The Guru “Sell-Out” Dilemma

by Dr. Jade Teta ND | Follow on Twitter

Honestly, I hate the word guru and am weary of anyone who calls themselves that. But I made a conscious decision recently to wear this label with pride.

I RECENTLY MADE THE DECISION to become a health, fitness and weight loss guru.

Over the last year I have been working several very big projects.  One of them is a new book called Lose Weight Here, by my brother and me.  The other is far bigger.  It is an infomercial and workout program called Metabolic Aftershock, and it’s this product that may send me into the guru space.

I got into health, fitness and fat loss simply because it is my passion.  I am a science nerd at heart and love reading everything there is on these subjects including research.

Aftershock - Dr. Jade Teta ND

Metabolic Aftershock – Dr. Jade Teta ND

The other reason I am in this game is to make money.  I know this a bit taboo to say out loud, but last time I checked doing stuff for free does not pay the bills.

The third reason I do what I do is because I genuinely want to help people.  I don’t just want to help a few people, but as many people as I possibly can.  I think all of us humans have this desire on some level.  Once we get our own needs met, we have a desire to pass it on or pay it forward.  We want to make a bigger impact and have a legacy to look back on.

This is both a selfish and a selfless thing.

We want it for ourselves just to be able to say, “Wow, I did it.” And we also want it for other reasons to say, “Man, it feels good to participate in positive change in other peoples’ lives.”

I have come to understand that following my passion and making money are the fuel that allows me to touch others.

Being a guru won’t be easy

I was worried when these opportunities first presented themselves.  When I was first asked to build Metabolic Aftershock my knee-jerk reaction was a big NO WAY.  But then I sat on it and said to myself, “What are you crazy!! Of course you are going to do this.”

The group that asked me is the biggest marketer and publisher of health and fitness products in the online space. They market on an entirely different level than Metabolic Effect.

I have become pretty close with the owners and they immediately understood my reluctance.

You see, there are two different groups of people who consume health and fitness information:

  1.  The ‘fit crowd’ are savvy, sophisticated and educated consumers – These people are almost always already fit and healthy.  They get it and live the lifestyle.  This group also includes professionals who teach the stuff.  These people are in the minority.
  2. The ‘unfit crowd’ are out of shape and unmotivated group (no insult intended) –  They want to be thinner and healthier, but they have other life priorities and have no desire to be reading, researching and obsessing about every nuance of nutrition and exercise.  For them, they just need something simple that fits their life.  They also need convincing to do anything different.

And there is a real dichotomy between these two groups:  The fit crowd, is like speaking to the choir.  The unfit crowd are the outsiders.

To become a “guru” you have to stop speaking to the fit crowd and start speaking to the unfit crowd. This has been a key pain point for me. I have long been aware these two groups speak different languages and respond in completely different ways.

The fit crowd does not need marketing and in fact has a distaste for it.  I would argue they hate it. To be honest, I hate it.

But the unfit crowd needs it. They tend to need the stories and the convincing. They want assurances it won’t take all their time, it is doable, and most importantly it works. Unlike the fit crowd, the unfit crowd does not yet understand that pretty much anything they actually do will work…..for a time at least.

Speaking to the 'unfit' crowd requires marketing

Speaking to the ‘unfit’ crowd requires marketing

This is why becoming a guru is not easy. It is very much like leaving your tribe. You go from speaking one language to speaking a completely different language and in so doing you are making a conscious decision to alienate the fit in order to begin to court the unfit.

It has been referred to as “selling out.”  I actually think that is an accurate description of what is happening.  You are “selling out” one group to “sell in” another.  I have come to see “selling out” as actually “selling in” to the masses that need your information.  The fact is that the fit crowd is a very small minority.  The unfit crowd is the vast majority. I have decided to start speaking to them.

The Mainstream Crowd

Another way to think of the unfit group is as the “Mainstream Crowd”.  They are the everyday consumer and a very different breed than the gym going, health blog reading junkies I have spent most of my career talking too.

I have learned a few generalities about the mainstream crowd:

  • Science usually bores the hell out of them. Tell them about the latest study showing increased protein helps maintain weight loss, and they really could care less.
  • They don’t care about statistics. Tell them they are 10x more likely to die of heart disease if they don’t exercise and they just stare at you and nod politely before going back to drinking their soda and eating their M&Ms.
  • They are more likely to shop at Walmart versus Whole Foods and Trader Joes.
  • They make their food choices based on taste, convenience and cost.
  • They don’t Crossfit and they don’t have a gym membership.
  • They care more about the latest TV show or blockbuster movie than whether or not there is GMO corn in their corn flakes.
  • They are actually pretty damn practical and reasonable people, who go to work, do their jobs and would rather relax with friends and family then stress about whether they may be sensitive to gluten.
  • Perhaps the most important thing about this group is they don’t do nuance. They require high force intervention.  If you want to reach them you have to hit them over the head hard. You better entertain them and you must pull out all the marketing tricks you know (sales, definitive language, sensationalism, scarcity, social proof and everything else you have).

The Guru Dilemma

And that is the dilemma. I don’t like or feel comfortable taking this approach.  I am convinced, although I have yet to discover it, there is a better way to reach these people. But, I simply can’t deny that this high force marketing works on this group of people. At the same time, it turns off the other group of people, the fit crowd.

The guru dilemma happens as you expand your reach, by tweaking your approach, to the “unfit crowd” you simultaneously alienate and annoy the “fit crowd”. And this is where tension happens.  You leave your tribe who you know, love and appreciate and seemingly change your ways for “greed and profits”.

Of course that is not true, but that is the way it is seen.

The Guru Responsibility

That being said, I do think it is critically important to not completely lose yourself. Yes, you will be a bit more sensationalist.  Yes, your language will tend to be a little more black and white and yes your programs and the marketing that goes with them will be a lot more in your face.  The very notion of an infomercial, as I found out, is to tell a compelling story and to entertain while you sell.  And, it freaking works.

Lose Weight Here - Dr. Jade Teta ND and Dr. Keoni Teta ND.

Lose Weight Here – Dr. Jade Teta ND and Dr. Keoni Teta ND.

But at the same time I think those in the guru space have taken things too far.  My hope is that I can resist that temptation and walk that fine line between sensationalist selling and also telling the truth. In fact, I think it is a responsibility of the “guru” to tell the truth (at least the best he/she knows it), be evidence-based and avoid trickery.

There is a growing movement in the health and fitness community that I am excited to see.  It has had an impact on my brother, Keoni, and me by bringing us back to our evidence-based roots. The movement is being led by a savvy and smart group of health and fitness professionals who are challenging any and all gurus to stop the sensationalist hype and just tell the truth.

Of course, there will always be a natural tension between studies and clinical experience but books and programs based on little more than “catchy ideas” should be challenged in my opinion.

That is what I think all health, fitness and weight loss influencers should be striving to do.  There is a lot of noise in this industry and while the mainstream crowd does respond to the sensationalism, hype and unrealistic quick fixes it is not responsible for their long-term success to perpetuate these ideas. It may help get them started, but it is also the thing that keeps them stuck and from realizing real change.

It is also, in the end, dishonest.

So while you may be a bit surprised to see some of the marketing I will be getting behind in the near future, I want you to know I do so with my eyes wide open to making sure the entire story is told in an evidence-based fashion once people get involved.

I hope that you will embrace this same approach.  It is fine to sell your programs, to advocate certain products and to educate on nutrition.

What is not ok is to act as if there is any magic going on here.  If there is really any magic in the health, fitness and weight loss space it is in helping people learn to find sensible and realistic diet and exercise strategies that can get them on the path to learning and being excited about making the switch to the educated fit crowd.

That is what I am hoping to do.

About the Author
Dr. Jade Teta ND

Dr. Jade Teta is an integrative physician specializing in natural health, fitness and body transformation. He is the co-author of The Metabolic Effect Diet. He completed his undergraduate training at North Carolina State University, earning a bachelors of science in biochemistry. He then went on to study at Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington completing his doctorate in Naturopathic medicine. Dr. Teta has worked in the fitness and weight loss fields for over 20 years, and is the co-developer of the rest-based training system for personal training and group exercise. He is also the co-founder of the Naturopathic Health Clinic of North Carolina and of the health, fitness and international fat loss company, Metabolic Effect. His background in natural medicine, along with his fitness expertise, has defined his healthcare specialties of hormonal weight loss and functional medicine approaches to chronic disease.