Brittany Dawn used her status as a social media influencer to market her customized nutrition and fitness plans to thousands of consumers. The catch: they weren’t customized. And her clients suffered the consequences. She is now being sued by the state of Texas for violating consumer protection laws in one of the few lawsuits of its kind.
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA): 1-800-931-2237 or NationalEatingDisorders.org.
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Bahari, S. (2023, Feb 18). Here’s what to know about the lawsuit against Texas influencer Brittany Dawn. Denton Record-Chronicle. https://dentonrc.com/here-s-what-to-know-about-the-lawsuit-against-texas-influencer-brittany-dawn/article_cb9b4cc7-5b64-5f81-ba8f-aa5369c825aa.html
Better Business Bureau. (n.d.) Complaints: Brittany Dawn Fitness. https://www.bbb.org/us/tx/sunset/profile/personal-trainer/brittany-dawn-fitness-0875-90551698/complaints
Cadorniga, C. C. (2022, Dec 29). TikTok Post Reveals Details on Brittany Dawn Controversy With Homeless Man. Distractify. https://www.distractify.com/p/brittany-dawn-homeless-man-tiktok
Clark, M. (2022, Feb 9). Who is Brittany Dawn? The fitness influencer being sued for misleading clients with eating disorders. Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/brittany-dawn-influencer-texas-b2011476.html
McHugh, J. (2022, Oct 5). ‘You can’t cancel me’: embattled TikTok star reinvents herself as a warrior for Jesus. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/oct/05/brittany-dawn-davis-tiktok-christian-social-media-influencer
Patterson, C. (2022, Feb 9). Influencer Brittany Dawn Sued by State of Texas for Allegedly Misleading Clients with Eating Disorders. People. https://people.com/crime/influencer-brittany-dawn-sued-by-state-of-texas-for-allegedly-misleading-clients-with-eating-disorders/
Pellot, E. (2022, Dec 16). Influencer Brittany Dawn Nelson is fostering a baby, and the internet is mad. Yahoo! https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/influencer-brittany-dawn-nelson-fostering-204611707.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAANMQpAALCEEztFO61cJGLBK_bgbV7wtlSrCvl609X8x2XS18PH6Wca7uIWqX6iznc1-RpNGYq2mweuNVij-0I9BUpkreum-xyiHg4n2kSk-tD9_ab0Q5MfEMCSc8MCOcXIlSw0e2Di4aKYWHIxR1lrB4_Jv9r7_0_CLEUs5mCmui
Shamsian, J. (2019, Mar 19). A fitness influencer who some say is a 'scammer' still hasn't issued full refunds for nutrition programs weeks after followers called her out. INSIDER. https://www.insider.com/brittany-dawn-fitness-influencer-scam-partial-refunds-2019-3
Weiss, G. (2022, Dec 14). Christian influencer Brittany Dawn defends her foster parent journey amid criticism of her past, monetized baby posts. INSIDER. https://www.insider.com/christian-influencer-brittany-dawn-criticism-foster-parent-journey-2022-12
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Brittany Dawn. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brittany_Dawn
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Hi everyone, I’m Becca.
S: & I’m Sarah! And you’re listening to Unsavory.
Today we are covering the story of Brittany Dawn, the social media fitness and nutrition influencer. And how she launched her business to help other women struggling with disordered eating by providing them with customized nutrition plans. Or so they thought. What she was really doing was putting thousands of her clients on the same low calorie diet plan, ignoring customer complaints and blocking anyone who spoke out about her deceptive business practices. And it gets even worse, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.
S: I know absolutely nothing about this story, but I already know it’s going to be a terrible.
You better believe it’s terrible. Let’s get into it. Are you ready?
S: Let’s do it!
I want to add a trigger warning - this story will include discussions around calories, weight loss and disordered eating. If this does not fit into your recovery journey, please do skip this episode.
Shout out to my sources which are all listed in the show notes at unsavorypodcast.com. I used an article in The Guardian by Jess McHugh, and two others in INSIDER by Jacob Shamsian and Geoff Weiss.
So I consider myself a pretty empathetic person. I tend to see the good in people, sometimes to my own detriment. And when doing my research on Brittany Dawn, she definitely had her endearing qualities. Like she’s an entrepreneur, she comes across as very vulnerable, sharing a lot about her ”past” struggles with disordered eating, fertility and becoming a foster parent. So at first you want to like her.
Who is Brittany?
Anyways Brittany Dawn Davis’ origin story starts in Fort Worth, Texas in 1991, the year she was born. Not too much is known about her life prior to her fitness career, but she has claimed to have worked as a vet technician for a number of years.
She has also openly discussed her struggles with disordered eating, and has stated that she overcame them through exercise and “healthy” eating. (S: mmmm… pretty sure that’s not how that works) She began her career in fitness as a competitive bodybuilder participating in bikini competitions and would often post bodyshots on social media channels using hashtags like #fitness #weightloss and #teambrittanydawn.
She grows her audience pretty quickly. Likely because she’s charismatic and always really put together - she has bleach blonde hair, is super tanned and always seems to have a full face of makeup on. Not my style at all, but I could see why some younger women might be drawn to her.
In 2014, she began to monetize her platform. She started a YouTube channel where she posted videos about how she overcame her eating disorder, but also videos with exercise tips and her favourite low-cal Starbucks orders. In these videos she promoted her products and services, specifically her personalized meal plans and fitness coaching plans. And she uses her own physical transformation to market them.
S: So literally drawing in vulnerable people who are likely watching eating disorder content because they relate to it in some capacity, and then sharing the exact things that could harm them the most?
It is strange though because while she does sell nutrition plans, her social media page rarely showcases anything food-related except the odd Starbucks order and a few photos of her posing with giant pizzas or large boxes of donuts. Which automatically gives me the feeling that she might still have been struggling with her relationship with food at this time. The posts seem a bit more performative if that makes sense.
In 2016, she married her high school sweetheart, Zach Griesen. But after only a few years, the marriage ended and apparently not on great terms. There was speculation that she had cheated after Zach Tweeted some less than cryptic Tweets claiming that he had spent 10 years with someone he knew couldn’t be faithful. Then according to some reddit threads, she apparently came forward saying that he was verbally abusive, but with very few details beyond that. So it sounds like it was very messy.
But Brittany didn’t let the divorce hold her back.
(McHugh, 2022; Wikipedia, n.d.)
She started to see some success with her programs and formed Brittany Dawn Fitness, LLC. In addition to her programs she offered support via text message, giving clients direct access to her and her breadth of knowledge. Because Brittany had discussed her eating disorder in depth and had shared what had worked for her, often referring to herself as an “eating disorder soldier”, many clients were under the impression that she had some professional training in ED recovery.
And she had amassed a huge following with about half a million followers on Instagram and another quarter million subscribers on YouTube. (S: Oh no) So thousands of people had purchased her packages, ranging from $92 for a one-off consultation to $300 for three months of personalized nutrition and fitness coaching.
But there were a few issues. She had thousands of clients that she was either offering personalized products or individualized sessions to. And as dietitians you and I, we know it can be challenging to see more than a handful of people in a day for customized care. So she was definitely taking on more than she could handle and she began taking some shortcuts…like sending out the same plans to all her clients. But her clients still thought they were personalized to them based on the health information they had shared with her.
The other issue - and this one’s a biggie: her meal plans, which were being sent out to clients in ED recovery, promoted weight loss through calorie restriction and workouts that some clients claimed would take an hour and a half to complete.
Fellow dietitian, Abbey Sharp, did a brief TikTok video on this scandal, saying that her meal plans clocked out at about 900 calories a day. (S: That’s a nope from me) I found a copy of one of the meal plans on reddit and they are outrageous. So she has you eat six “meals” a day. But let me tell you what these meals look like. Meal six for both Monday and Tuesday on this plan includes: 1 tbsp of natural peanut butter, 1 scoop of protein powder and 2 low sodium rice cakes. Like where is the protein powder even supposed to go in this meal?
S: I guess mixed into the peanut butter lol
Meals 3 and 5 throughout the week sound a bit more like meals in terms of the foods they include, but are still wildly restrictive. For instance, meal 5 for Wednesday and Thursday is 3 oz of ground turkey, 10 asparagus spears and 12 almonds. There’s no mention of seasonings, cooking oils or anything. So while being restrictive, it’s also incredibly lazy. It gives clients zero information on how to prepare the food…like in multiple cases she has oats on the menu, but doesn’t mention if she’s talking about oatmeal or is she expecting clients to eat dry oats. It’s very unclear.
S: Definitely not a lot of value - caloric or culinary - in this meal plan
(McHugh, 2022; Patterson, 2022; Wikipedia, n.d.)
Her scam exposed & lawsuit
By 2015, whisperings of her program being a scam started circulating. People were becoming suspicious when Brittany’s plans didn’t align with what they had asked for and they began receiving strange replies from her. In one instance, a client, who had disclosed to Brittany that she was struggling with anorexia, was prescribed a low-calorie diet plan and lots of cardio.
S: So she is actively profiting off harming people.
When reaching out to Brittany with their concerns, many women received generic responses like “you’ve got this babe” and “you’re killing it”...completely disregarding what they were reaching out about. (S: Bot response) Those who complained or posted critical comments publicly were immediately blocked, many of whom had spent money on these products and now had no way of contacting her. And this is definitely where she fudged up. Because a lot of these women may have thought that they had had a one-off poor experience with Brittany, but by cutting off communication and blocking these women, their spidey senses went up.
S: I love a collective realization
Many were a part of a Facebook group called “Team Brittany Dawn”. But it slowly became a space to air grievances about her. As their comments were deleted and they were blocked from the group, they formed “The Brittany Dawn Fitness Complaint Facebook group”. And here the women realized they were all being sent the same “customized” plans. And in some cases, clients weren’t even contacted to initiate their plans. So they had spent the money and received nothing in return. And when asking for a refund, Brittany would only offer a partial refund, like 50%, IF they signed a non-disclosure agreement.
In February of 2019, these complaints reached critical mass. But it wasn’t until a video went viral of a comedian confronting her at a fitness convention that shit hit the fan. Basically this prankster comedian named Cassady Campbell went to The Fit Expo in Los Angeles dressed as a Trump supporter in all-American getup, a fake mustache and bright yellow sunglasses. Brittany was working at a booth for a coffee company when Campbell approached her saying “excuse me, I have a question, you look familiar. You look like you stole my daughter’s money”. The smile on her face turns into a look of fear and she immediately grabs a man who is also standing behind the booth with her to deal with the situation. Campbell then shouts that she stole $200 from his daughter for a fitness plan that she never received and that they are going to bring her to court. Obviously this isn’t true, it’s very much like a Punk’d prank set up to make a scene, but when Campbell posts it online, it receives almost 2 million views.
S: Did the comedian know she was a scammer before going up to her?!
The funny thing about the video is that Brittany clearly knows what this man is talking about the instant he mentions the stolen money. She doesn’t try to get an understanding of the situation or try to remedy it at all. She simply grabs a large man to deal with it. Which to me shows she isn’t taking responsibility for it.
Following the viral video, Brittany lost several of her social media sponsors. She was even featured on Good Morning America as a cautionary tale to people looking for fitness and nutrition plans from influencers. She later issued a tearful apology on her YouTube channel, but the video has since been deleted. And most of her scammed clients considered it to be too little too late.
A change.org petition was started, directed to the Federal Trades Commission to stop her business…and it currently has over 16k signatures. The Better Business Bureau had received a bunch of complaints and contacted her to request that she remove whatever it was they were complaining about. So at this point she stopped selling her programs.
But her tune quickly changed into that of being the victim in this whole scenario. She has claimed that she’s been bullied, stalked and harassed and is a victim of “media manipulation” and “cancel culture”. Clearly taking little to no responsibility for her very harmful actions.
S: Does she have supporters?
Then February of last year, of 2022, the state of Texas announced that it is suing Brittany Dawn for violating Texas state consumer protection laws by using “deceptive trade practices” and is seeking up to one million dollars in damages. The fact that many of her alleged victims were struggling with disordered eating is a focal point of this lawsuit. Because not only were these women coming to her in a vulnerable state, but they were being purposefully misled for financial gain. By positioning herself as an authority on nutrition and fitness and by sharing information about recovering from her own eating disorder using nutrition and fitness, she was indicating “that [she] had knowledge or training to address eating disorders when she did not.”
Of course, Brittany Dawn denies every allegation against her, including that she "accepted consumers with eating disorders," but 14 former clients referenced their eating disorders in their official complaints. (S: The good thing about this is that there will be a lot of social media and email receipts). When one of the victims was being on-boarded onto one of Brittany’s plans, she stated “I truly need guidance, help, the right information and support right now. I currently have an eating disorder, horrible body image views ... I am underweight for my height," and Brittany allegedly responded, "Great! Welcome to the #teambrittanydawn family."
Another past client, who was only provided two weeks of the two months-worth of coaching sessions she paid for said she was refused a full refund. About their sessions together, she stated "I went into detail about my depression. About how I was suicidal. About how I was eating. About how I was binge-eating. You're paying somebody to help you and be there for you... for someone to basically take your money and run — it hurts." So if these instances are corroborated, Brittany could be in big trouble. As she should be, for these women to seek her out and put trust in her, only to be scammed…I can only imagine that that would set you back in your recovery journey. (S: For sure. It’s reckless and undoubtably harmful).
The lawsuit also states that her plans were not personalized, that she ignored consumer contains, and that she unlawfully charged clients a shipping fee for her programs, which were all provided via email. )S: Okay that’s RIDICULOUS) And fun fact, Brittany Dawn’s jury trial is scheduled to start the same day this episode is released…which was a super weird coincidence. So more information and updates will be available soon. (S: That’s actually wild because this story has been on our episode list for months!)
(Bahari, 2023; Better Business Bureau, n.d.; Clark, 2022; McHugh, 2022; Patterson, 2022; Shamsian, 2019; Wikipedia, n.d.)
Her Christian awakening
Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of the Brittany Dawn drama. From 2019 to present day she does a complete rebrand. She goes from being an untrained nutrition and fitness professional to an unaccredited faith leader. She begins posting Christian-based social media content to her now combined 2 million followers with her Instagram bio now reading “wildly in love with Jesus” and “writer of truth-filled captions”. I feel like it’s important to note that over the last few years she was briefly banned from Facebook for promoting COVID misinformation and QAnon conspiracy theories…so I don’t know if she even knows the definition of the word “truth”.
In 2022, she started her own Christian ministry, called She Lives Freed. Here she hosts conferences and retreats, baptizes other women and sells a whole lot of merch. These events have been described more like female empowerment retreats, where she draws in a lot of other women who are also in the business of selling, many of whom are also influencers and others who work for multi-level marketing businesses. It’s highly suspect. Especially to her previous clients who followed her for her lifestyle content. A lot of them think this is her way of trying to get out of taking ownership for her actions. Like she claims to have been transformed…but doesn’t accept criticism or responsibility because that isn’t who she is anymore. It’s a frustrating stance.
(McHugh, 2022; Wikipedia, n.d.)
Aside from her new religious identity, she’s also been involved in some other, pretty serious scandals. Including multiple instances of animal abuse. The stable owner where Brittany kept her horse exposed her for not making her boarding payments and for neglecting the horse of veterinary care. Thankfully the stable owner stepped in and covered the cost, but apparently the poor thing was pretty sick.
Her boyfriend at the time, former police officer Jordan Nelson shot their dog after he had been let out by Brittany to go explore on his own….and was ultimately hit by a car. He was still alive but rather than bring him to the vet, they shot him. Which isn’t something you’d think an ex-vet tech would promote or publish on their social channels, but Brittany did. And people were outraged.
In 2021, Brittany befriends James, a homeless man at her church. Her and Jordan provide him with food and clothing in what was described online as a pretty woman montage that she filmed and posted. She claimed to want to help him get the support that he needed to overcome his addiction and she set up a GoFundMe where they raised $25k, which is amazing. James headed to a Christian rehab facility in Ohio…with no medical professionals and that promotes forced labour as a method to help get over addiction. Which is fine if that’s what you want to do I guess. But this rehab facility was FREE, it cost no money to go to…and Brittany and Jordan likely only spent a few hundred dollars to get him there. So after James leaves the rehab facility, he rightfully contacts them about the additional money they raised for him and he gets blocked. And he never hears from them again.
S: You’re kidding me….
Coincidently or not…Brittany and Jordan get married in an extravagant wedding shortly after. And people who contributed to the GoFundMe are still wondering if they helped fund her wedding (Cadorniga, 2022). (S: WOW)
Lastly, and worstly Brittany and Jordan decide to become foster parents. Which is a very nice and noble thing to do, if you’re good people. Before even having a child, Brittany apparently began to monetize the experience with affiliate links for the baby supplies she got. In December of last year, they received a baby. Brittany shared on her platforms that the baby suffered from substance withdrawal and posted a photo of the infant with their face blurred out, which are both HUGE nono’s. Like you’re not supposed to provide the public with any identifying information for your foster child. But thankfully the baby was reunified with its parents pretty quickly.
And just last month Brittany and Jordan received another child to foster. She posted a photo of the baby’s feet on her Instagram profile revealing that they are Black. And people are outraged and confused as to how a Black baby could be placed with them.
So I previously mentioned that Brittany’s husband Jordan was a former police officer. Well, he worked for the Kansas City police department, where in 2013 he was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for the use of excessive force on an unarmed black man…who was cooperating with the police. The case was settled out of court and it’s unclear if Jordan was fired from the force or if he left on his own accord but that doesn’t matter. How does a family with a documented instance of violence against a Black man receive a Black baby to foster? It’s shocking and disgusting and I really hope that that baby is okay.
(McHugh, 2022; Pellot, 2022; Weiss, 2022)
What’s she up to today
But that’s the story. As I said, her trial starts March 6th so stay tuned for updates. A lot of people have speculated whether her becoming a foster parent was a strategy to garner sympathy from the jury. And this is what she does well, she’s a really good storyteller. Where she lacked fundamental knowledge and morals, she made up for with the appearance of an aspirational and wholesome lifestyle.
I think this is a good reminder for all of us that a large social following and even a blue check mark are not indicators of authority. And especially with nutrition, it’s important to remember that terms like “nutritionist” aren’t regulated in most areas of the world, meaning that literally anyone can use it.
Thoughts? Feelings? Emotions?