Perryman Nutrition Column: Diet Claims Don’t Hold Up

By Shirley Perryman, M.S., R.D.

Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Colorado State University

Extension Specialist

If you’re tired of hearing about losing weight, you’re not alone. Magazines, newspapers and television are bombarding us with dieting options.

It’s amazing that this same scenario happens every year. The holidays arrive. We’re surrounded by tempting tidbits. We busy ourselves with pre-and post-holiday activities instead of exercise. We indulge ourselves.

What’s the solution? The New Year arrives and we make resolutions to get ourselves on track. Before long we decide it’s not fun feeling deprived and those ads that promise to melt the pounds away like magic are just too tempting to ignore.  

Unfortunately, these ads are filled with empty promises. Did you know that the number one type of consumer fraud is weight loss scams? I hope you’re not among the 5 million Americans who buy these weight loss products. Those who market these products promise weight loss without dieting or exercise. Wouldn’t we all like to get something for nothing? What you’re really guaranteed to lose is your money, and you may jeopardize your health at the same time.  

Is it too good to be true? Unless the lifestyle change you’re considering suggests that you will need fewer calories and should become more active, you won’t lose weight permanently or safely. The magic pill, cream, skin patch, wrap or dietary supplement for weight loss does not exist.  

Want to avoid dieting scams? Look out for these warning signs:

– "Lose more than two pounds a week without dieting or exercise." Often the ads will attract you with references to reducing pounds, dress sizes or belt notches, inches and body fat.

– "You can eat all you want and lose weight" because their potion or product does all the work for you.

– The weight loss is permanent even after stopping use of the product. An example is: "Take it off and keep it off."

– Among my favorite claims are the ones which say "Our product can block the absorption of fat or calories." It would be a very unhealthy choice to block the absorption of all dietary fat because some vitamins-A, D, E and K-are fat soluble (which means they need fat to be processed in the body). These vitamins serve important functions.

– "Lose an amazing amount of weight in no time at all."  The reality is that losing more than three pounds a week can cause health complications.  

– "Anybody can use it." Some people have specific dietary restrictions that need to be followed for good health. Is the promise of a quick fix worth putting your health in jeopardy?

Along with the red flags already listed, some interesting words that could be tip-offs to a scam might be "miraculous," "instant," "secret" or "amazing." If the claims seem vague to you but promise to purify your body, raise your energy level or boost your immune system, you should be suspicious. One of the most important things you can do is look for qualified research to back up the claims. Testimonials may be inspiring or interesting reading but they don’t provide the necessary support to substantiate their claims.

If I had an easy, fun or exciting suggestion to  help speed you on your way to weight loss success, I’d be very rich and famous. However, I’m one of thousands of health professionals who will continue to encourage you to consider making lifestyle changes for your own good health.  

As the quote from Mahatma Gandhi goes, "Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph; a beginning, a struggle and a victory."

I think starting a lifestyle change to lose weight can be hard, especially when one has experienced failure at weight loss in the past. But if you don’t get started, you for sure won’t succeed. Imagine how excited you’ll be to reach your goal of leading a healthy, active life. Go for it!