Americans fork over roughly $60 billion a year trying to lose weight. Weighed against the annual tab for obesity in the U.S. — more than $305 billion by one account — that’s a slim figure.
But here’s the real skinny: A lot of us are throwing away time and money on pound-shedding strategies that have experts reaching for the Pepto-Bismol.
Here are four weight-loss trends that are troubling to nutrition specialists.
Diet supplements and pills
These products might deliver short-term gains, but they can cause long-term problems, experts warn.
For instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says many over-the-counter dietary supplements targeted toward weight loss contain hidden ingredients that can endanger users. These supplements come in several forms, such as tablet, capsule and powder, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Specifically addressing over-the-counter diet pills — products like “fat burners” and “energy boosters” that promise rapid weight loss — Shane Allen, a sports nutritionist and weight-management specialist with PersonalTrainerFood.com says he’s worried about their continued use.
“Despite all the headlines and research that shows how dangerous diet pills can be, people still ignore their own mortality in exchange for a quick fix,” Allen says.
Many marketers of over-the-counter diet pills prey on vulnerable people, convincing them that they’re selling a safe, easy way to lose weight quickly, he says.
“The truth is, the only way to lose weight safely is through controlling your diet and maintaining your lean muscle mass through exercise,” Allen says.
These get-thin-fast plans include the Paleo, cabbage soup and baby food diets. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says fad diets set up many people for weight-loss failure.
“Good long-term eating habits, with proper knowledge, will always outlast any fad diet,” says life coach Erik Cline, who has advised many clients about weight loss.
Sarah Saxby, a holistic nutrition coach, says weight-loss gimmicks simply don’t work.
“If someone takes a pill or a shot, drinks soup for two weeks, drinks veggies for a month and loses 30 pounds, how in the world do they move forward when the diet is all over? How do they maintain?” Saxby says. “Well, they don’t. They didn’t learn how to maintain a healthy body — in essence, they didn’t earn it.”
“These can range from the most restrictive, like the Master Cleanse, to self-guided, multiday juice fasts,” registered dietitian Amy Isabella Chalker says. “Not only is the scientific concept behind such a cleanse flawed, but they can actually cause direct damage on several levels.”
Chalker cites three problems with juice cleanses:
- Most juice cleanses contain too few calories, sending the body into “perceived starvation mode,” Chalker says. When this happens, the body turns to muscle protein for fuel rather than fat, she says.
- Juice cleanses contribute to a mindset that healthy eating must involve fasting, creating the potential for yo-yo dieting and, ultimately, long-term weight gain, according to Chalker.
- Most of the weight that someone loses during a cleanse is water weight.“Carbohydrates are stored in cells with water, and when these resources are depleted, the water is lost as well,” Chalker says. This runs counter to the goal of weight loss: shedding fat.
Certainly, experts recommend gluten-free diets for people diagnosed with celiac disease. People with this autoimmune disorder can suffer intestinal damage if they ingest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. However, Chalker says, too many folks view gluten-free food as merely a weight-loss tool.
“The gluten-free craze has easily reached a fever pitch in the U.S. over the last two years, with many individuals self-diagnosing themselves as intolerant of gluten and electing to adopt gluten-free diets, often with the side goal of weight loss,” Chalker says.
But whole grains like gluten-containing wheat provide fiber along with essential vitamins and minerals — components of a healthy diet that could be sacrificed if you go gluten-free, Chalker says. Also, gluten-free dieters frequently lower their carb intake, depriving themselves of a key source of fuel for the brain, she says.
On top of those concerns, Chalker says weight-loss-minded dieters who’ve given up gluten wrongly assume that gluten-free food equates to healthier food. Actually, she says, some gluten-free items rely on a boost in sugar and other additives to compensate for the loss of texture and flavor caused by stripping out the gluten.