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24 & 30 Day Challenge Diets ... What to Make of Them?

Quick Hit Summary

As of late, dietary supplement challenges, such as the Advocare's 24 Day Challenge™ and Isagenix's 30 Day Cleanse, are quite the rage during the first quarter of the new year as individuals look to follow through on their New Year's resolution or prepare for the spring break/summer beach season. Although I like the idea of challenges, which in my mind is simply a fancy way of saying "goal setting", there are certain things that rub me the wrong way about them. The most prevalent issues worth considering include short duration (24-30 days), in most cases the inability to truly evaluate results (challenge vs. simply not eating garbage), the unexpected and cost that it takes to follow some of them. These ideas and more are discussed in the final part of our New Year Resolution Series.

New Year Resolution Series

This is the 3rd part of our New Year Resolution Series. This collection of articles focuses in on popular topics which tend to get brought up at the start of every year as individuals pursue their newly minted health and performance goals. The other articles in this series are as follows:

The Diet Challenge

Figure 1. I challenge you to set a goal, get in the race blocks and chase it down! Image source1

In this, our 3rd and final installment of our New Year Resolution Series, we tackle the issue of "diet challenges". Although I can't speak with 100% certainty, based off what I see, the first quarter of each year has to be the most heavily marketed time period with respect to various diets. It makes sense; during January and February people are trying to follow through on their New Year resolutions. For those who fall off their initial mission, their sense of losing a few inches along the waistline are usually renewed with great fervor come March as they start to prepare for the spring break or summer break beach season (Depending on which hemisphere you live on, this latter factor may occur during a different time period).

One of the most popular marketing strategies used by health/nutrition businesses today is the idea of "challenges". These challenge marketing strategies are based around the idea of following the company's dietary and/or supplement plans for X days. At the end of this time period, evaluate the changes you've seen in your physical and mental health status. If pleased, continue on with their protocol (usually a "maintenance plan" with periodical "cleansing" phases during the year) for as long as you desire.

In this article, we're going to evaluate the +'s and –'s of these challenges, tying in MLM corporations like Isagenix & Advocare.

The Upside of "Challenges"

Factor #1: Goal Setting

I personally like the theory behind challenges with defined endpoints. I see "challenges" as another way of saying goal setting. For those who have used goal setting as a means to direct their behavior, I'm sure you're as big of a fan of them as I am; they are great motivating tools. Set a target, give yourself a realistic time period to achieve it and chase it down. What's not to love?!

The key thing when establishing guidelines for behavior changes via challenges is to give yourself a hard endpoint to shoot for such as "I want to gain / lose / change body composition / increase flexibility and strength / decrease running time by X amount by date Y." If, despite your best efforts you fail to reach endpoint, no problem. I don't always hit my end targets; However, in pursuing that goal, even if I don't reach them, I usually find that I'm in much better shape than when I originally started. Furthermore, in objectively evaluating what did/did not go well in the process, I usually have a much better idea on how to plan my next assault on the goal I'm hunting down. In other words, you may get bucked off the bull a time or two, but if you never get in the ring to start with, you'll never learn how to ride him (ie – miss on hitting goal, attack goal with improved strategy, achieve goal)!

When I explain the idea of specific goal setting to some people, I'll sometimes get a response of "I just want to live a healthier lifestyle, etc." Great no problem with that, but if your endpoint is more general vs. specific in nature, and you're truly OK with more general results, I still encourage you to make specific short term endpoints such as "I want to exercise X times per week, eat 2-3 different types of non-starchy vegetables per day, etc." In the process of establishing and reaching specific short term endpoints, you may find yourself wanting to achieve a more specific long term goal. As I've mentioned before,

Reaching goals can be like an ADDICTION. Upon reaching each goal you’ll find yourself NEEDING to achieve a higher one.

As you can see, I'm a fan of challenges in general. To me, they're just a clever marketing spin on the idea of goal setting. It's nothing magical, nothing mysterious, nothing that's only available to a select few who take specific supplements promoted by a company; just an effective way to assist behavioral change.

Factor #2: Convenience

The other factor of note, which ties more directly into the supplement side of things, is convenience. Many of these challenge diets include meal replacement or post workout shakes. From a practicality standpoint, these are hard to beat. For example, let's take a typical person who likes to work out in the morning prior to going to work. Following their workout they jump in the shower and speed off to their day job. In this situation, is it easier to throw together a shake or put together a solid food based meal AND attempt to balance it on your lap while driving to work? I think the answer to this is rather obvious; the convenience of a high quality shake wins out every time.

Furthermore, for people like me, eating a solid food based meal relatively close to the time of working out may be troublesome due to it causing stomach/GI distress. If I do a real hard workout, I find I feel much better when consuming liquid based shake vs. solid food even if the latter is accompanied with an equal amount of water as the shake. I can't say this holds true for everyone, but after doing a little Me-search, I find it works best in my situation.

The Downside of "Challenges"

I know what you're probably thinking, "How the heck can there be a downside to challenges? Didn't you just get done saying how great they are…?" Well, you are correct – I DID just get done saying how great they are fundamentally speaking. HOWEVER, the way in which they are marketed by nutritional supplement companies often leaves me frustrated. The current ones gnawing on me is the Advocare 24-Day Challenge™ as well as Isagenix® 30 Day Cleanse system.

For those not familiar with Advocare or Isagenix, they are multilevel marketing companies that follows a business plan discussed more in depth in Part II of this series, Expensive Supplements – Why? and is graphically represented in Figure 2 (below). Referring directly to the Advocare challenge… It involves a 10 day "cleanse" phase followed up by a 14 day "max" phase. During the past year, via emails, facebook messages or direct conversations various individuals have asked me my thoughts on their 24-Day Challenge™. My initial response, without looking too deep into it was simply, "I haven’t reviewed through it personally but if you like it and it works – great. More power to you! Just make sure you’re not signing up for some crash diet."

I say this as in a world that unfortunately consist of too many overfed, undernourished sedentary individuals, I truly believe that anything that gets you eating better, active and leading a healthier lifestyle is a plus. Additionally, the quick explanations people gave me about the challenge were basically, "Take some protein shakes, fiber supplements, maybe some probiotics etc and evaluate how your body feels at the end of the 24 days." Personally, I think a 24 day endgoal is rather short. I'd much rather see a "60 or 90 day challenges" with mini-goals worked in at the end of each month (see below). However, that's just personal opinion and I'm not here to force my thoughts on others. Additionally, many of the people I work with often take a shake and/or various other supplements during the day so I'm not going to be a hypocrite and argue against Advocare doing the same.

As time went on, the frequency at which I was asked about the Advocare 24-Day Challenge increased; Thus, I decided to look further into it in order to provide more effective feedback to those who asked questions regarding the Challenge. In doing so, I found 4 key issues that rubbed me the wrong way about the challenge (some of these are specific to the 24-Day Challenge™, others are more general in nature).

#1: Cost of Supplements

Figure 2 Advocare and Isagenix® are multilevel marketing company, which follows business model #2. Due to the business structure, cost are inherently higher. Read why in Part II of our New Year Resolution Series. Image created by Brian Putchio.

When I looked at the recommended supplements, I saw that Advocare had them bundled for between ~ $190-200. At first I didn't think much of it assuming that was the cost to do the 24 day challenge and then have leftovers to carry you through some part of "maintenance" phase. I rationalized this as I know that 5 lb (2.26 kg) of the high quality whey protein supplement I recommend can cost $55-100 depending on who happens to be the retailer (The wide range of prices for the same product can be attributed to the business models I referenced in Part II of this series.). Thus, you may have some high initial start up cost, but the protein container last forever. For instance, even if you take 1 full serving of protein powder per day that I mentioned, you still have >2 month supply.

I then took a closer look at the formula…the supplements included in the 24-Day Challenge™ bundle lasted ONLY 24 days (ie – NO carryover to next phase). I then started looking at things closer and found that most of the supplements did not even last 24 days as certain supplements were only taken on days 1-10 and others on days 11-24. Taking the prices into consideration, the 24-Day Challenge™ became super expensive super quick. The cost per serving for some of the supplements within the bundle was WAY over priced vs. other high quality reference products as seen when comparing meal replacement shakes in Table 1.

Table 1. Price comparison between Advocare Meal Replacement, Isagenix® Isa-Lean Shake and reference shake. Composition of the shakes is relatively similar, except the reference one if free of artificial sweeteners. It's my policy not to "advertise" for any supplement company, so if you want to know the names of my reference products, you must drop me a note on Facebook or contact me via email. And NO, I do NOT receive any commission/financial kickbacks on sales of any nutritional supplements.

Supplement Servings Price Price/Serving Other
Advocare Meal Replacement 14 $44.95 $3.21 220 kcal, 3 g fat, 24g CHO (5 g fiber), 24 g Pro
Isagenix Isa-Lean® Shake 14 $52.95 $3.78 240 kcal, 1.5 g fat, 24g CHO (8 g fiber), 24 g Pro
Similar Quality Shake 48 $49.99 $1.04 204 kcal, 5 g fat, 15g CHO (3 g fiber), 24 g Pro

I could go on and on with pricing comparison; For instance, Advocare's 10 day cleansing phase is accompanied by their cleansing formula which costs $31.50. Including in this supplement package is 7 days worth of probiotics (4 billion CFU/day), and 7 days of their cleansing formula and 14 days of fiber (10g/day). Let's compare this to some other high quality supplements for reference…

  • Probiotic – 120 servings, 4 billion CFU, $19.26,
  • Fiber – 26 servings, 14 g, $16.61
  • Cleansing Formula – 15 servings, $13.59.

NOTE: Although there is some overlap in ingredients, differences in composition should be noted for the Advocare® cleansing formula and the one in which I'm using for reference.

If so moved, I'll let you calculate out the price per serving for these products for comparison purposes but I think you can see the trend here…. $$$.

On a bright side, the Advocare 24-Day Challenge ONLY cost $180. I recently worked with an individual who spent >$350 when purchasing the Isagenix 30 Day Cleanse system. Needless to say, their supplements were also a little expensive. Albeit, the composition is a little different than my reference one, but their meal replacement shake cost $51.50 for 14 servings -YIKES!

Now in all fairness to Advocare and Isagenix®, these supplements can be had for less then the retail price if you "buy into" their system. For instance, let's take a peak at Advocare; if you become a distributor and "you use AdvoCare products on a regular basis" you get a 20% discount. If you become an advisor and "choose to build a business part time or full time" you get a 40% discount. Sounds great, right? Well, let's do the math, taking a 20% discount gives you price/serving of $2.57 and a 40% discount comes out to $1.93 per serving…. which is STILL, at maximum discount rates, almost DOUBLE the price of my reference shake!

Ok… Dialing things in focusing exclusively on Advocare (although most of these points would also apply to Isagenix)….

#2: Only 24 Days?

As I hinted at earlier, I think the idea of a 24 day challenge is super short. Yes, it does have the advantage of keeping people motivated by saying “Hey, you only have to do this for 3-4 weeks.” For those who are completely sedentary and have poor diets, I understand that they may get overwhelmed by thinking in terms of 60-90 days out. However, I want people to focus on long term changes, NOT flash in the pan short term fixes.

As aforementioned, I’m a much bigger fan of working towards a big goal 60 to 90 days out with mini challenges at 30 day intervals (or even 6-12 months out depending on where one is at in life). In doing so you have the short term motivation of the 30 day intervals, but if you fail to meet it, no big deal; you still have the big picture goal you're working towards 2-12 months out.

Now the PRO diet challenge people are likely to say, "Our 24 day challenge is meant to only "jump start" the changes you want to see in your physique & health before going onto a maintenance plan."

Ok, point taken; I'm not going to argue this, but this leads into my next point …

#3: What if life gets in the way?

We just got done discussing how expensive these challenge plan protocols are and the shortness of which some of them run. Thus, what happens if life get’s in the way and you can’t follow the diet challenge's recommendations? For example, let’s say you’re doing the Advocare 24-Day Challenge. Things are going fine, you’re 7-8 days into it when all of a sudden you come down with a flu bug and are completely wiped for 2-5 days. What do you do … just finish the 2-3 remaining days of the cleanse once you’re feeling restored to baseline heath (which may be 5-7 days out), then continue on with their 14 day “max” phase. In essence, this 24-Day Challenge effectively turned into 8 day challenge- 5 day flue mania – 16 day challenge.

Likewise, What if you get a bad cold on day 16 and by day 24 you’re still feeling less than ideal? Can you really evaluate the effectiveness of these 24 day challenges? At best, all you can say is “I was feeling decent until the flu/common cold hit while on the challenge, and if I never got sick, maybe I’d have had better gains at the end of the 24-Day Challenge.” In other words, you can’t evaluate the true value of the challenge as recommended by the company.

Now, my critics on this point are going to say, "What’s the likelihood of someone having this happen?" Well in an ideal situation the likelihood of this happening would be 0%. Let's be honest though, the ideal situation does not always happen. There have been different times that I've started up a new training or supplement protocol and have had life events occur preventing me from completing them as planned; I know I'm not alone on this either.

In saying that, I know my critics are going to say, "Aha, you're being a hypocrite there… You getting sick/other life events that prevent you from following your nutrition/supplement protocol is no different than someone unable to follow our 24 day supplement/nutrition recommendations." Although partially true, there are two caveats that need to be mentioned in this line of thought…

  • #1 – Well, for the most part, unless someone is cycling hormone altering products, most supplements are carried out for time periods WAY longer than 24 days. Examples of this include protein shakes, creatine, etc, where for the most part, "cycles" can be as long as desired. For instance, let's say you get the flu/bad cold and you feel miserable for 6 days while on the Advocare 24-Day Challenge™. This means that 25% of the time you failed to properly follow protocol. Now, let's say you miss 6 days on a supplement protocol you plan to carry out for 60 or 90 days. Now, being sick for that same time period equates to only failing to follow the planned program for 6.5-10% of the total time. The former is a major hurdle in evaluating the effectiveness of the program; in the latter 60-90 day scenario, it is a mere blip in the radar.
  • #2 – I didn't just spend $180 on a 24 day challenge, or in the case of the Isagenix™ 30 day system, >$350 on supplements. As pointed out earlier. Even if I had someone follow a very similar protocol as the ones carried out by these companies, I can price it out with high quality supplements at a greatly reduced price that will last much longer than Advocare challenge. Thus, you're not "out" as much money if unable to complete it AND you still have plenty of product leftover if you choose to run it again in the future.

#4: Is it the special supplements and/or food based recommendations at work?

Most of these companies have phenomenal success stories. They usually involve people going from overweight/obese with no energy to losing weight, improving blood panels (ie- lipids, glucose levels), and having more energy. However, what MANY fail to realize (or never consider in the 1st place) is that to get in as bad of shape as these people were in prior to starting the challenge; they likely were sedentary and lived off fast food, sugary sodas and frozen pizzas or similar for X years. After coming to a realization that they needed to turn their life around, they took a "challenge" diet protocol and saw phenomenal improvements in their overall health. I don't doubt these improvements. In fact I strongly applaud these life changes.

What I do question though is how much of the change was related to the challenge diet & supplements pimped by the company vs. the mere fact that they are now eating a diet which includes more whole foods, etc, which sharply contrast to the 24-7 junk food based diet they were accustomed to eating.

Table 1 is Horrible! Our Product is Superior to any Reference Shake

Now, as I say this, I can already hear the rumbles form the "pro" Isagenix crowd who had the most expensive shake in Table 1. "How dare you compare our shake to the reference shake and Advocare's, much less a 'reference shake'. Ours is SO MUCH superior. As we state on our website, it comes from 'grass few cows', 'cows not treated with hormones or antibiotics', 'purest you can find', etc." Now, before you fall victim to getting suckered in with these phrases, let me break them down with my thoughts on the issue .

"…grass fed cows"

Ok, at first glance this may sound appealing as I'm sure you've probably heard that grass fed cows have higher amounts of the "healthy" polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) known as omega 3's in their meat/milk vs. grain fed cows. However, lets be real and face the facts – IsaLean® has 0.5g of PUFA in it, which includes contributions from sunflower oil, etc. Looking at this, one can quickly figure out that actually omega 3 content of IsaLean® is virtually nil, making the whole "grass fed —> higher omega 3 content —> healthier shake" idea pure folly.

"…cows not treated with hormones or antibiotics"

Before you start throwing this one at me, I ask, "Do you have ANY actual data that indicates that post refinery, protein powders from conventional vs. organically raised cows still have significant amounts of these residues remaining in the powders?" If so, let's talk as I've NEVER been able to find data to support this statement and I'm more than happy to edit this statement if I'm wrong.

"…purest you can find"

Ok, "purest" what? If we're talking purest source of dairy protein that would mean using whey isolate, something not included in this formula. To me, as used by Isagenix®, 'purest' equates to a feel good word which has little actual backing… unless they're referring to the fact that the #1 sweetener in the product happens to be 'pure' fructose; something that I'm sure your Isagenix distributor is likely telling you to include less of in your diet!

"The Industry's Leader in Research, Development and Quality Assurance"

This point is more of a general comment in regards supplement and nutritional companies and not directed towards any specific organization… I have been approached by various individuals asking me to become a distributor for the respective companies they represent. One of the things that always strikes me as funny is when they inform me that their company is one of the "Industries Leader in Research, Development and Quality Assurance." This tends to be a large selling point. Apparently, when it comes to being the "Industry Leader", there is one huge logjam at the top. If it was a sporting event, you would have 1st place immediately followed by 469th place due to 468 organizations tied at the #1 spot!

Don't get me wrong, I fully support great research and quality assurance done by neutraceutical companies. I am grateful to hear that they put so much effort into this area and, according to their websites, call upon internationally recognized experts to assist in product formulation. There are many great supplements out there produced by a variety of companies which have claims of "Industry Leader, Superior Quality …" or similar on their websites/sales pitch. Then again, I also see these labels thrown out by organizations in which a majority of their supplements are FAR from being at the top of the totem pole … unless that totem pole represents snake oil!

How can you tell which ones truly deserve the title vs. those who don't? Well, it's a little harder to determine and the discussion on this subject is beyond the scope of this article. However, if you check out some of the articles in our Consumer Savvy section of this website, you may find some solid food for thought.

Bottom Line

Challenges are a great tool for behavioral change and I'm a big fan of them; to me, "challenges" are nothing more than a fancy way of saying goal setting. As of late, clever nutritional companies have caught hold of the idea and have greatly profited off marketing their supplement assisted 24 or 30 day challenges. Although I'm all for promoting maximal health and performance, there are issues, such as duration, ability to truly evaluate results (challenge vs. simply not eating garbage), the "unexpected" life event and cost that it takes to follow some of them. Some of these ideas extend over to other diets in general.

I'm not saying that the supplements promoted by companies with 24 or 30 day challenges are bad/good. That is not the purpose of this article. Rather, my goal is to share with you some of the potential issue I see when starting them up.

In closing, I challenge you (pun intended) to ask yourself questions about the points I bring up, before jumping the gun, or should I say, thinning your wallet, on challenge diets.


1 tableatny."Starting Blocks at Vacant Starting Line Before Event". This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. It was accessed on February 28, 2013 from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Starting_blocks.jpg

2 Advocare is a registered trademark of AdvoCare International, L.P.

3 Isagenix is a registered trademark of Isagenix Worldwide, LLC.

4 Advocare 24-Day Challenge™ Bundle. Trademark of AdvoCare International, L.P. Accessed Feb
28, 2013 from: http://www.advocare.com/products/trim/99038.aspx.

5 Isagenix 30 Day System™. Trademark of Isagenix Worldwide, LLC. Accessed Feb 28, 2013 from: http://fatburnercleanse.isagenix.com/us/en/thirtyday.dhtml#.

6 IsaLean® is a registered trademark of Isagenix Worldwide, LLC.

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Written on February 28, 2013 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: January 15, 2014

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.