Nutrition-wise blog

Gut check — How to spot diet scams

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. March 8, 2016

While watching your favorite TV news, reading respected magazines or checking popular websites, you've probably seen ads that promise you can "lose weight effortlessly," "melt belly fat" or "eat everything you want and lose weight."

Your curiosity makes you pause and ask if the ad is true. Your common sense says the claim is bogus, but you wonder how many fall for it.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for protecting the public from deception and fraud in the marketplace. Oftentimes, however, these fly-by-night scammers are gone before they can be brought to justice.

Working with scientists and weight-loss experts, the FTC developed 7 "gut checks" to help media spot possible deceptions. Still bogus ads still slip through, which is why I'm sharing this information with you.

Think twice if a weight-loss diet or product makes any of these claims:

  • Weight loss of 2 pounds (1 kilogram) or more a week for a month or more without dieting or exercise. This claim is false. To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in.
  • Substantial weight loss no matter what or how much you eat. False for the same reason as above.
  • Permanent weight loss — even after you stop using the product. False. Only by making permanent changes to your diet and exercise habits can you lose weight and keep it off.
  • Substantial weight loss by blocking absorption of fat or calories without dieting. False. Over-the-counter fat blockers can't block enough fat for significant weight loss. You still have to reduce your fat and calorie intake.
  • Safe weight loss of more than 3 pounds (1 1/2 kilograms) a week for more than 4 weeks. False. Losing more than 3 pounds a week over multiple weeks is risky and can cause health problems.
  • Substantial weight loss for all users. False. People are individuals, so one product can't be successful for all.
  • Substantial weight loss by wearing a product or rubbing it into your skin. False. Weight loss is an internal metabolic process — no patch, lotion or bracelet you buy can rev up that process or eliminate fat in specific areas.

So the next time you hear or read a diet claim that seems too good to be true, use these gut check tips to evaluate it. Don't lose your dollars or your health.

Share your experiences — what claims are you seeing and which of the above gut checks did you use to evaluate them?

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March 08, 2016