1. We re big fat liars.
Misleading claims about weight-loss products abound. This month, a federal district court ordered Bronson Partners, LLC, which markets a $24.95-a-month herbal tea and diet patch, to pay nearly $2 million to the Federal Trade Commission for making false claims. According to the FTC, the company told consumers that drinking one cup of Chinese Diet Tea after each meal could help them lose as much as six pounds a week. .
The fact is that many claims made by weight-loss programs are less than truthful. According to the Federal Trade Commission s most recent study of weight-loss ads, published in 2002, 55% strain credibility by making such claims as works three times faster than fasting itself, or lose up to 2 pounds daily. Says Richard Cleland, an assistant director at the FTC: The ads are filled with testimonials about amounts of weight that are just physiologically impossible for a person to lose. You just don t lose 30 pounds in 30 days. In fact, the standard disclaimer results not typical is one of the few claims that are actually true. [Weight-loss marketers] highlight the real success stories of those that are atypical, highly motivated, and doing more than what they say they are doing, says a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Mostly, [the programs] just don t work.
2. Single-food diet plans are unhealthy.
Diets focusing on one food in particular as the key to weight loss have a long and rich history. There s been the grapefruit diet (around since the 1930s) based on the idea that a particular ingredient in grapefruit that, when eaten with protein, will trigger fat burning and cause weight loss. There was also the cabbage soup diet, which promised a 10-pound loss in one week just as long as you stick to the narrow list of permissible foods on alternate days and two daily bowls of fat-free cabbage soup.
More recently, cookie diets have been a hit in the weight-loss field. There are at least three companies promoting their cookies as the key to losing weight and each boasts its own blend of protein to control hunger. These plans are really about calorie restriction not a magic ingredient that will make you lose weight. Just consuming fewer calories, no matter what the calories come from, is going to result in weight loss, says Mark Kantor, associate professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Maryland. I don t believe these cookies are going to control your hunger any better than a fresh apple would.
Dieters should also be leery of any program that requires you to get most, if not all, of your nutritional needs from one meal a day, says Keri Gans, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Dr. Siegel s web site acknowledges that while on any reduced-calorie diet, and with the approval of your doctor, it s a good idea to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement, and includes such supplements with its cookie packages. But, Gans says, healthy eaters should be able to get their vitamins and minerals from the foods they eat.
3. Our magic pills often have less than magic results . . .
Fortunately, one of the most dangerous and widely available weight-loss supplements, ephedrine, is no longer on the market. This Chinese herb also known as ma huang was banned by the Food and Drug Administration in April 2004 after causing more than 100 deaths between 1993 and 2000, as well as more than 900 adverse reactions.
Unfortunately, the latest thing in weight-loss drugs, Alli although FDA-approved and deemed safe comes with a slew of bizarre side effects, many of them more embarrassing than harmful. The way it works: Alli uses an active ingredient called orlistat to block about 25 percent of the fat you eat, cutting your calorie intake and thus promoting weight loss. The problem is that the blocked fat, which is never absorbed by the body, can get expelled in strange and noxious ways, including gas accompanied by an oily discharge and frequent or loose stools. The maker of the pill, Glaxo, warns on its web site: You may experience some bowel changes during the first few weeks of use, and explains that that they re most likely to occur after taking an Alli capsule and eating a meal containing more than 15 grams of fat. The way to avoid these treatment effects, it says, is to stay below your fat threshold.
4. . . . and some are downright dangerous.
With the exception of Alli, today s over-the-counter diet pills come under the category of dietary supplements, meaning they re not technically drugs and therefore don t need to be proven safe before they reach the marketplace. It should come as no surprise, then, that the effectiveness of most of these so-called diet pills is questionable. But what you might not know is that the side effects can be serious, ranging from dizziness to high blood pressure, even liver damage. Between 1999 and 2008, the FDA received 32 reports of serious liver injury in patients taking orlistat and said it was reviewing these cases. But no definite association between liver injury and orlistat has been established at this time, the FDA said in a news release last August. (Glaxo, which uses orlistat in making Alli, did not return a call for comment).
How do such potentially dangerous products end up on the market in the first place? Manufacturers don t have to register with the Food and Drug Administration or get approval before they sell supplements. Under the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, it s the consumer not the FDA who is responsible for determining whether they should be using a dietary supplement. (The FDA offers tips on using supplements
5. Qualifications? Here are my before-and-after photos.
Although shedding pounds should be motivated by the desire for health and well-being more than the quest for dropping dress sizes, don t expect your local weight-loss center to be staffed with certified nutritionists. They are not required to by law.
Prominent weight-loss program, Jenny Craig, for example, sometimes uses former clients as counselors. In order to work with incoming customers, the counselors must pass up to 80 hours of training, then take follow-up classes in nutrition, behavioral modification techniques, motivation, and stress management, says Lisa Talamini, chief nutritionist at Jenny Craig. The program s counselors, especially the 60 percent who were former clients, strive to pass the inspiration on to others, says Talamini.
6. Your wallet s gonna shrink, too.
Losing weight can be tough, as anyone who has ever tried to trim a few inches from their waistline can tell you. So it s no wonder that many people seek help from a thriving weight-loss industry that has built up around the battle of the bulge. Indeed, the most recent figures available from the American Dietetic Association show Americans spending $58 billion on weight loss cures and products in 2007. And with nearly two thirds of the population categorized as overweight or obese, the demand remains even in tough economic times. But where there is demand, there are also less-than-scrupulous marketers seeking to make a buck from desperate dieters.
7. Welcome to fat camp, kid. Get ready to starve.
Consider yourself lucky if you ve never gotten razzed with fatty fatty two-by-four, can t get through the kitchen door! Lots of overweight kids can t say that, though and their numbers are multiplying. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that about 18 percent of children ages 6 through 19 are overweight, or triple the percentage from 1980.
For kids who won t lay off the Big Macs, more parents are turning to camps that specialize in trimming down chubby children with regimented menus and exercise programs. Sounds promising just beware: There are camps that are like boot camps, says Melinda Sothern, coauthor of Trim Kids and director of pediatric obesity research at Louisiana State University. The trainers operate from the no pain, no gain mentality. Even when weight-loss camp turns out to be a positive experience, Sothern warns of another problem what awaits these kids when they get home. Without family participation, campers often return to the same conditions that contributed to their weight problem in the first place.
8. Sure, this surgery will make you thin if it doesn t kill you.
The number of weight-loss surgeries, including gastric bypass which reduces the size of a patient s stomach and reroutes part of the intestine so that fewer calories are absorbed is growing at a rapid pace. In 2008, an estimated 220,000 bariatric surgeries were performed, up from an about 205,000 in 2007. Unfortunately, these procedures can be dangerous: According to the American Society for Bariatric Surgery, the mortality rate for gastric bypass is 1 in every 1,000 patients. There are also a number of scary complications to be considered, including malnutrition, abdominal infection, and gallstones.
It s one thing when adults struggling with obesity opt for this type of surgery; it s another matter entirely when overweight teenagers want to go under the knife. The surgery is known to limit calcium absorption by the body. To perform gastric bypass on young teenagers, when the bones are still forming raises questions that have not been fully studied. There has been evidence of a loss of calcium density in adults who get this surgery. So intuitively, you are altering something that theoretically could have a long-term effect, if done on a teen, says David S. Tichansky, director of the Minimally Invasive and Bariatric Surgery Program and associate professor of surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. The surgery may help some teens avoid problems associated with obesity, such as hypertension and diabetes, but it can be a trade-off, Tichansky says.
9. Forget lite food just eat less.
Something doesn t compute: The sale of food products labeled lite, lean, and better for you keeps on growing, but so do American waistlines. The most recent figures show that194 million Americans consumed low-calorie foods and beverages in 2007, up from 180 million in 2004, according to the Calorie Control Council, an industry group representing the diet-food industry.
So what gives? For one thing, some products aren t telling the whole truth about their ingredients. The Atkins program, for example, which was built on the idea of limiting carbohydrates, upset many of its followers when it was discovered that its proprietary diet products contained more carbohydrates than the labels indicated. (Subsequently, Atkins Nutritionals filed for bankruptcy in August 2005, all but pulling the stops on that diet fad.)
Another problem is misinformation about the science of weight loss. For example, reduced-fat versions of products get marketed as diet-worthy though they often have the same or even more calories than full-fat versions. And when it comes to obesity and the quest to lose weight, says Dr. Robert Eckel of the American Heart Association, you have to blame it on calories.
10. The best way to sell superfoods is hardball marketing.
Perhaps no other fruit has been hyped as much as the acai berry, grown in the Amazon rain forest. It s been touted as a superfood that helps reduce wrinkles as well as a diet wonder (it does contain antioxidants). But many consumers felt duped by the ambitious claims.
In 2008, for instance, the Better Business Bureau serving parts of Arizona received more than 1,400 complaints about Central Coast Nutraceuticals, which operates several web sites selling acai (as well as other health-related) products. After a free trial of supplements of tea, consumers who didn t want a monthly supply had to cancel their subscription, or else get billed $40 a month, according the BBB. Consumers complained of failed attempts to cancel subscriptions and endless on-hold time (up to 75 minutes) with the company.
After the Arizona s attorney general s office charged the company with violating the state s consumer fraud act in June 2009, Central Coast agreed to pay a $1.38 million a settlement. Central Coast s attorney says the company disagrees with the attorney general s position regarding sales practices. Central Coast was very willing to better its disclosures for product offers, which it immediately did, he wrote in an email.