Sept. 13, 2021 -- Hey, have you heard about the new miracle fat loss product?
It’s a special tea you might see advertised in a magazine.
A lollipop which is promoted by Kim Kardashian.
A rubber vest that zips tightly around your stomach, as shown in a television commercial.
Or… or… or…
Health scams cost consumers countless millions. With obesity a serious problem, we’re vulnerable to marketing that promises to keep us healthy, slim, or strong. Trust your doctor, verifiable weight-loss organizations and your physician for the best information. Don't be fooled by anyone promising a quick fix in return for your hard earned money.
Here’s a primer on how to spot some concerning claims and make the right choices for your health, fitness, and wallet.
How the Government Advises Consumers
“Dishonest advertisers will say just about anything to get you to buy their weight loss products,” says the Federal Trade Commission. Here are some of the false promises that companies and people often pitch:
- Lose weight without dieting or exercising.
- You can eat whatever you like and still lose weight.
- You can easily lose 30 pounds within 30 days.
- This cream or patch can help burn fat.
“Any promise of miraculous weight loss is simply untrue,” the FTC says. “There’s no magic way to lose weight without a sensible diet and regular exercise.”
Further, such claims aren’t always harmless. For example, “free” trial offers often cause consumers to spend money and be billed for recurring shipments of products they don’t want. And the FDA has found that some dietary supplements contain potentially harmful drugs or chemicals not listed on the label.
Federal law does not require dietary supplements to be proven safe before they’re sold, or that their claims are truthful. According to the FDA, some ingredients in dietary supplements, such as nutrients or plant components can be toxic.
The FDA recommends that you look out for a U.S. Pharmacopeia or ConsumerLab seal of approval to ensure quality. These organizations test and validate ingredients.
What Can Be Harmful
Some products promoting weight loss and sports performance have been found to include ingredients that are not listed on the label, says Pieter Cohen, MD, a doctor at Cambridge Health Alliance.
He and his coworkers tested 17 brands, and discovered nine banned stimulants. Nearly half of the brands contained at least one banned stimulant.
Consumer Reports identifies 15 supplements that could be dangerous in 2016.
The list includes ingredients that claim to help with weight loss but can cause seizures, cardiac arrest, kidney and liver problems, or even death, Consumer Reports wrote. Those include caffeine powder, chaparral, germander, and green tea extract powder.
Danger can depend on health conditions and other factors, like interacting with prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicine.
“Moreover, our experts agree that none of these supplement ingredients provide sufficient health benefits to justify the risk,” Consumer Reports wrote.
Satiereal is included in some weight loss products, including the “Flat Tummy” lollipop promoted by Kim Kardashian. Satiereal is an extract of saffron that has been long promoted for improving mood and menstrual symptoms. Manufacturers say it’s been proven to reduce snacking, too, but that has not been shown definitively.
Appetizers do not provide nutrients, the essential elements we need for good health, including vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Not Just for Weight Loss
In addition to weight loss, sports performance is a big draw for consumers who want an athletic edge. Perhaps they are healthy and have a good training routine, but want an additional boost.
Results can vary between people and scientists often give mixed reviews. Talk to your doctor before trying something you’re not sure about. It might not be harmful to spend money, even if it is often costly, on something you like, such as a protein bar. However, it may not be useful or necessary.
The FDA offers these suggestions for being a “savvy supplement” buyer.
- Don't use commercial websites such as the FDA or National Institutes of Health.
- It is possible that something may sound too good to be true.
- Watch out for claims about “no side effects” and working “better than a prescription drug.”
- “Natural” does not necessarily mean “safe.
A Trainer’s Favorite Myths
Our desire for quick fixes helps myths about fat loss stick around, says Anthony Wilkins, co-owner of Alloy Personal Training for Women near Atlanta. He says clients often ask him about a new product they’ve seen advertised. Maybe they’re told they have to sweat a lot or get sore to prove they got a good workout. False advertisements often spread similar lies, as well as endless fat-loss products and lollipops.
Wilkins has the answers to these persistent myths.
- Muscle is not heavier than fat. “One pound of fat weighs the exact same as one pound of muscle. A pound of muscle is smaller than a pound fat. This means that you cannot have lost any weight but still be much leaner and drop inches.”
- You can’t “spot reduce” and lose fat exactly where you want. “You can train certain body parts to make them better, but you have absolutely no control over where you lose fat,” Wilkins says. “Focus instead on maintaining a consistent level of strength training and good nutrition habits.”
- Wearing a “waist trainer” will not give you six-pack abs. “It will give you the appearance that you have a slim waist when you’re wearing it,” he says. “But it does not burn fat, build muscle, or anything else health-related.”
Regular exercise and a healthy diet are what you need -- not something that comes in a box or bottle.
A ‘Miracle’ Probably Isn’t
“Many so-called miracle weight loss supplements and foods (including teas and coffees) do not live up to their claims and can cause serious harm,” FDA spokesperson Courtney Rhodes says.
“Products that are not proven safe and effective for those purposes not only defraud consumers of money, but they can also lead to delays in getting proper diagnosis and treatment of a potentially serious condition and can place people at risk for serious injury.”
People shouldn’t use supplements in place of actual food. And, Rhodes says, some have ingredients that “have strong biological effects, and such products may not be safe in all people.”
The FDA says dietary supplements aren’t meant to treat or cure a disease; they can be harmful if used improperly; and they can have unwanted effects before, during, and after surgeries.
Eating Better Is Often the Solution
“For the most part, if an individual eats a wide variety of foods, a nutritional supplement may not be necessary,” says nutritionist Angel Planells, a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Multivitamins can be helpful for those who may not have access to certain vegetables, fruits, seeds or fiber. But it won’t provide the fluid and fiber we get from these foods.
You should talk to your doctor before you start taking any supplements.
“It takes hard work and effort to take care of our health by eating well, being physically active, taking care of our mental health, and sleeping well for rest and recovery, Planells says.
“Save your money on supplements, and let’s try to eat better.”