Introduction: the company and the mission
VI claims that their mission is to offer a product and service that is based on strong nutrition and a community-driven accountability/reward system. ViSalus has been criticised as a multi-level marketing company (or Ponzi scheme), offering meal replacement shakes and kits as their ‘flagship’ products. This sales approach has gained ViSalus some serious bad press with them losing a lawsuit for racketeering (in which they hacked a competitor’s private files)  and, more recently, being involved in a lawsuit accusing them of illegal pyramid scheme trading.
This does not bode well for the credibility of the company: whilst it does not imply that their products are of poor quality or dubious claims, it is important to take claims with a pinch of salt and approach them with a skeptical, scientific eye.
The flagship product: meal replacement shake
3/10: poor selling point, poor statistics
There have been a variety of meal replacement shakes offered by dietary supplement companies: these improve the effectiveness of a diet by totally replacing a meal. When we look at the average diet of an individual in the English-speaking world, it tends to be high calorie but low in nutrients. By simply replacing these meals with a low-calorie, nutrient-dense shake, it is possible to make radical changes to the diet patterns without requiring an excess of effort. The nutritional values of the meal replacement shakes are so-so, especially when compared to those that we have covered before and many others on the market. Interestingly, Vi-Shape’s nutritional values are actually presented in comparison to a variety of other direct sale and retail products on a number of nutritional values. Hilariously, they appear to have chosen intentionally-poor products and still continue to be inferior to many products in many categories. It is low-calorie, for example, because its protein content is marginally lower than other retail brands.
Interestingly, the marketing of this product is centred around the ‘Tri-Sorb™’ blend that gives the product its protein content. This is a blend of two types of whey protein and a soy protein extract. The problem with this, of course, is that there is almost no benefit to this combination of protein sources. The “blend” style of protein is most effectively used for vegan proteins (to ensure a complete amino acid profile from non-complete plant sources) or for the combination of casein with whey, in order to improve short-term and long-term protein synthesis. Combining two types of whey is dubious in the first instance, but combining whey with soy is even more questionable. Whilst there are no inherent risks with this blend of proteins, the real question is why this is sufficient to make us choose Vi-Shape over any other protein powder. The only reason that we can find is that the company believes that it tastes like cake mix, which seems like a poor selling point for a health product.
Beside this unusual selling point, the product also contains “clinically-tested” products that do not seem to have any clinical testing or evidence to substantiate any claims that they provide extraordinary benefits. For example, the vast majority of Fibersol’s supporting evidence is either unavailable in English or does not establish the superiority of Fibersol over other dietary fibre sources. Aminogen has some research backing which suggests that it may be especially beneficial , however this is available in a variety of other protein supplements on the market, many of which demonstrate improved per-gram statistics compared to Vi-Shape. Whilst Vi’s marketing and fact sheets suggest that there are many benefits to the consumption of dietary protein supplements, they have a hard time establishing why it should be their shakes you consume. Our verdict is simple: it would be at least equally effective to blend traditional protein supplements with fibrous fruits and vegetables.
Community approach: great idea, poor practice
4 out of 10: a great structure marred by corporate skullduggery
The motivational style that ViSalus attempts to capitalise on is group accountability. Aside from selling second-rate supplements, they market themselves based on the community-centred approach they take to developing health and fitness in members. Nominally, this is a huge benefit and we could commend them for it. The reason that this is nominal is because the community support approach has been widely criticised by former-distributors as a method for developing the distributor base, rather than supporting those who buy the products. As mentioned before, the company has been involved with racketeering and pyramid scheme charges and is currently battling lawsuits over the fact that they make greater profits from the distributor fees than from actual product sales.
Internal criticisms have suggested that events in which star distributors or clients (those who either sold the most or lost the most weight, respectively) are “token” events to support the narrative of a company that cares about its customers. Even so, we have a lot of time for the development of social accountability. Sport science suggests that the way that we perceive ourselves and accord with goals can be profoundly influenced by the way that our individual efforts are recognised in a social/team setting  and this applies to diet in the same way. Social accountability and support structures can drastically change the way that we approach and continue dieting – especially in the long-term.
The 10lb challenge strikes us as a fundamentally good thing: whilst it is clearly an attempt to plug Vi-Shape or the various kits, the structure of this challenge squares well with what we know about the psychology of dieting. Simply-speaking, the challenge is to lose 10lbs: most individuals are likely to fall short of this and commitment to this goal develops confidence and competence in the field of weight loss. As we lose this weight, weight loss begins to be less of a mystery and more of a reality. 10lbs is likely to take around 1 month for the average, overweight individual on a restricted calorie diet and reduced carbohydrate/sodium intake (relative to their regular diet). This commitment is likely to get people past the stumbling block that affects most people: the change of speed between fast, early weight loss and slow, consistent weight loss thereafter. If we commit to losing weight even when the scales only show a 1-2lb loss weekly, we are given a perspective on the proper, long-term nature of effective dieting.
Kits and costs: the question of value
3 out of 10: far too expensive for the return
Value is a topic that we always seem somewhat negative on. The reasoning for this is simple: supplements are expensive because people really want to get into shape and are willing to pay for a breakthrough with their health. Expensive supplements are rarely worth their dollar value because the most effective method to losing weight has been repeatedly shown to be improved diet and regular, intense exercise. Anything beyond this is simply a bonus, with proper nutrition and exercise being the foundation for any changes in body composition, health or fitness. The value of, say, a 2% increase in performance or body composition is incredibly small to the recreational fitness enthusiast or general public who simply want to get in shape.
The difficulty with establishing the cost of Vi products is that they are only available through a Vi promoter and the registration of personal information with the company. This strikes us as shady in the extreme: what kind of supplement company wants your information more than it wants to sell its products? After some searching, full kits are anywhere from $99 to $299. This cost seems exorbitant when you realise that this is a single month’s supply of product and does not cover the various regular meals needed to compliment the plan. We may begin to sound repetitive on this topic, but for the cost of $299/month, there are a variety of better ways of improving your body composition and health. Not least among these is working with either a diet template (widely available through credible sources both online and from clinicians) or acquiring 1-1 consultation with a trained dietitian or nutritionist.
Vi raises some serious alarms for us, as their business practices and product both seem sub-par. When we look at the corporate structure, lost lawsuit for racketeering and questionable customer service reviews, it is difficult to give Vi the benefit of the doubt. Their keystone product is fundamentally misguided and offers a service more easily achieved through other products on the market, especially when blended with micronutrient-dense fruits or vegetables. We are sceptical enough of meal replacement shakes of any kind (solid food, high in fibre, provides the greatest satiety), but even among the possibilities for meal replacements, Vi struggles to distinguish itself.
Diet and exercise cannot be overlooked as the cornerstone of proper weight loss, health and fitness. Protein shakes, even those intended to replace meals, can be incorporated into a healthy diet for those in need of an effective, convenient protein source. To replace meals with shakes is counter-productive when we attempt to lower calorie intake and Vi’s products are mediocre re-imaginings of more successful and scientifically-verified products. Our verdict is simple: save your money and spend it on high quality foods.
 Kerrigan et al (plaintiffs) vs ViSalus Inc et al (defendants), (Apr. we2017)
 Oben, Kothari and Anderson (2008): ‘An open label study to determine the effects of an oral proteolytic enzyme system on whey protein concentrate metabolism in healthy males’. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition, 5(10)
 Karau and Williams (1995): ‘Social loafing: research, findings, implications and future directions’. Psychological science, 4(5), pp.134-139
John has been a fitness enthusiast for over 10 years, starting out while struggling with obesity as a teenager. Over the years he has advised numerous clients on how to transform their physiques and their lives. As a writer on Nutrition Inspector he aims to help others achieve real results by staying clear of the common hype and false claims in the supplement industry!