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Do the quick-fix weight loss products, treatments and services really work?

8/26 14:09:43

You will find thousands of products and services that guarantee weight loss. From pills to shakes, and belts to slimming centres you have numerous options to choose from in the market. Most claim that they are safe and work quickly.They all seem to promise things like – ‘Lose 10 kilos in two weeks without any diet or exercise, ‘No side-effects’, ‘Money-back if the service/product/treatment doesn’t work’ and a lot of other statements that sound too good to be true. But are they safe and do they really work? Can they be a substitute for a healthy diet or exercise?

Now it’s not hard to fall for these scams and I have been taken in once or twice myself when I was an obese adolescent. When you’re fat, you are willing to do anything and everything to lose weight except eat right and exercise. Unsurprisingly, none of them worked and I didn’t lose any weight until I underwent a hard year of dieting and exercising and managed to shave off 37 kg in nine months.

So how do you spot a bogus weight loss product/service/treatment?

It’s not hard to spot these conniving products and services. All of them will have most of the following features:

  • They will promise to get rid of a lot of weight in a short duration of time without any effort or hard work on your part.
  • They will have shady-looking before-and-after pictures where the after pictures will have no resemblance to the before ones or look like the works of a photo-editor.
  • They will promise to give back your money if the products don’t work.
  • They will claim their products have been scientifically proven to be efficient but will fail to explain exactly how.
  • While their websites or advertisements will have thousands of testimonials of how these products changed their lives, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in real life or neutral internet forums who will claim the same.
  • They will have people featuring as doctors (or people in white coats) claiming that these products work.
  • If you ever ask them exactly how their products work, they will be at a loss for words.

If you ever do a Google search for these products and check the comments on sites other than the ones selling them,  you will come across thousands of comments from consumers who had been taken in by their tall claims and have lost a great deal of time and money without any noticeable benefit. Just take a look at the consumer complaints various weight loss products receive.

Now these products pop up in various forms. Here are the different varieties of weight loss products or services that you will come across:

Weight loss pills

Most weight loss pills work on the principle of appetite suppression. They affect a region of the brain called hypothalamus which regulates your appetite. Another type is those that are prescription fat blockers which inhibit an enzyme called lipase. Normally, when we eat food with fat in them, the lipase breaks down the fat when it enters the intestinal tract, but with the inhibitor, a percent of the fat is removed from the body through bowel movements instead of being absorbed. Other fat loss pills are simply loaded with a lot of caffeine which gives you an impetus to burn fat by working out for longer periods (I’ve tried them myself and you can work out for three hours straight without feeling tired, however they are harmful in the long run and very addictive).You may like to read more on how well do these weight loss pills work.

Why they don’t work: Most fat loss pills don’t work because their effects wear out the moment you stop taking them. Also, they need to be supplemented with regular diet and exercise (the supplements need to be supplemented, the irony isn’t lost here), in a sense they’re catalysts rather than miracle pills, and unless you watch what you eat and workout, they won’t work. In the long run, people who use them, develop tolerance and the drug stops being of any effect.

Dangerous side-effects:  Side-effects vary from person to person and the drug used. Expert nutritionist Shilpa Mittal has seen many clients scammed into using these products, ‘Most pills are either suppressants or stimulants that hinder the absorption of fat into your body. Subsequently, they can also hinder the absorption of other essential nutrients and vitamins. They’ve also been known to increase the heart rate, blood pressure and cause other gastrointestinal side-effects like constipation,’ she said. They can also cause heavy sweating, insomnia, mood swings, headaches and anxiety.

Update:  DNP or 2, 4 Dinitrophenol has been the news recently for causing two deaths in the UK. In the last two months, we have come across news about two youngsters in the UK who passed away after taking DNP – a popular weight loss drug among bodybuilders. The first was an 18-year-old Indian student who was an avid bodybuilder and the second a 23-year-old medical student who was suffering from bulimia – an eating disorder. 

Despite being banned in the 1938 the yellow pills are available widely on the internet and very popular with the bodybuilding community. The drug is yellow and odourless and was earlier used as an herbicide and fungicide. It was launched as a slimming aid in the 1930s but was promptly banned due to side-effects.  Depending on the amount consumed, symptoms vary from nausea, vomiting, restlessness, flushed skin, sweating, dizziness, headaches, palpitations and could even lead to coma and death.

These two deaths show how dangerous weight loss pills can be and why you shouldn’t consume them in the hope to shed weight quickly. 

Meal replacement shakes

Now I am not talking about whey protein shakes here that are usually consumed by gym-goers but shakes that will claim to help you lose weight and that you should consume in place of a regular meal. They work on the premise that they’re providing you with all the vital nutrients your body needs and cuts down the fat intake and unhealthy calories.  I tried the Herbal Life Meal Replacement shakes, seven years ago and while I did initially lose a couple of kilos in the first month, I soon found that I couldn’t sustain myself on shakes instead of meals. 

Do they work?

Eating is a physical and psychological activity. It’s a ritual, a social activity and not just about getting the amount of nutrients you need. There’s the physical act of actually taking the food into your mouth and chewing on it and tasting those food items. Most normal people would find it very hard to survive on these shakes for a long period of time and their original weight would return the moment they go back to their old eating habits. Of course, meal replacement shakes can be used in certain circumstances when you don’t have the time or facilities to prepare a meal but they’re in general not a long-term solution for weight loss.

Side-effects: Your protein shakes could actually be doing more harm than good. Going on a drastic diet of meal replacements could be dangerous for various reasons. You would be suddenly starving yourself, which could lead to fatigue and feeling of general tiredness. It could affect your digestive health by cutting down on fibre intake (they don’t have enough of the green stuff) and you could also be adding too much protein (meal replacement shakes are usually high in protein) in your diet which would be bad for your kidney and other internal organs.

Sauna belts

If you’ve ever seen late night television, you’ve seen blonde Caucasian women exclaiming vehemently in Hindi about this ‘amazing’ product.  It looks something like a WWE (erstwhile WWF) belt that you wear over your abdomen where it vibrates like crazy and heats up the abdomen area (I actually had one of these). The logic behind it is that this vibration will help burn fat in your abdomen area and you simply sweat out the fat.

Do they work?

Of all the different weight loss products in the market, this one has to be the most useless and ludicrous. While you will lose a certain amount of water in that area, various studies have shown that it doesn’t really cause any weight loss in the long run. Also, it’s like believing that simply sitting in a steam room will help you lose weight. The only thing that will happen is you will get rid of the some of the water from your body, which will return the moment you eat and drink normally.

Side-effects: Wearing the belt for long periods can lead to dehydration which is bad for your body and causes nausea. Some users have also reported skin burns, rashes and stomach pain.

Slimming Centres

Another mode of weight loss which has taken urban India by storm is slimming centres. These are different from gyms and look to help people lose weight simply by dieting and other forms of exercise-free weight loss procedures. These are different from bariatric or weight loss surgeries or procedures like liposuction which can be only be done by professional surgeons and are suggested for grossly-obese individuals.

These slimming centres usually employ two methods of operation. They ask their clients to follow a low calorie, crash diet and employ procedures like lipolysis to get rid of fat from stubborn areas. Lipolysis is an aesthetic procedure and still viewed with suspicion by many people in the medical community and various health warnings against the procedure have been given by authorities in the US and the UK. However, they continue to be offered in India.  They also charge a humungous amount. One session of lipolysis could cause anywhere between Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000, and you would need at least 3-5 sessions to lose 5-6 inches. That means you will spend over Rs 60,000 for a procedure that has been castigated by the leading medical professionals around the world.

Do they work?

While lipolysis may work in the short term to destroy fat that has accumulated in areas like the buttocks, abdomen and thighs, it’s not a solution for obesity. Also the crazy diets that these slimming centres hand out are impossible to follow in the long run and all the weight you’ve lost will come back when you return to your normal eating habits.

Side effects: Lipolysis can lead to discomfort after the initial treatment. Some people also experience light swelling, redness, a burning sensation and some light bruises. The crash diet might lead to fatigue, tiredness and other unhealthy consequences like a weaker immune system because your body won’t be getting the nutrients it needs to function properly. For other harmful effects of crash diets, read this article by expert nutritionist Dr Richa Shrivastava.

Herbal products

You will find various other weight loss products which label themselves ‘herbal’ or ‘Ayurvedic’ and claim that they based on ancient weight loss techniques either from India or China. The truth is that western medicine doesn’t quite understand how herbs facilitate weight loss and some of them might actually work. In India, everyday ingredients like flaxseed, green tea, cinnamon, black pepper and other herbs are used for weight loss procedures and a lot of products will claim to have these ingredients. The problem is ascertaining whether they actually have these products and whether they will be helpful. Add these 6 effective herbs to your diet for weight loss.

Do they work?

Now enough research hasn’t been carried out to ascertain how exactly they help you lose weight. For example, imagine that you replace your daily latte or cappuccino with green tea. You will be cutting down the calorie intake and still get your caffeine kick but does that make green tea a weight loss product? Additionally, green tea does contain antioxidants which enhance your metabolism but you won’t lose weight just by drinking that stuff. Adds nutritionist Shilpa Mittal, ‘Herbal products can certainly increase the metabolic rate but it’s important to keep in mind that alone they won’t help and you need a proper diet and exercise to get the maximum results.’

Side effects: The first problem with these products is finding out whether they actually contain the herbs, many of them don’t.  Also, several herbs have been found to have dangerous side effects. For example, herbal laxatives such as senna and aloe can lead to constipation. Ephedra (also called ma huang in Chinese) has been linked to various heart-related conditions like palpitations, stroke, chest pain, etc. and has been banned by the US FDA. One could make a case for marijuana for weight loss too actually (all my pothead friends were reed thin) but then there’s the side-effect of being constantly zoned out, slightly elevated intellectual capacity and wanting things like world peace!

PS – I am just kidding.

To take or not to take?

Now the question to whether one should use these products and treatment methods should best be left to the user. One thing I can assure is most of them are useless products and not much more effective than placebo. They are mostly sold by companies which look to prey on the insecurities of people suffering from body image issues. There’s no alternative to hard work, if you want to lose weight all you have to do is eat right and exercise – it’s that simple. Believe me, there’s nothing more exhilarating than peeking into the mirror and seeing a completely different, thin and fit stranger staring back at you.  Also, read why you may not be losing weight even after working out.

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