Please do not ask me how I came across this entire fiasco because I have NO idea. All I know is that whenever I see a food company under SERIOUS fire, it jolts me. Even more so than the likes of influencers or celebrities. But someway somehow, this amalgamation of shots, fires, jabs, bombs, and fiascos all around popped up on my news feed. After deciding to read into the situation, I could NOT get this story out of my head. The stories of physiological repercussions of these individuals (mostly women and young girls) who have consumed products of one certain brand–hives, rashes, bloating, severe abdominal pain, eating disorders, hospitalizations–were too unbelievable and heartbreaking to overlook any longer. So, I decided to research a bit more about it.
Disclaimer: this post is absolutely not meant to shame anyone, slander anybody, spread misinformation, nor downplay any negative experience endured by either party. Everything in this post is simply meant to bring light to what is currently occurring in this conundrum between groups of people and a brand.
Multiple news outlets, including Refinery29, Betches, New York Times, and The Cut have summarized the embroilments of the circumstances. Moreover, there are all kinds of Reddit forums centered around discussing the F-Factor diet and what actions the head of the company used to reply to the horror stories consequently taking place after consuming the F-Factor’s protein powders and protein bar. There is absolutely no question that the turmoil has only snowballed from here. But where did these all stem from? Well, fashion and lifestyle blogger Emily Gellis first stumbled upon anonymous gossip posts on Instagram that shared negative experiences with the F-Factor CEO and head dietitian–in one instance, the client was advised to refrain from their antidepressants to lose weight (she discloses the origins on the Diet Starts Tomorrow podcast and an episode on the Off the Gram podcast–on another note, PLEASE listen to the latter episode because it features the input of a former client and a dietetic expert. It goes to show how this situation is even more heartbreaking). After communicating with the former client, Emily received an abundance of messages from customers who have endured beyond horrendous conditions and health symptoms after consuming the products and following the CEO’s guidelines. The concerning aspect of this crusade was the F-Factor’s negligence of these complaints, lack of transparency in disclosing their products’ COA documents, and alleged misconducts towards the employees and clientele alike. Afterwards, more people have spoken up, including former clients and registered dietitians (see LiLi’s spread here and Lauren’s video here), against the F-Factor online.
I highly recommend you look at Emily Gellis’s saved IG stories all titled “Discussion” for more information and anonymous messages of criticisms and adverse physical and mental impacts instigated by the products and the company (link to the first one here to get started). It gets very dark and complex and there is no way I can explain it all justly.
WHAT IS F-FACTOR?
For background, the F-Factor is a diet program centered around consuming foods with a large emphasis on rich fiber sources, including GG fiber crackers Fiber One cereal, and other supplemental fiber-rich food products. Many of its perks include no deprivation of carbohydrates, alcohol, restaurant food, and no heavily rigorous exercising (though one greatly cuts out net carbs in their first phase, then gradually increasing their net carb intake in the second and third phase). Instead of counting calories, one counts their carbohydrates and net carbs (difference of carbohydrates and fiber). According to its founder, Tanya Zuckerbrot, “protein and fiber at every meal makes losing weight no big deal”. Many of her appearances on podcasts, news broadcasting, and social media, account for her boasts of the diet because it is backed by science and allows people to live their healthiest lives possible and feel their best. It is not a diet, but a lifestyle, she says. Figuratively, it has amassed a vast following of clients and has expanded into a product line of protein powders and bars. One of the most crucial aspects of F-Factor is that there is no maximum limit of fiber, but a minimum of 35 grams for women and 38 for men. From reading the example journals on the website and from book testimonials, it appears that most of the ideal days of eating range well over 35 and 38 grams–up to 50-60 grams!
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH FOOD SCIENCE?
You may be thinking: F-Factor is a diet program, not a food line. That is true, but regardless, they manufacture a line of supplements and have fervently recommended all kinds of food products that are fortified with heavy quantities of fiber per serving. Being a company overall means you need to cultivate and maintain a healthy relationship with your employees and your customers. The company’s responses to the thousands of claims blaming F-Factor’s protein products were…not so great.
- “Lead is a heavy metal that is naturally found in the soil, so even organic produce and grains can contain them“.
- The presence of heavy metals will vary depending on the environment of the soil (pollution activity, waste, presence of pesticides, water quality, etc.), physical and chemical composition of the food growing in the soil, the manufacturing process of the end result, one’s biochemical ability to detox the heavy metals from their body, and frequency of consumption. There is a reason foods like strawberries and rice do not contain the Prop 65 warning and that is because the concentrations of these heavy metals are strongly regulated (Moreover: Heavy metals in fresh produce are only a problem in under-developed countries where food safety and quality control parameters are not as rigid. Strawberries scored very low. On the other hand, rice may pose a more significant risk, but this will vary greatly across the globe and demographic characteristics.).
- “We have strict standards in place for these measures that meet industry and FDA guidelines“.
- F-Factor sells protein powder and protein bars, which do not fall under the list of supplements examined by the FDA. The only way the FDA would have to intervene is if there is substantial proof that the company of said supplement has adulterated or misbranded their product. The protein powders or bars do not contain any of the regulated ingredients either.
- Moreover, “industry guidelines” is a pretty vague term given that multiple companies aside from F-Factor have come under fire for selling protein powders with high levels of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic. Forget the fact that the FDA does not regulate protein powders because they contain the Prop 65 warning and have no grandiose health claims.
- “The CoA is a confidential document that contains proprietary information about our formula, and therefore, it is our company policy not to disclose this document“.
- No, it doesn’t. The CoA (certificate of analysis) contains the supplier name and location, ingredient name and number, date of shipment, lot number, specification, product test results, and signature of approval that the product has met quality control standards. Nothing about ingredient formulations, ownership of the product, or any piece of information that should not be made to the public. In fact, it is mandatory to release a CoA for each batch and for approval and a CoA to be conducted in several intervals. Why was F-Factor so hesitant to release the CoA at first? (they released it a few days ago, and see? No proprietary information!)
- “If you have a whey sensitivity or an intolerance, you may experience symptoms like any other allergy or intolerance”.
- While this is true, you cannot lump something as chronic as an allergy with a sensitivity or an intolerance. There are medications to help with intolerances and sensitivities, but not allergies, which mandate elimination of these foods. Yes, mild allergic reactions may coincide or parallel those of a sensitivity. However, this does not make downplaying an allergy, which CAN BE DEADLY, at all accurate.
- “F-Factor products are all natural”.
- All natural is a poorly regulated and defined term. It only means nothing artificial or synthetic in a product that you would not typically find said artificial ingredient in, but that really is it. Additionally, it does not mean a food is safe to consume or will not result in unpleasant if not chronically dangerous health illnesses. For example, one may assume that raw milk is all natural. Does this mean raw milk is safe, even with all the bacteria lingering in the milk imposed by the udder of the cow, handling by the processor, conditions of the processing environment, and packaging and storage of the raw milk? It can be safe, it may not be safe. Unnatural foods are not automatically demonic; oat milk is most certainly not natural and neither is almond butter or protein bars.
- “The F-Factor diet has been endorsed by countless nutritionists and physicians, including cardiologists, endocrinologists, and gastroenterologists“.
- Nutritionists, physicians, cardiologists, endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, even doctors and registered dietitians are not credible authoritative sources of food science. They would need to undergo extensive studying, research, and actual experience in a food processing facility in-depth for several months, if not years. One course about nutrition or about food science just doesn’t cut it. As for the diet itself, I can’t be 100% sure because I have not tried the diet myself, but what is presented on an example journal or in a book does not always equate to the de facto diet, aka what a client will execute. People trying out this diet may barely reach 35 grams of fiber per day or exceed to as much as 100 grams. Unless all these medical specialists and professionals are consulting with each and every F-Factor client and are handing their practiced diets and health parameters their seal of approval, this statement ultimately just amounts to a very broad claim.
LET’S LOOK AT THE PROTEIN POWDERS…
Most health complaints about F-Factor focalize on their unflavored or vanilla protein powders. There are three main ingredients in F-Factor’s unflavored protein powder (I chose this flavor since it’s a baseline and many concerns focus on this one): organic whey protein concentrate, partially hydrolyzed guar gum, and sunflower lecithin. It contains 22 grams of carbohydrates (2 net), 20 grams of fiber, 20 grams of protein, and 140 calories in one serving, which weighs 46 grams. Aside from the trace amounts of lactose in whey protein concentrate and veeery trace quantities of carbohydrates in sunflower lecithin, the partially hydrolyzed guar gum is 99% responsible for the massive amounts of non-digestible carbohydrates. One study examines how partially hydrolyzed guar gum is only harmful at a 10-15% weight basis. Another evaluated consumption of six grams of guar gum amongst people with IBS and found somewhat favorable results.
For all this, I went to an old acquaintance to examine this more closely: MyFitnessPal. The powder clocks in at 48% carbohydrates, 7% fat, and 44% protein. Of the 48% carbohydrates, which is 22 grams, 20 of those are fiber. This would make the product 43.64% fiber. Almost 45% weight basis for guar gum. Well over the range that may induce health risks and most likely well over six grams. The regulation of guar gum presence in a product is very poorly studied, though some sources cite for certain individuals to limit their intake of it.
If there is ONE sector of this story that I have no problem firing shots at, it is how inadequate the governing of the supplement industry is because consumers will become so easily warped in purchasing an absurdly expensive supplement that A) does not suffice the label’s claims, B) may pose undisclosed side effects (even with a Prop 65 warning), and C) can contain extremely harmful substances that the FDA would otherwise not approve of if this were present in a food product.
MY FIBER ONE PHASE…
Even I went through a massive Fiber One cereal phase (late 2018 or early 2019[?]-mid 2020)–at first, the results were pretty awesome. I could maintain my weight quite well, I felt full and satisfied, but I continued with eating it because it tasted yummy! However, I eventually stopped because I found that my system just did NOT agree with it. They no longer helped with satiety and I just found my blood sugar spiking a bit more drastically with the extra carbohydrates (the pairing of it with protein helped, but not significantly enough). I felt more dehydrated and sluggish in spite of what I’d figure them to prompt my body to respond. My weight reached a REALLY stubborn range where I felt super insecure about myself mentally and physically. It was at one point where I recognized I genuinely didn’t want to eat the cereal and correlated my internal struggles to the food product. It no longer sounded appealing on a taste scale. As soon as I stopped consuming it, my negative health symptoms alleviated after a week. Perhaps it could be due to switching to a lower sugar alternative and consuming more protein and fat, or it could be due to the fiber itself. Who knows?
Either way, I’m no longer into the bran cereal every day. I still eat it time to time, maybe at most 2-3 times a week (usually <1). My diet is a lot more enjoyable and my quality of life has much more space to pursue other endeavors without it!
As a food science student, I find it concerning that a supplement company is very slow to respond to the criticisms and that its replies lacked specificity and wholehearted regard towards the victims. It is also quite troublesome that the victims’ health issues and horror stories were very much so superficially glossed over by all news outlets, but this could be due to the anonymous people not wanting to disclose too much. Having said that, this can speak volumes to two other larger issues: the lack of regulation around supplements and its industry as well as the ethical issue regarding all food companies wanting profit at the end of the day. Then again, it’s not at all surprising. The nature of any business is to desire publicity, profit, and a loyal following–for many, that may be open to practicing a little, if not a heavy, amount of exploitation.
I will continue to update this post as the story further unfolds. There appears to be a HEFTY lot more to expose here, specifically with more complaints from former clients, users, and employees at F-Factor. My heart breaks for the victims who have undergone traumatic health problems and for the employees who are mentally and emotionally damaged. Again, my goal here is not to harass or insult anybody (including Emily and Tanya), but to share what is already published on the Internet about these circumstances.
Have you ever tried the F-Factor diet? If so, what are your experiences and thoughts?