Canadians fighting bulging waist lines, poor eating habits and diminished self-esteem frequently see further proof than on the scale: excess weight can mean health problems — and it’s often not easy to make a change alone.
Increasingly, those trying to lose weight and get in shape seek professional help through personal training or nutritional counselling.
“That is what I thought I’d be getting,” said Rose Sura of Barrie, 100 kilometres north of Toronto.
She enrolled last year in a program called Complete Body Transformation, or CBT.
But Sura says after paying $1,000 for 52 weeks of custom meal plans with CBT, she says she was “kicked out” after 10 weeks.
Sura says she complained that she wasn’t receiving proper lists of suggested food or meal preparation information from either of CBT’s owners — Heather Burbidge-Smith and Jason Pilon.
Other customers complained to Global News in January that the “transformation” program — promising clients could lose 60 pounds in 20 weeks — didn’t live up to marketing hype.
Maureen Magnusson says she enrolled in CBT programs several times and “lost 15 pounds” during one round.
But more recently, she says she was criticized by Burbidge-Smith for raising questions about the quality of the program. which focuses on intense exercise — sometimes two workouts a day — and a strict, calorie-reduced diet.
“She called me an alcoholic and told me I was an embarrassment — hurtful things,” Magnusson said.
Teri-Lynn Gopie says “fear and intimidation” was common within a private Facebook group open to CBT members, some of whom train for fitness modelling competitions.
“I’ve seen them (the CBT owners) tear women apart, they have hundreds of friends,” said Gopie.
Burbidge-Smith and Pilon declined an on-camera interview with Global News to discuss the concerns of customers. Off-camera, in the offices of the Barrie Athletic Club, where training takes place, Burridge-Smith said the complaints were limited to a few dissatisfied clients.
Some customers, including Gopie, say they were asked “impromptu” to lead fitness classes when either Burbidge-Smith or Pilon were unavailable. Gopie did so, although afterward wondered whether it was a good idea.
“I have zero fitness training experience whatsoever,” Gopie said.
Burridge-Smith explained the use of the untrained, unaccredited class leaders: “we get people to run the classes, they don’t exactly teach the classes.”
Some marketing information offered “unlimited personal training” which some customers say was not available later.
Some customers say Pilon claimed to have credentials as a massage therapist, physiotherapist, personal trainer and Red Seal chef, a prestigious culinary designation.
Pilon provided no evidence of any certifications. Calls to several regulating bodies and associations that govern or register practitioners turned up no listings for Pilon.
“The College of Massage Therapists of Ontario states that Jason Pilon is not, nor was he ever, a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT). RMT is a title that can only be used by registrants of the College, which sets standards for professional, safe and ethical care,” said Megan Mueller, communications manager for the CMTO.
While many CBT customers raised complaints about the quality of the program, Global News received at least 16 positive emails about the Pilon and Burbridge-Smith and their program. At least one member asked other clients to write to Global with the goal of suppressing the story.
“I am angry that our focus is being taken away from our goals to deal with this,” wrote Lisa Simmonds.
“Heather constantly checks in with me asking how I’m feeling. This is a woman who cares about her clients,” wrote Antonella D’Alessandro.
“I have become a fitness mentor and will be getting my personal trainer’s license after my wedding! CBT has changed me…yes”, wrote Carla Giblin, another client.
© 2016 Shaw Media