Friday, January 10, 2014

Easy Weight Loss

Sorry, there is no such thing. My headline should be, “Weight Loss Not Easy,” but then fewer people would read the post - and people need to read this post.  Right now, masses of people are searching for that one pill, powder, or cream that will melt away excess fat with no behavioral change required.  Said pill, powder, cream DOES NOT EXIST.  It does not! Think about this carefully.  There are more overweight/obese adults in the United States and similar countries than there are normal weight adults. Because excess fat is associated with disease and being overweight can affect ones physical and psychological health, a simple remedy would be groundbreaking.  If this remedy currently existed, 70% of the US would not be overweight.

Products promising weight loss – fast, substantial, permanent, and painless – are simply fraudulent.  Unfortunately, the makers of these products do not have to submit them to clinical trials where efficacy is established or to post market trials where effectiveness is established – i.e., the FDA does not regulate the products.   However, the companies that sell supplements/weight loss products must tell the truth about them in advertisements. 

Truth in advertising is a law and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for its enforcement.  The FTC is understaffed and it takes years for them to get a falsely advertised product off the market.  The FTC went after 4 companies this week – read here, and has started the year with increased efforts to protect consumers, updating their guidance to both businesses and consumers for the first time since 2003.

I like the guidance the FTC provides to businesses, because in their communication to them, the FTC enlists the support of businesses and suggests that by screening the ads that they publish, businesses are protecting themselves from being associated with a ‘bad’ company – an unscrupulous company.  This is a good strategy because if media polices the ads, the FTC caseload could be reduced.  The FTC could go after and prosecute violators quicker.  I will benefit, too.  There will be fewer sensational, commercials that raise my blood pressure.

The FTC encourages media to stop and think about an ad before publishing or airing it. They offer 7 ‘gut checks’, but I can be more concise.  If an advertisement sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. You cannot lose weight if you do not change something about your eating and activity: the number of calories you consume, the type of calories you consume, the amount of exercise you do, the type of exercise you do. It is best to address all of these, but research suggests that diet alone will work to some extent.

You can read all the claims for businesses to watch out for here.

The scientific study of fat gain and loss is dynamic.  It feels like we learn something new every day, and indeed some of the things we believed to be true are not.  (I didn’t ‘know’ this before grad school, but in science things are never proven, only disproved).  Nutrition scientists once thought that all fat was bad in excess, but that no longer appears to be true.  They, and we – the public, also believed that a calorie is a calorie, but that truism is under current scrutiny as well.  I tell you this because I know many of you have become frustrated with and distrustful of science.  That is no reason to turn to supplement makers, I assure you; the makers of weight loss supplements deserve much less of your trust.  The fact that we are learning more about fat gain and loss through science is a good thing.  One of the most important new findings is that being over fat – as a population or as individuals – is caused by multiple factors.  Researchers have not identified all the factors, and the ones they have identified are not completely understood.   But we know some things in the aggregate.  For example, calories (amount and type) matter most and genetics matter least (by matter, I mean the amount of impact these factors have on body fatness).  Somewhere in between these two extremes is the amount and type of physical activity one engages in and metabolism.  An important note about metabolism is this:  an individual’s metabolism is affected by what and how much he or she has eaten over his or her lifetime and the amount of body fat he or she has carried.  In other words, a metabolism can become dysfunctional and this individual dysfunction makes it hard for anyone to prescribe generic weight loss advice - not everyone who cuts their calories and increases exercise will have the same results.  This is the painful truth.  In addition, I’d like to disavow you of the notion of a set point weight.  Instead, consider this: if a person does a certain thing and loses 10 pounds but then stops doing that certain thing, their weight will return to its previous level.  That is not destiny – the weight returned to its previous level for a specific reason – a person’s actions. 

In summary and in closing, no diet supplement leads to easy weight loss.  In the absence of disease, body fat does not melt away. Please consider this before you spend your money and invest your hopes in a weight loss supplement. The FTC is cracking down on companies who market products as if the products were weight loss miracles, and is asking businesses to give ads a ‘gut check’ before they agree to publish them.  Losing excess body fat is important and safe ways to do so exist.  One way to maintain a healthy weight is to follow the guidelines suggested by the Harvard Nutrition Source and to commit to daily or near daily exercise that increases your heart rate for 30 or more minutes.

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