Chinese are now at higher risk of obesity and becoming anxious about their looks and weight
○ Company claiming to offer nutritious weight loss diets falls under scrutiny
○ Evidence suggests the company's sales strategy may be a pyramid scheme
○ The profitable success of such weight loss schemes reflects the anxiety of China's appearance-obsessed youth
In a hotel in Shaoxing, East China's Zhejiang Province, approximately 1,600 Yufit salespeople gathered together for a four-day training program. Yufit is a company that claims to be able to help people lose weight fast. On its official website, it describes its plan as a "modern-day nutrition engineering product."
"Here we will help you find your treasure! Here we will help you also find a key to your treasure! Here you will open a new chapter to life!" Liu Siyun, a Yufit salesperson from Shandong Province, wrote on her WeChat after receiving her training.
Twenty-year-old An Qi from Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, also used to be a Yufit fan. Last year, she bought four Yufit "nutritious food packages" for 4,000 yuan (2) and successfully lost 9.5 kilograms in one month. Less than two weeks later, however, she gained back all the weight.
An told Southern Weekly that she is filled with regret. "Yufit nutritious package were just ordinary cookies. The plan basically starves you into weight loss."
Yufit is now being questioned widely on social media as to whether their diet is scientific and if its sales strategy is a pyramid scheme. Despite the criticism and warnings, many fitness and appearance-obsessed Chinese are nonetheless drawn to Yufit and other weight loss schemes like moths to fire.
No scientific base
In 2016, after viewing some Yufit advertisements, An purchased her first package of diet cookies, which cost 1,280 yuan. For the first three days she only ate the cookies, at a total intake of 360 calories per day. She drank water whenever she felt hungry.
Following Yufit's instructions, starting on the fourth day An ate the cookies for breakfast and lunch, and only apples and cucumbers for dinner. She interspersed her diet with seaweed soup. By the end of the month she had lost 9.5 kilograms. But just 15 days later, she gained back 4 kilograms.
The same thing happened to Li Lan, a hotel receptionist in Yangjiang, Guangdong Province. Every time she lost some weight using the Yufit method, she eventually gained back even more weight.
During the diet, she kept her "trainer," a Yufit salesperson, up to date about her weight fluctuations. The trainer then adjusted her diet. Sometimes it was just a Yufit cookie, sometimes a few other foods. In Li's view, the trainer didn't play a big part in her weight loss, she thinks she could have done it alone. But the cookies were sold for phenomenal prices.
Yufit public relations manager Chen Fan told Southern Weekly that the company's core "technology" is to design a personalized health management plan with a healthy diet. It aims to help clients lose weight without affecting their muscle mass, protein intake or body water.
However, during their diets, An and Li both experienced hair loss and menstrual irregularities. It is not clear, however, if their symptoms were caused by the Yufit plan. After viewing the cookies' nutritional label, Gu Zhongyi, a nutritionist at Beijing Friendship Hospital, told Southern Weekly that the product is just regular wheat cookies.
Gu pointed out that a single-source food intake cannot provide the proper daily nutrition that the human body requires. "It's not a safe plan to eat only three bags of (Yufit cookies) per day. A low calorie intake can also cause headaches, mood fluctuations, sleep deprivation and dehydration," he said.