There are weight loss companies galore making claims about how their plan produces the kind of results you are looking for. Many of these businesses waltz out testimonials from their happy clients with nifty before and after photos to show off the diet and market it to other consumers. But what if the success stories were fake or, even worse, STOLEN from people who lost weight legitimately on another program. That’s exactly what was uncovered over the weekend and it’s got the low-carb blogging community outraged about it.
This all started when Seattle’s HCG Diet Weight Loss Center posted on their web site a series of “patient photos” along with their first names, photos, and brief answers to the question, “What finally made you decide to start with a weight loss program?” To just about anyone who visits this web site, the stories look to be on the up and up and nothing is wrong with them. And yet anyone in the low-carb world will know something is fishy when they see recognizable low-carb bloggers like Kent Altena , Big Daddy D , Amy Dungan , and Muata Kamdibe, just to name a few, featured on this page for the HCG diet.
For those of you who are curious, the HCG Diet involves the hormone Human Chorio Gonadotropin (HCG) and it is injected or given as a supplement along with an extremely low-calorie diet full of lots of water, vegetables, and fiber. Believers say this is the weight loss plan for them, but it’s not anything remotely connected to livin’ la vida low-carb. So what’s up with them using low-carb weight loss success stories on their web site?
As of the writing of this post, you will notice the “Patient Photos” page has been completely removed, but I’ve got a Google cache of the alleged “Photos from HCG Clients” that was posted on their web site as late as September 19, 2009 and the site had not been updated since early July 2009. So these photos have been up there all summer long and there was no shame in posting them either. It’s right there for you to see and you’ll know it’s the low-carb success stories if you’ve been following any of these bloggers over the years.
The testimonial for “Kent” looked and sounded familiar because I had been hearing about his 200-pound Atkins weight loss story for nearly four years knowing his motivation for losing weight was to enlist again with the National Guard and that he dealt with sleep apnea.
“One fateful airplane trip, where I was cramped in the window side, convinced me I could not live like this for much longer,” the testimonial for Kent on the Seattle HCG web site showed. “Seeing my former National Guard friends be deployed without me also shamed me for being not allowed to reenlist due to my weight. Walking up steps would cause me to be out of breath for minutes. I also had a severe case of sleep apnea, which while treated still left me with a lack of energy.”
And then there’s “Big Daddy D” whose moniker is so unique it couldn’t be anyone else other than the low-carb one I know and love. Readers of his blog already know about his inspiring story as well overcoming some significant health issues.
“At my peak weight, I was experiencing various aches and pains,” the testimonial for Big Daddy D on the Seattle HCG web site revealed. “My back and feet were often sore. My ankles sometimes swelled. Short walks would often result in my being out of breath. Regardless, this was not enough to motivate me. I knew that my weight was getting out of hand and that something had to be done about it. I kept putting it off. It is very easy to say that you will start a diet next month or after the holidays. A year and a half ago, my wife and I had a baby. I felt that I owed it to him to get myself into shape. I want to be around to watch him grow up. Having a child in my life was the motivation that I needed to get healthy.”
My personal friend and fellow blogger “Amy” also had a story that was familiar regarding the cancer scare she experienced prior to her low-carb life.
“I had a cancer scare about 1 1/2 years ago. It was a real wake up call to start taking better care of myself. I suffer from IBS, acid reflux, fibromyalgia and depression,” the testimonial for Amy on the Seattle HCG web site noted. “I also fear getting diabetes. It’s a bit of a problem in my family and I knew that the way I was living was just putting myself at an even higher risk. I was sick and tired of always being sick and tired. I was a 33 year old who felt like an elderly person. When my weight hit an all time high of 203, I knew I couldn’t let this go any farther. I had to do something. If not for me, then for my family. But I wanted to feel and look good again as well, so I got back on the plan I knew worked best for me.”
Finally Muata has such a unique name that it had to be my buddy “Mr. Low Body Fat” himself they were referencing and sure enough the story confirmed it for me when they talked about a former 300-pounder.
“After my scale showed that I was part of the 300lb. club in 2002, I was disgusted with myself and knew that something needed to be done,” the testimonial for Muata on the Seattle HCG web site explained. “After having a long look in the mirror at my naked body and having a serious and honest talk with myself, I decided that it was time to get my life, and body, back.”
Again, these stories were replete with before and after photos to make it look like these were actual clients of the Seattle, WA-based Radiant MedSpa and Weight Loss Center which is the parent organization for the HCG Diet in that area. Incidentally NONE of those four low-carbers live anywhere close to Seattle, so what the heck are they doing trying to pass off these low-carb weight loss success stories as being on the HCG Diet? This company has got some serious explaining to do about their illegal use of real people like this who did NOT follow their plan.
Muata was so upset about this fiasco that he did his own personal investigation into the matter and contacted the company directly to see if they could remove his likeness from their web site and to get some answers about why they used his story since he did not authorize it. He left a voicemail with Radiant, sent an e-mail to the director of the clinic Dr. Dawn Hunter, reported the company to the Better Business Bureau and contacted the major newspaper in Seattle. Interestingly, he heard back from Dr. Hunter with the following response.
“We apologize as we purchased this business with the website about 4 months ago and did not know they were unapproved photos. We have removed them right away once we have been alerted so please accept our apology on this and we will inform the previous owners about it as well.”
Say what? What “business” is she referring to because I can vouch for these four weight loss success stories that NONE of them had anything to do with the HCG Diet as they were being portrayed. Soon thereafter, Muata received a follow-up e-mail from the co-director of the Radiant MedSpa clinic Dr. Allen J. Johnson who wanted to speak with him on the telephone about this matter. Muata wasn’t impressed.
“I couldn’t help but laugh because what is there to talk about; needless to say, I didn’t respond to his email,” he wrote on his blog.
In an e-mail response back to Dr. Hunter, Muata said his story was “stolen” and the reasons for them taking it were “lame and absurd.” It turns out the company bought the content of the web site WLTips.com which featured my success story as well. I wonder why they didn’t try to use MY story on their HCG Diet web site, hmmm? If they think omitting me from this scandal is gonna keep me quiet about it, then they don’t have any idea who they’re messing with.
In his correspondence with her, Muata asked Dr. Hunter an excellent question that gets to the heart of the matter about this issue.
“How can you not know who your patients are, especially when they are prominently featured on your website?”
As you can imagine, this terse response from Muata warranted yet another e-mail from Dr. Hunter who claimed this was all about business and that she didn’t know any better. Seriously, she passes the buck to the previous owners of the web site as her excuse replete with grammatical and spelling errors galore.
“It was a business purchase they were claimed to be the business previous patients that we purchased that is how. We purchased the client files in a buy out that would include any previous testimonials. I would hope that our apologies and immediate action would suffice for you. We were not happy about hearing this ourselves and contacted the previous owner to discuss this matter,” Dr. Hunter wrote.
What’s to “discuss” with the previous owner? She had a web site that featured weight loss success stories which included a LOT of low-carb ones. And Dr. Hunter attempted to pass them off as HCG Diet weight loss success stories. How is that NOT fraud and deceit?
She claims they are “not intentionally at fault” and that this had made them “upset” too. GOOD! You should be more discerning about what you put up on your web site and make sure it is people you have actually seen in your clinic as testimonials rather than ones you bought off the Internet somewhere, Dr. Hunter. She told Muata that they’re just “simple business people that both have families and are real people as well.” That’s all fine and dandy, but you need to get your ducks in a row before you start marketing a weight loss web site with stories of the success REAL PEOPLE have made on something other than your HCG starvation diet program. That’s criminal!
For now, they’ve done the right thing removing the photos and “testimonials” of ALL 14 that were listed under the “Patient Photos” tab which is now defunct. Kudos to them for taking that appropriate action, but these have been posted on their web site for at least the past three or four months. I think this warrants them doing much more than simply dismissing it and I’m proposing something that isn’t outside the realm of fairness and reconciliation for all parties involved.
Dr. Hunter should personally write a letter of apology to each of these fourteen individuals who were fraudulently marketed by her company as “HCG Diet success stories” AND Radiant MedSpa and Weight Loss needs to write a very nominal thank you check in the amount of $500 to each of them for the use of their images and stories over that period of time. This really is not an unreasonable request for all the pain and suffering this has caused the people who are involved. They had better be glad my story wasn’t one of the ones they used!
If Dr. Hunter decides just to look the other way and claim this is still just a harmless business venture, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see a class action lawsuit filed against her by these 14 people involved. Listen to me, Dr. Hunter, and take my advice — give them the apology and money before this gets worse than it needs to be. You’ll be glad you did!
Incidentally, you can contact Dr. Dawn Hunter directly by telephone at 206-402-3063 and be sure to call during Pacific hours or you can e-mail her anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org urging her to make amends for the wrongdoing her company perpetrated on the innocent victims involved to restore the dignity that each of them deserve. If this had happened to you, then you’d want someone to stand up on your behalf, right? Well, now is your chance to make a real difference so hopefully it will NEVER EVER EVER happen again. Thanks for standing up for your fellow low-carbers Kent Altena, Big Daddy D, Amy Dungan, and Muata Kamdibe.