Thursday, January 24, 2008

You, On A Diet . . . Again!

Release the hounds! It is diet season again, sports fans! The diet aisle in my local bookstore is loaded with people looking for the that hot selling new book that will give them the latest "secret" diet plan. Needless to say, it might be the twentieth book they have bought over the years, but who is counting. From pills, potions and programs to gadgets, diet food and drinks, we're gobbling them up, seeking an easy solution to our weight problems.

Weight-loss plans promise to help you shed pounds, but lots of them will do nothing more than lighten your wallet. Americans spend about $50 billion a year on weight-loss products. Before you lay out some serious cash for that new product, program or gadget, consider this. Only 5-10% of the 50 million people who go on a diet this year will actually succeed, lose the weight and keep it off.

Hey, we are Americans. We like things to be easy and we like things NOW! We are suckers for anything that says "Eat all you want and still lose weight" or "Melt away fat while you sleep." We find it hard to believe in this age of scientific breakthroughs and medical miracles that an effortless weight-loss method doesn't exist. But it doesn't.

Fraudulent fat-fighting programs were the most common consumer scam of 2007, the Better Business Bureau said, noting that complaints about diet programs have surged more than 40% in the last five years. In New York, complaints about health, beauty and fitness companies jumped 50% in just the past year.

Diet schemes run the gamut from weight-loss tea - which turns out to be little more than a warm drink - to supposed fat-dissolving injections that resulted in extensive swelling and pain, but not the hot body being promised.

Here are a few pointers when looking at a new diet plan:

1. Advertising can be deceptive, so don't believe everything you read.

An FTC review of more than 300 ads from radio, television, magazines and newspapers that ran during 2001-2002 found that a whopping 55 percent made claims promising more than the product or service could likely deliver.

Claims such as "rapid weight loss," "no diet or exercise required," "eat whatever you want" and "take it off and keep it off" are all hot buttons that advertisers use to get consumers to buy their products and services. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

2. 'Scientifically proven' or 'doctor-endorsed' doesn't mean it works.

Many products claim to be tested at "respected," "major" or "leading" medical centers or universities. Check it out. Find out if the medical center or university even exist! Where was the study conducted and where was it actually published and by whom? Was the doctor a medical doctor or a doctor of philosophy? Is he a real doctor or does he just play one on TV?!?

"Often there's no scientific evidence behind Dr. X's claims," notes Dr. George Blackburn, a member of the government-sponsored Partnership for Healthy Weight Management and assistant director of nutrition medicine at the Harvard Medical School.

And often the endorsements fail to disclose that the health professional doing the recommending has a financial interest in the product, or that he or she may not have reviewed the scientific evidence. Even if it was reviewed, he or she may not have used acceptable review standards.

3. Testimonials are not a good indicator of a product's success.

Have you ever taken a hard look at the before and after pictures that come along with the testimonials? They are hilarious. Typically, in the "before" photos, the person appears with poor posture, a neutral facial expression, unkempt hair, unfashionable clothes and washed-out skin tones. The "after" photos generally are better lit. The person stands with shoulders held back, tummy tucked in, wearing smarter-looking clothes and is carefully made up, coiffed and smiling.

Sometimes companies take healthy people, make them overeat and the "after" picture shown is really what the person looked like before they began overeating.

4. Just because the government allows it on the market doesn't mean it's safe or does what it claims.

People mistakenly think that the FDA is monitoring everything that is being put out there on the market. It gives them a false sense of security and nothing could be further from the truth.

The majority of diet products on the market today are dietary supplements. Under the DSHEA, or Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act passed by Congress in 1994, the law doesn't require the manufacturers of dietary supplements to demonstrate that their product is safe or efficacious before it goes on the market.

In the last 10 years, the FTC has brought over 100 cases against manufacturers for false and misleading claims and advertising. That is a drop in the bucket as to what is really out there.
Unless there is an "adverse affect" (something really bad) that is reported, they don't even have time to look at it. People have to die or get really sick before they will even look into it.

5. Don't believe everything you hear.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Mark Nutritionals Inc., a Texas-based company selling the Body Solutions Evening Weight Formula, advertised on the radio that you could shed unwanted pounds in your sleep without having to change your diet or exercise. How silly.

They had a really slick advertising campaign in three states. They used local DJ's to spread the word as they supplied them with product and compensated them well to share the weight loss gospel. The advertising was not misleading. It was false and bogus. The FTC went after them and
Mark Nutritionals is no longer operational.

6. 'Natural' or 'herbal' doesn't guarantee safety.

One "natural" diet supplement in the news lately is ephedra. It's an amphetamine-like diet supplement derived from the Chinese herb ma huang and has been found to constrict the blood vessels, speed the heart rate and raise blood pressure.

The FDA received more than 16,000 complaints of adverse reactions to the herb, which is found in more than 200 dietary supplements sold over the counter. It has been linked to 155 deaths from heart attacks and strokes. Hundreds of ephedra victims have filed suit.

Recently, after more than six years of study, the FDA announced plans to ban the "fat-burning" herb ephedra, declaring it a hazard even for healthy adults.

But ephedra is not the only "natural" product on the FDA's watch list. It has issued warnings of "possible health hazards" against herb-supplement products containing chaparral, comfrey, willow bark and wormwood. Additional items on the watch list include supplements and so-called dieter's teas that contain senna, cascara, aloe, buckthorn and other plant-derived laxatives.

7. Fad diets don't work.
ALL of them are doomed for failure. Fad diets are a temporary solution to a long term problem. You don't need a diet. You need a long term lifestyle change. You don't need a rapid, unhealthy amount of weight loss. What goes up must come down. In terms of weight loss, it should be "What goes down, will eventually come back up (and more)." Losing it slow and steady is much healthier and gives you a better chance of keeping it off.

Hundreds of fad diets have been published over the years.
If any one of them truly worked, there wouldn't be the need for another one.

8. Nothing is free. It will cost you.

All three of the largest national weight loss chains -- Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and LA Weight Loss -- continue to make millions in revenue. In 2003, Weight Watchers' revenue was approximately $943 million, while Jenny Craig saw $280 million and LA Weight Loss climbed from revenues of $105 million in 2001 to $250 million and counting in 2003.

While costs vary for each program, they could be worth it if you stick with it and do it in a healthy way. The costs of obesity are extremely high. Think about that for a moment. It's not a cosmetics issue. Successful weight loss of even five to 10 pounds can save hundreds of dollars per person and hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy in health-care costs. Programs that teach you a healthy diet and lifestyle produce the best outcomes.

9. There is no magic bullet.

Some dieters place their hopes on pills and capsules that promise to "burn," "block" or "flush" fat from the body. But science has yet to come up with a low-risk magic bullet for weight loss. Some pills may control appetite but can have serious side effects. Amphetamines, for instance, are highly addictive and can have an adverse impact on the heart and central nervous system. Other pills are utterly worthless.

Let's be realistic. You can't solve years of overeating overnight. There are no shortcuts. Exercise, proper sleep, healthy eating, nutritional supplementation and a permanent lifestyle change are the path to success.

Oh, and just in case you thought that diet sodas and other products that have aspartame, Splenda, sucralose, saccharin or other artificial sweeteners in them might be a help in losing weight, think again. Click here to read why they may be MAKING you fat!

Here is to your success this year. May this be the year that you make your breakthrough to better health and more energy to live a long and happy life. You deserve it. Be smart and do your homework and you should be on your way very soon.

If you want to learn what the Three Reasons Why Diets Fail are and what to do about it, check out my blog entry from December 31, 2007: Why Diets Fail

Another excellent post on this topic can be found on the Health and Fitness blog. Click on the following link to read Tom's post on "Health And Fitness Is Not A 12 Week Program."

P.S. Michael F. Roizen, MD, and Mehmet C. Oz, MD have written a great non-diet book called "You On A Diet." In it, they state that your waist size is more important than weight, because belly fat is so strongly linked to many health risks. So ditch the scale in favor of the tape measure. Good book.

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