies out there too. Like any other business or financial venture, you have to do your research before getting involved - whether its an MLM, a franchise, a corporation or a mom and pop sole proprietorship. But that's a topic for another post.

What, really, is a multi-level marketing (or network marketing or direct selling) organization?

Here is my take on it, as someone who has been actively involved in MLM for almost 3 years and from my conversations with many business and marketing professionals.

Network Marketing is a non-traditional method of marketing, selling and distributing a product or service in which the salesforce is paid not only for their own sales, but also for the sales of the network of distributors that they recruit, train and support.

That's it, I think. It is simply a method for selling and distributing a product. Whether or not any particular MLM company represents a real opportunity or gives you a reason to run fast and far is an important, but separate question. One we'll look into in a future post.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No More Apologies for Network Marketing!

Most of the time I discuss issues related to health and nutrition here. That is my passion and the place that I believe I can have the greatest positive impact on people's lives. I don't intend to change that. But the way I chose to be involved in the nutrition problem in America is through Reliv International, a network marketing company.

I know many of you are involved in network marketing, and I don't know what your personal experience has been. But my unscientific guesstimate is that 80% of the people I talk with have a strongly negative view of network marketing and are put off by the very idea. For a long time that intimidated me. Deep down I guess I shared their distrust to a great degree. I'd had at least one awful experience with the industry, and found many of the people that I had met who were involved with it to be, to be blunt, pushy and obnoxious about it. But as I became personally involved with a company and with other people who had high ethical standards and a genuine desire to be of service to people, my perspective changed.

Like most things, network marketing is what you make it. Network marketing blogger Sachin Goyal says that "Network Marketing is broadly misunderstood, has a large public image problem and is mostly ignored." I agree. But I also firmly believe that, for most people, it represents a solid and exciting opportunity to improve their financial, social and personal lives. At Reliv we say that we have a personal development opportunity disguised as network marketing. I believe that to be true for most people and most solid MLM companies.

So with that by way of prologue, I plan to spend the next several posts discussing network marketing, my own experience operating a MLM business and offering some ideas for anyone who may be considering entering the industry but is unsure of what to look for - and what to avoid. Please chime in with your own thoughts and worldly wisdom.

To start us out, I want to just share some statistics about the industry that some people (both within and outside it) might find surprising. These come from the Direct Selling Association, the industry's premier professional association and ethical watchdog. And no. "Network Marketing" and "Ethical" are definitely not antithetical.

Total revenue, worldwide, for the network marketing industry last year was $114 billion (US). There are a handful of MLM companies posting annual revenues of a billion dollars, but only a handful, so that number represents hundreds of companies (some great, some shady; some long tenured, some just out of the gate). Of that, about $29 billion (US) is generated in the United States by just over 16 million direct selling distributors. Again, these are all 2010 numbers from the DSA.

How are all these millions of distributors doing? Some are doing very well indeed. Many are doing very poorly. The average (actually the median) distributor in the US earns $2,400 annually, about $200 a month. Not exactly enough to retire on. On the other hand, I have never met anyone who would tear up a check for $200 that had their name on it. And in the US, the average monthly family budget shortfall leading to personal bankruptcy is $300. So for many people $200 a month extra income is not insignificant. And remember, it is largely residual, meaning it can be counted upon month after month.

When you look at how income is distributed, it is not exactly egalitarian. In fact it should give us pause regarding the use of huge monthly income numbers as a recruiting technique. The fact is, the great majority of MLM distributors make very little. The average income is below the median income (which for you non-statisticians means that the income distribution is skewed to the lower end). According to the DSA, in 2010, about 30% of US distributors made nothing at all or lost money. The next 30% made an average annual income of about $1,800. Only the top 10% of US distributors made more than $50,000 a year from their MLM business. That bottom 60% is responsible for a lot of the bad reputation that network marketing has acquired. But is it really that bad?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 34% of new businesses fail within the first two years, and nearly 60% fail in 4 years. Not all that different from the MLM experience, is it? That is going to be a recurring theme through my next few posts. Network marketing is a business, and for the most part, all of the generally accepted business principles and practices apply. More about that later.

Next time I'll take a crack at defining "network marketing".

Monday, September 19, 2011

Junk Food "as Addictive as Cocaine"?

A recent study in the journal Nature Neuroscience seems to indicate that junk food may not simply be bad for us, but may also be highly addictive - producing brain chemistry changes that are similar to those observed in people addicted to nicotine, cocaine and other drugs. The study by Paul Kenny and Paul M Johnson of of Scripps Research Institute, offered rats a choice between healthy, nutritious food and a selection of salty, high calorie snack-foods including bacon, sausage, chocolate and even cheesecake. The rodents quickly developed a preference for the snacks and became obese and "dependent" on ever increasing amounts of junk foods.

"Most people who are overweight would say, 'I would like to control my weight and my eating,' but they find it very hard to control their feeding behavior," says Kenny. But eating can trigger the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain. This internal chemical reward, in turn, increases the likelihood that the associated action (eating junk food, in this case) will eventually become habitual through positive reinforcement conditioning. If allowed to continue (and lets face it, we are all encouraged to continue by non-stop, 360 marketing), stopping can be every bit as difficult as ending a drug habit. "Counseling techniques, therapy and even pharmaceutical treatments that have shown success for substance abuse might show promise for those who struggle with overeating," Kenny notes.

If the original study seems a bit technical, here is a more accessible summary from Scientific American. The bottom line? Its likely that overeating and eating too much of the wrong things can be an addictive cycle, and that many people simply will not be able to break the cycled by willpower alone.

Monday, September 12, 2011

United Nations to Focus on "Lifestyle" Diseases

Noting that nearly 2/3 of all deaths worldwide are now caused by "lifestyle" diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced a UN-sponsored summit in September to bring focus to the need to combat these diseases. The "big four" non-communicable diseases "have emerged relatively unnoticed in the developing world and are now becoming a global epidemic," Moon said.

Thirty six million people died from these diseases in 2008, according to a UN report, representing 63% of the 57 million deaths globally that year. Almost 80% of these deaths were in the developing world, and 9 million of them were men or women under 60 years old. Ban went on to say that the rapidly increasing magnitude of non-communicable diseases is fueled by rising risk factors including tobacco use, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, obesity and harmful alcohol use — and is driven in part by an aging population, the negative impact of urbanization, and the globalization of trade and marketing.

Professor David Bloom of the Harvard School of Public Health is leading a project to estimate the global economic burden of non-communicable diseases. His preliminary results indicate that the economic burden is substantial and ""will evolve into a staggering economic burden over the next two decades" that could have a huge impact on economic development and fighting poverty. Bloom said his researchers estimate a loss of economic output amounting to $35 trillion during the 25-year period from 2005 to 2030 due to a key group of non-communicable diseases — diabetes, ischemic heart disease including strokes, cerebral vascular disease, chronic destructive pulmonary disease, and breast cancer. To put this number in perspective, $35 trillion is seven times the current level of global health spending, and 15 times the 2011 value of all the overseas development assistance in the world over the past quarter century.

What does this mean to you? It means that the things that are most likely to shorten your life, kill you and take you away from your friends and loved ones are all things that are, largely if not completely, under your control. Tobacco use, an unhealthy diet, a lack of physical activity, chronic obesity and harmful alcohol use are all things you can do something about. Any time you choose. Just go and do it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Natural" vs. "Synthetic": Does It Really Matter?

Its not unusual for the makers of natural vitamins to tout their superiority over synthetic alternatives. There are undoubted advantages to organic, "naturally" grown produce and animal products. But do the same considerations apply to vitamins and nutritional supplements? Are "natural" vitamins worth paying a price premium for?

In reality, the question of what is "natural" and what is not can be complex. For example, Vitamin C that is extracted from starch in a laboratory can be called "natural", since the starch is a "natural" plant product. Most biochemists agree that the Vitamin C extracted from starch is identical to the Vitamin C in your glass of orange juice. Drs. Linus Pauling, Ewan Cameron, Robert Cathcart and others have established that very high doses of factory-made ascorbic acid vitamin C work just fine against viral and bacterial illness. And laboratory-made "synthetic" vitamins have several significant advantages, including:
  • Chemical purity. Laboratory-produced nutrients are "USP grade," meaning that they come from licensed production laboratories and meet the rigid standards of the United States Pharmacopeia.
  • Dose consistency. In nature, one orange may contain 40 mg of vitamin C and another may contain only 10 mg. It depends on where it was grown, when it was harvested and under what conditions it was transported and stored. The laboratory-produced product will be the same every time.
  • The ability to vary the concentration of the vitamin to match the needs of a particular individual.
On the other hand, not all synthetic nutrients are chemically identical to their "in the wild" counterparts. The best example of this is probably Vitamin E. Vitamin E derived from vegetable oils and other natural sources is chemically different from the synthetic form. Because of this difference, with the synthetic form of vitamin E, you obtain an effective dose of about half the vitamin E dosage reported on the label. Aside from this precaution, most synthetically made vitamins and many other nutrients are either identical to their "wild-type" counterparts or easily converted to the wild-type in the human body. Also, most synthetic vitamins and nutrients are both cheaper and purer, with less potential for contamination.

Another often cited advantage of the natural form is the presence of nutritional "co-factors". To oversimplify, a co-factor is a substance that increases the absorption or effectiveness of the primary nutrient by its simultaneous presence. The Vitamin D added to milk to enhance the absorption of calcium is a familiar example.
When Vitamin C was first isolated and produced in a supplement form, nutrition scientists did not know about bioflavonoids. It was found that in nature bioflavonoids always accompany Vitamin C. In fact, the bioflavonoids are essential for better absorption and can increase bioavailability by as much as 30%. However, this advantage is lost when the Vitamin C is extracted and reprocessed into a supplement.

Quality in vitamins and nutrients is extremely hard to quantify. One should not rely on claims of "better quality" unless some definition of that term is given, together with some measurement data. Similarly "all natural" may be good marketing, but it is not necessarily always good science.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Have You Missed Me?

Ok, so you haven't. I know that.

But I am back so you can start tuning in again for news, opinion and information about wellness and nutrition that you need to have and won't find elsewhere.

(You missed me a little, right?)