Buyer beware: Weight-loss products that sound too good to be true probably are

Marci Gore • Feb 5, 2014 at 8:47 AM

For many folks who are trying to lose weight, the appeal of simply taking a pill with the “promise” of easy and rapid weight loss is almost too tempting to resist.

But Lisa Gilreath, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Indian Path’s Health Resources Center, advises that when it comes to the plethora of weight-loss products on the market today, you should listen to your gut.“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she said.

According to industry statistics, about one third of all adults are overweight, spending more than $150 billion in medical care associated with obesity-related illnesses. And in 2014, consumers are expected to spend about $66 billion on diet soft drinks, health club memberships, dietary supplements and other products aimed at weight loss, according to Marketdata Enterprises.

Dr. Mark Kadowaki is a general surgeon with Wellmont Health System and says, unfortunately, there are no secret formulas for weight loss.

“There is no short cut. Weight loss is not any easier, or harder, than overhauling your diet and exercising daily. The more a weight-loss product relies on a ‘secret’ ingredient and the more it costs, the less I would trust it,” he said. “The big issue is not so much the product itself, but, rather people not following a healthy diet and exercise plan and instead substituting these products.”

Laura Dyck, a registered dietitian with Wellmont’s Comprehensive Weight Management Center, says any product that claims you can lose weight without changing your eating or exercise habits should raise a red flag with consumers.

“It would be nice if we could sprinkle this magic dust on our pizza and ice cream and lose all this weight,” Dyck said of Sensa, which, according to the company’s website, claims you can lose 30 pounds in six months just by sprinkling the product on your food. “But even if that were true, as a dietitian, my goal is for people to be healthier. You can’t be healthy eating all that pizza and ice cream.”

Sensa was one of four companies charged by the Federal Trade Commission last week with deceptively marketing weight-loss products, asserting they made “unfounded promises” that consumers could shed pounds simply by using their food additives, skin creams and other dietary supplements. Sensa Products and the other three companies — L’Occitane, HCG Diet Direct and LeanSpa — will collectively pay $34 million to refund consumers.

“We know in our minds, these types of products are not going to work, but the commercials are very appealing,” Dyck said.

Gilreath recommends anyone considering a weight-loss supplement talk to his or her doctor first.

“I would probably advise looking at prescription weight-loss medication versus over-the-counter ones,” she said. “Prescription medications are FDA regulated. They’ve been studied. They’ve been proven. We know what the side effects are. We know what the restrictions are. Some of the over-the-counter stuff may or may not have been studied, proven or be safe.”

Dyck also points out that, because weight-loss supplements are not tested by the FDA like other drugs are, what is listed on the ingredient list may not be what is actually in the product.

“Side effects can be very real and very dangerous,” she said. “There can even be interactions with other medications you may already be taking. A lot of them have caffeine in them, which can be dangerous for some people.”

Gilreath agrees. “Consider the potential side effects. They could be just unpleasant things like dizziness or headache. But if you have high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, side effects might not necessarily be just unpleasant. They could be potentially very serious,” she said.

And, Gilreath adds, at some point, you have to stop taking these weight-loss supplements.

“Most of them are just intended to be taken short term,” she said. “But have you learned anything? If it’s altering your appetite, but you’re not learning how to eat healthier, how to get some exercise, then when, and if, you stop taking the medication, and you resume your previous bad habits of poor diet and no exercise, then the weight is going to come back on. As with any weight loss, the goal should not be how much can I lose? The goal is how much weight can I maintain. It’s better to lose 10 pounds and keep it off than to lose 50 pounds only to regain 60. And the weight regained can come back with a vengeance.”

According to Gilreath, some red flags to watch out for when considering weight-loss products include: the promise of a quick fix or rapid weight loss; the elimination of certain food groups from your diet; claims of being a cure-all for certain ailments; and no attempts for permanent change.

“If you didn’t figure out how you got there in the first place and make those necessary changes, no pill will work long term,” she said.

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