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Competing With Diet Centers

By Phil Kaplan

Wouldn’t it be challenging if you were asked to design a program for a man or woman who speaks an entirely different language than you do?  Wouldn’t it be even more challenging if you believed that the man or woman understood everything you said, but in reality the words you used had different meaning in this individual’s learned vocabulary? 

As an example, if you were to ask someone to take a walk, but in their language the word “walk” meant “nap,” there would be a gaping chasm separating what you prescribed and what this person did. 

The title of this piece reveals this to be an article about diet centers, so why am I starting out by discussing language barriers?  Because attempting to persuade a diet conscious population to “eat right and exercise” is equal to speaking the language of space alien to an earth being.


We Say What We Say . . . They Hear What They Hear 

The diet conscious say, “lose weight.” 

You say, “lose fat.” 

They believe you’re saying the same thing.  You know better.  You know that if you were to amputate a body part they’d weigh less, but clearly it wouldn’t be in line with their goals.  That’s why dieters are willing to sacrifice lean body mass and slow metabolism in quest of their goals.  Their perceptions of “weight loss” are flawed. 

The diet conscious believe “calorie” refers to an evil monster.   

You say “calorie” and you’re referring to a consumable unit of energy. 

If dieters consume brownies on Monday, they perceive an obligation on Tuesday morning to watch that little space on the treadmill screen where it says, “calories burned,” until they obliterate the brownie. 

If you were to tell a dieter to consume enough calories to meet metabolic demand, enough to provide material from which to build new healthy cells, and to make certain she ingests enough protein-sparing nutrients to prevent muscle catabolism you might as well tell her to walk on the ceiling.  She’d perceive your “eat” suggestion to be detrimental to her weight loss goal. 

The first step, therefore, toward changing the mindset of a diet conscious marketplace is to identify the gap between what you say and what they hear, and if we’re going to explore the possibility of tapping into the market that has proven repeatedly ripe for diet centers, we have to not only identify that gap but bridge it.

Coming to Terms with Reality 

Let’s step away from what we know to be right, from what we know to be true, and from what we’ve learned to be optimal in regard to helping people improve their bodies and lives and let’s take a careful look at reality, or at least reality centered around our population, their wants, their beliefs, and their obsessions with weight reduction. 

People believe they want diets.

You can argue the impotence of diets until you’re twelve shades of purple, but until those you seek to influence understand your language all they’ll see is a purple faced trainer failing to make any sense at all.  They believe they want “a diet.” 

Another dose of reality: 

Our population is fatter than ever.

If you are in business solely to make money, and you have something people believe they want, and you can promote this “something” as a solution to a growing problem (pun intended), you’d make millions . . . and if you were the only game in town you’d make billions. 


At this point in time selling diets is profitable 

Let’s go one step further.  If the solution you were selling created a short term illusion indicating it was working, when in reality it amplified the problem, you’d have disappointed customers blaming themselves for their failure and returning to the offering that failed them in the first place.  In other words, the diet industry succeeds financially primarily because it fails people. 

One more reality injection, and this one’s going to hurt:

Diets make lots of money, trainers, for the most part, struggle to make ends meet.  

Is it fair that an industry that fails people rakes in money while you work 10-hour days to keep yourself housed and fed?  Probably not, but I don’t know that anyone honest ever said that business was fair.  We can operate our businesses ethically, and we should, but let’s not fall into a disillusioned belief that businesses succeed or fail based on ethics.  They succeed or fail based in great part upon a marketplace’s belief systems.

The Ethical Prosperity Plan 

If, as most trainers, you regularly express frustration with purveyors of diets, and you aggressively wish that some supreme being would smite purveyors of diets with the curse of the scorpion, your frustration will gnaw at your gut, diet sellers will buy nice homes and nice cars with money they’ve earned by deceiving people, and what’s fair will have little to do with what’s real. 

If you seek growth and prosperity, if you love training people, and if you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that if you could get through to the diet conscious you could change their lives for the better, forget about acceptance.  Initiate change. 

I’m not suggesting any single personal trainer can change the American mindset, but if enough dedicated trainers launch a focused mission to change individual mindsets, a little at a time the ground army facilitates a national or even global change. 

If you believe I’m about to suggest you “sell diets,” you don’t know me.  I’ve just learned to frame things so they serve us and then act in line with the reframing so I can rescue and empower people.  On my desk sit the words “Growth With Integrity” and I never venture far from those words.  That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to get into the arena with those who might live by other guidelines.  There’s lots of room in the weight loss arena and with a fresh perspective the doors can be burst wide open for trainers looking to capture and rescue those who mistakenly pursue diet after diet. 

I’ve learned to view the state of dietary affairs as an immense opportunity.  I am personally thrilled that diets attract so many and fail so many of those they attract, as those diet sellers have created a very deep market for me to penetrate.  I believe competing with the diet centers is the #1 opportunity for personal trainers to throw a net around a massive field of “hungry” clients. 

What Do Diet Centers Sell? 

In the works of Sun Tzu, the Chinese philosopher behind The Art of War, the words, “know your enemy” are prevalent.  In our case the more we know about the specifics of the diets being offered the more powerful we are in designing our competitive strategy. 

Let’s start by recognizing their all-powerful, albeit flawed, marketing message. 

It’s quick, it’s easy, you follow a plan, and you wind up feeling great. 

There are spins on this positioning paradigm, as medical diet centers will play up the “doctor supervised” element, packaged food sellers will put the convenience element out front, and supplement sellers will capitalize on the power of the dietary support pill, but the underlying premise is precisely that which I just laid out. 

Thriving in the Presence of Competition 

Before I share two ideas I’ve successfully used to infiltrate the diet-wanting marketplace, let me share my perspective on competition.   

In my business seminars I tell of Bob and Billy, adventurers who had come down a mountain after a vigorous hike.  Bob turned around and saw an agitated, hungry, salivating bear ambling down the mountain toward them.  Bob sat, removed his knapsack, and began taking off his hiking boots to swap them for running shoes.  The bear picked up speed.  Billy instinctively started running, and confused, he yelled back, “Bob, who cares if you have running shoes, you can’t outrun a bear?”  Bob calmly tied his shoe and answered, “I don’t have to outrun the bear.  I just have to outrun you.” 

That’s how most people view competition.  Kill or be killed.  I view it differently.  I see competition as healthy.  It drives me to strategize, it motivates me to continue to grow, and most importantly it helps to create awareness either by sharing a common message and putting it out into the marketplace or by attracting people who I could help and disappointing them. 

With the recognition of competition’s value, it’s allowed me to virtually eliminate competitors as we conventionally perceive them by assessing their impact and approaching them in one of two ways: 

Example #1:  

Establish and reinforce a “position” that clearly separates you from them so you are not perceived as competitors but as radically different offerings where your benefit to customers is crystal clear. 

Example #2: 

Create a synergistic relationship where you can both tap into the same pool and find mutual benefit in unified marketing. 

To illustrate example #1, by being on the radio weekly building upon a position of “the fitness truth,” I openly share the specifics of how I handle clients, answering questions with thousands listening.  By contrast, any health club that tells prospects they “can’t discuss prices on the phone” or uses vague advertising to draw unsuspecting consumers into a sales trap, appears to have something to hide. I clearly sell a “program” that helps people find fitness, the questionable health clubs are perceived by my trusting audience as being sneaky in luring people in, slamming them with pressure, and failing to deliver.   I never actually accuse anyone of doing that, but by positioning myself as open and willing to share the truth, the perception takes care of itself.  To further reinforce “the difference,” I offer an unconditional money back guarantee.  This “repositioning” strategy has not only allowed me to build a thriving personal training business, but it’s ultimately allowed me to operate a health club that is perceived as the polar opposite of those clubs that bait and switch. 

In over twenty years of doing business in this field, I’ve also found ethical health clubs who might have initially appeared to compete with my personal training offerings, and I’ve managed to eliminate them as competition by joining forces as suggested in example #2, integrating my programs into their “profit center” offerings. Anytime they sign up a member, I have a prospect, and vice-versa. 

You can see how, in both cases, although different strategies are applied, clubs that might have been viewed as “enemies” are no longer competition for me.  

Taking it to The Diet Centers 

Using a line of thinking in accordance with example #1, you can conduct a seminar at the public library titled, “why diets fail people,” or “why your last diet failed.”  You share “the truth” and build an arsenal of evidence using not only research information, but excerpts from texts on the endocrine system and metabolism to provide those who “failed with diets” clarity as to why they failed.  The perception you create in the mind of someone in the audience who might have been a repeat customer at a diet center is, “I didn’t fail.  The diet center failed me.”  That’s powerful. That opens a door for you to now share “the approach that works.” 

The seminar can be conducted not only at public libraries, but at large and small corporations, at schools, at community group assemblies, at police and fire departments, and at limitless venues capped only by the limits of your own creativity. 

The second approach can be applied if you connect with a diet center that is comfortable with the words “eat right and exercise” but doesn’t provide a specific exercise prescription.  The questions you have to ask are, are you comfortable enough with the diet being offered for you to avoid criticizing the approach, and secondly, is there an “end date” for the diet where you’d be free to share your ideas building upon the foundation of what diet clients have learned.  In other words, if you can connect with a diet center where their intentions are good, their knowledge is just limited, you can fill in the gaps.  Who cares whether people connect with you by first pursuing a diet.  The key is that they connect with you and that you have the ability to share your knowledge with those who need it.  While many diets are extremely restrictive, there are those that recommend whole foods, natural choices, and a balance of nutrient rich meals providing both macro and micronutrition. 

In a future article I’ll address some of the specific diets that are being released as “new,” and I’ll also share specific strategies to reinforce the two approaches shared herein.  In summary, three simple steps can allow you and any neighborhood diet center to co-exist as non-competitors, a scenario where you benefit by infiltrating the diet market. 

  1. Know what’s being said, what’s being offered
  2. Decide if there’s potential to be an ally or if it’s best to position yourself as something separate, different, and far more powerful using “truth” to expose diet flaws
  3. Commit to your course of action, and without publicly condemning any specific diet or diet center, share the vital facts people need to know and communicate in language they understand. 

This may appear simplistic, but it’s powerful, and following Steps 1 – 3 will lead to your ability to circumvent the circular path so many plod along in the never-ending search for “The Diet That Works.”

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