How to Spot a Bogus Diet Plan

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It’s the time of year when people look at their bank accounts — and their scales — and resolve to do a bit better next year.

There’s more than a coincidental connection between eating healthy and saving money. Researchers have found that, at least in some cases, the same part of the brain that promotes good choices also promotes good eating habits, i.e., “trade a cookie today for a healthier tomorrow.”

So it should come as little surprise that come-ons you’ll see for get-rich-quick schemes seem almost identical to pitches for weight loss programs. “Everyone will lose weight” sounds a lot like “You can’t lose with this investment;” “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days” sounds an awful lot like “15% returns or more.”

False diet claims got a lot of national attention last year when Dr. Mehmet Oz was hauled before Congress as it investigated “The Oz effect.” Products that Oz hawks on his show, many with dramatic and unproven claims, sell like hotcakes online. Oz was criticized for helping these products, but he was not accused of breaking any laws.

At the hearing, the FTC’s Mary Engle said that the agency had brought “82 law enforcement actions in the past 10 years challenging false or unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of a wide variety of weight loss products and services.”

New Year, New Weight Loss Gotchas

By some measures, two-thirds of Americans are overweight. That’s a really big potential market. During the holiday season with all the feasts, parties and cookies, that market only gets bigger. January is the time for making self-improvement resolutions. If you are thinking about living a healthier life, that’s great. But first, resolve that you won’t fall for a diet scam.

The Federal Trade Commission sums up the medical literature on weight loss nicely on its website devoted to avoiding bogus diet plans. There’s only one healthy way to lose weight — eat less, exercise more, stick to it for a long time and don’t expect dramatic results.

“For most people, a reasonable goal is to lose about a pound a week,” the FTC says. “Getting to a healthy weight takes work. Take a pass on any product that promises miraculous results without the effort. The only thing you’ll lose is money.”

Here is the FTC’s list of most common weight loss claims, per its website:

  • Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods! Beware of any product that claims that you can eat all the high-calorie food you want and still lose weight. Losing weight requires sensible food choices. Filling up on healthy vegetables and fruits can make it easier to say no to fattening sweets and snacks.
  • Lose weight permanently! Never diet again! Even if you’re successful in taking weight off, permanent weight loss requires permanent lifestyle changes. Don’t trust any product that promises once-and-for-all results without ongoing maintenance.
  • Just take a pill! Doctors, dieticians and other experts agree that there’s simply no magic way to lose weight without diet or exercise. Even pills approved by FDA to block the absorption of fat or help you eat less and feel full are to be taken with a low-calorie, low-fat diet and regular exercise.
  • Lose 30 pounds in 30 days! Losing weight at the rate of a pound or two a week is the most effective way to take it off and keep it off. At best, products promising lightning-fast weight loss are a scam. At worst, they can ruin your health.
  • Everybody will lose weight! Your habits and health concerns are unique. There is no one-size-fits-all product. Team up with your health care provider to design a nutrition and exercise program suited to your lifestyle and metabolism.
  • Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream! You’ve seen the ads for diet patches or creams that claim to melt away pounds. Don’t believe them. There’s nothing you can wear or apply to your skin that will help you lose weight.

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Image: Ingram Publishing

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