5 worthless weight-loss scams
New Year’s resolutions can cause weakness
Well, it’s New Year’s resolution time again. And that makes you more likely to plunk down your money for worthless weight-loss scams, says John C. Norcross, psychology professor at the University of Scranton and author of “Changeology: 5 steps to realizing your goals and resolutions.” He has been researching the nature of New Year’s resolutions for 30 years and confirms that losing weight, getting healthier and/or more fit are the top resolutions year in and year out.
But when you feel that urge to buy an advertised weight-loss or fitness product that makes lofty promises, you’re falling prey to slick advertising tricks, publicity, marketing and even celebrity endorsements designed to make you believe you will succeed — but only with the help of the product.
Many of these products advance the seller’s own resolution to help you lose weight in one area only: your wallet.
If you want to succeed at this year’s weight-loss resolution, Norcross suggests learning how to spot advertising tricks.
Can taste crystals do the job?
The claim: Users can lose 30 pounds in six months without changing their diets. Taste crystals sprinkled on food enhance a person’s sense of smell and taste to trick the person’s brain into thinking he is full.
The cost: A two-month starter kit costs about $90.
The truth: “People think products in TV ads are safe and ads are ‘approved’ by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (or FDA) or the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (or FTC),” says Dr. John Abramson, author of “Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine” and lecturer in health care policy at Harvard Medical School. “They are not, and people need to remember advertising for what it is: to get you to buy the product. It’s up to you to evaluate the claims.”
The FTC can file charges for deceptive advertising only once the ads have run, and sometimes this can take several months. The taste-crystal company in question claimed that the “largest clinical study” confirmed that their product helped users lose weight. Later, a California task force filed a civil lawsuit because they said the “study” did not meet FTC requirements as competent and reliable. The company had to pay a large fine and change their ads. But that still does not mean the product works.
Norcross says consumers can be so desperate to lose the weight they think ad claims sound plausible. Real weight loss takes time and work, not just a sprinkling of fairy dust on food.
Will 3 minutes of daily exercise render results?
The claim: Using a fitness device for just three minutes daily will give you the same weight-loss results as 30 minutes of abdominal and cardiovascular workouts every day.
The cost: Devices have been advertised for around $200 from infomercials and retailers.
The truth: The FTC provides consumers with a handy list of false advertising claims for weight-loss and fitness products. According to the FTC, steer clear of any product that claims it:
- Causes weight loss of 2 pounds or more per week for a month or longer without the user having to diet or exercise.
- Causes significant weight loss regardless of what or how much the user eats.
- Causes permanent weight loss even after the user stops using the product.
- Blocks the absorption of fat or calories.
- Helps the user safely lose more than 3 pounds per week for longer than four weeks.
- Causes all users to experience dramatic weight loss.
- Can cause weight loss by wearing it or rubbing it into the skin.
The FTC says nothing causes weight loss in three minutes per day. Norcross says that’s just wishful thinking, and believing it will not help you achieve your goals.
Can sneakers help you tone up, lose weight?
The claim: If you wear certain sneakers all day, “studies” showed that wearers could tone up their leg muscles and also lose weight.
The cost: Initially $100 or more per pair, now about $20-$100.
The truth: Norcross says the trend in advertising for health and weight-loss products is to back up claims with “clinical studies.”
Abramson warns that big companies themselves fund these studies to produce and promote outcomes to support their sales, not to educate the public or actually test the effectiveness of the product. They handpick the data points mentioned in ads and are not required to share the actual data with the public. “True clinical trials have their study results published in peer-reviewed medical journals. If the studies were legitimate, the companies would gladly share them with you,” says Abramson. In the case of the toning sneakers, the FTC found that companies backed up ad claims with faulty or insufficient studies and were fined millions of dollars.
Norcross says actually doing the workouts required to attain fitness goals with a realistic exercise program will work, no matter which sneakers you wear.
Can hCG help you shed 30 pounds in 40 days?
The claim: Using the female pregnancy hormone hCG, whether in pills, drops or injections, will reset your metabolism and change abnormal eating patterns to help you lose 20 to 30 pounds in 30 to 40 days.
The cost: Because the female human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, hormone is approved by the FDA to treat infertility in women via prescribed injections, many counterfeit and black-market hCG injections have sprung up in a range of prices due to the publicity of the hCG diet. The real hormone hCG is only available from a doctor, and its use for weight loss is considered “off-label.” The FDA warns that without a prescription, hCG hormone injections purchased online are illegal and could be dangerous. Drops, pills or pellets sold as “homeopathic” or hCG “alternatives” (about $20 to $60, but can go up to $200) violate federal laws by making unsupported claims.
The truth: In a consumer update on the FDA website, Elizabeth Miller of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research says the weight-loss hCG products are labeled with the recommendation to consume only 500 calories a day, but there is no evidence that hCG contributes to weight loss beyond what comes with such a severe calorie restriction.
The FTC also warns of fake online “news” sites found selling hCG hormone diets or acai berry diet pills. Consumers like to think that products seen on the news are “approved,” but reputable news sites do not endorse products because it would be considered a conflict of interest.
Can diet pills shed fat without exercising?
The claim: Some diet pill distributors say their product can reduce your overall body fat and weight without having to change your lifestyle due to the main ingredient. One such main ingredient is glucomannan, which makes you feel fuller and eat less when taken before meals. The claims are supported by many medical studies.
The cost: The recommended amount is two capsules, three times per day. Each 60-count bottle costs $30, so a one-month supply costs $90.
The truth: Be aware than many diet products have sprung up using the prefix “lipo” to make you think they are an alternative to liposuction, the fat-removing surgical procedure. But none of these products can “remove fat” as the play on words suggests. Glucomannan studies have found that a specific amount of glucomannan does suppress appetite and help users lose weight, but some studies with these results involved changes in diet and exercise. None of the studies tested any specific products.
The FTC warns that when you click, you will often be led to an auto-replenishment page requiring your credit card number. In reading online product reviews, some who fell prey canceled their cards in order to stop the auto-charge.
Never order on the company website. If you must try it, look for just one bottle from a general online retailer or a store that sells products advertised on TV and has a good return policy.
Real change takes work … but it really works
Miraculous claims and silver-bullet solutions appeal to desperate people clinging to their resolutions. “Don’t hide in secret hoping to shake something on your food, or take some pill, or even worse a shot, that you hope will do the work for you,” says Norcross. In his book, Norcross explains that one predictor of success with resolutions is to make your goals realistic and to tell your friends and family your plans. He also notes that research shows that lasting change happens little by little, not overnight, by reinforcing those behaviors you hope to adopt.
As Jillian Michaels says (every day) in her fitness video, “30 Day Shred,” “You’ve got to force your body to do what you want it to do in order to make a change.”
The FTC notes that doctors, dieticians and other health experts agree that the best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories and increase your physical activity. A realistic goal is to lose about 1 pound per week. For most people, that means cutting your calories by 500 per day while eating a variety of nutritious foods and exercising regularly.
Successful weight-loss methods aren’t new, exciting or easy, Norcross says. “But you really can do it with a little bit of training on how to structure goals and help yourself achieve them.”