Weight-loss scams: Learn how to spot them

Lose 10 pounds in ten days!

Melt away fat as you sleep!

Eat as much as you want and still lose weight!

Sound too good to be true? It’s a safe bet that anything promising quick results without the work means that your wallet – not your body – will be lighter. All the same, phony weight loss products that claim to burn, melt, and flush fat from your system have flooded the multi-billion dollar weight loss market.

The FDA warns consumers
The federal government, in an ongoing battle to clamp down on bogus weight loss products, has successfully brought claims against many marketers. Common weight loss scams include these:

Weight loss patches. Manufacturers claim they help the thyroid work harder, revving up the rate at which your body burns calories. Worn on the skin, these patches have not been proven to be safe or effective. Fat blockers. Makers of these pills claim that fat blockers can interfere with how your body processes the fat you eat. But they may cause bloating, gas, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. They can also keep some fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, from being absorbed. Starch blockers. These promise to block or interfere with starch in your diet. Many users report nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pains. “Magnet” diet pills. Makers claim these bind to fat, effectively flushing fat out of the body while you eat. However, these can block how your body absorbs important fat-soluble vitamins. Bulk producers or fillers, such as fiber-based products. These absorb liquid and swell in the stomach, which may reduce hunger. But some fillers, such as guar gum, can cause blockages in the intestines, stomach, or esophagus. Guar gum was declared unsafe and ineffective for use as a nonprescription diet aid, but it is still used in small amounts as a food thickener and binder. Electrical muscle stimulators are used in physical therapy, but the FDA has taken several of these devices off the market because they were promoted for weight loss and body toning. When used incorrectly, muscle stimulators can cause electrical shocks and burns. Appetite-suppressing eyeglasses are common eyeglasses with colored lenses that claim to project an image to the retina that is said to dampen the desire to eat. There is no evidence that these work. “Magic” weight-loss earrings. These and other similar devices are custom-fitted to the consumer’s ear, near acupuncture points that are supposed to help control hunger. They have not been proven to work.

Too good to be true?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, any of the following claims are a red flag. Avoid products or diets that promise to:

Cause weight loss of 2 pounds or more a week for a month or more without dieting or exercise Cause substantial weight loss no matter what or how much you eat Cause permanent weight loss (even when you stop using the product) Block the absorption of fat or calories so you lose substantial weight Safely enable you to lose more than 3 pounds per week for more than 4 weeks Cause substantial weight loss for all users Cause substantial weight loss by wearing it on the body or rubbing it into your skin

So what’s the bottom line? Though quick-fix claims can be tempting, the best way to lose weight (and keep it off) is to exercise regularly and take in fewer calories than you burn. That’s your magic bullet.


Federal Trade Commission. FTC releases guidance to media on false weight-loss claims. Accessed: 05/28/2008 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The facts about weight loss products and programs. Accessed: 05/28/2008

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