There are millions of people who want to lose weight—and scam artists know that. You’ll hear about a lot of weight loss programs who make big promises. ‘Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!’ And every year, there’s a breakthrough miracle pill that claims to melt fat without diet or exercise.
In many cases, the only thing you’ll lose with these scams is your money. Here are some guidelines, released by organizations like scamwatch that can help you spot illegal weight loss programs.
How weight loss scams work
Weight loss scams prey on people’s desire to lose weight as quickly and easily as possible. Very often they’re modeled on strange and limited diets, or tout an obscure ingredient (sold in pills, shakes, patches, creams) that can miraculously burn fat.
These fake weight loss programs try to sell their product with ‘testimonials’ from celebrities or models. What the public doesn’t know is that these people combined the weight loss programs with exercise, dieting and even surgical intervention. So even if they did take the magic shake/pill/patch, chances are, the product was not solely responsible for the endorser’s new and improved figure.
These weight loss programs also feed false hopes. In many cases the product leads to a temporary weight loss, usually from losing water (or worse, muscle!) or from a drastic dip in calories. However the weight is often gained back.
Signs of a weight loss scam
Many of these weight loss programs are not backed by any scientific study that directly links the ingredient and any long-term weight loss. (Consumer warning: organic or herbal products do not pass through the Food and Drug Association, or if they are, are often labeled ‘has no proven therapeutic claims’).
The weight loss programs are also sold in non-traditional outlets. For example, they’re often small operations that try to minimize costs by selling through direct mail or direct selling.
Their promises are also too good to be true. Though some ingredients can temporarily boost metabolism or control appetite, all scientific organizations and all doctors say again and again that the only healthy and effective way to lose weight is to exercise and eat a proper diet. Anything that claims otherwise is lying.
Weight loss programs also try to hook buyers by getting them to become dependent on the product—so you can only lose weight by taking this pill or drinking this tea— and many will even require a large downpayment so you can avail of a month’s supply.
Protect yourself from weight loss scams
Never get into any weight loss program without consulting your doctor. Also look for objective scientific research on any ingredient that you read on the label. Weight loss programs often blow studies out of proportion—’Product X doubles your metabolism!’ or ‘Ingredient Y blocks fat absorption.’ These kinds of claims must be backed by clinical studies, which are usually published in journals.
Also beware of exaggeration of claims. For example, it’s true that a glass of red wine can help against heart disease. But that doesn’t mean that drinking a whole bottle a day can protect you from heart attack. And there are plenty of wine drinkers who still have heart ailments! This only goes to show that while ingredients can be beneficial, taking them in concentrated amounts or in larger doses doesn’t turn them into the perfect cure-all. Fake weight loss programs, however, use these exaggerations every day.
And don’t believe testimonials. People have different metabolisms, body types, etc. so what works for the celebrity won’t always work for you (especially if the said celebrity has a personal nutritionist and trainer!)
Finally, always check the terms and conditions of any weight loss program, and be wary if you are asked to make a downpayment or are locked into it for a long period of time.
Photo from consumerist.com