Quick Weight Loss or Quackery?

Even smart people fall prey to quick weight-loss gimmicks

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Sallie Elizabeth has always had large breasts and a big bottom, and she has accepted them as part of her genetic makeup. But when cellulite appeared in the back of her upper leg, she "freaked out" and resolved to do something about it.

A friend recommended endermologie, a deep massage treatment using a motorized device with two adjustable rollers and controlled suction. The device is said to improve the look of cellulite by gently folding and unfolding the skin for smooth and regulated deep-tissue movement.

The cellulite is "less visible," she says, noting her smoother, softer skin. "I feel healthier. My circulation has improved ... and I feel more relaxed."

To keep up the effects, the 20-something model visits Smooth Synergy, a cosmedical spa in Manhattan, once or twice a week for 35-minute sessions with the endermologie machine and a technician.

Elizabeth may be enjoying her cellulite-busting experience, but experts raise eyebrows at many tools or treatments purported to reduce the appearance of cellulite, trim fat in specific areas, shed pounds, or build muscle -- particularly if they claim to replace exercise and good nutrition.

"They're a waste of money," says Richard Cotton, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise and chief exercise physiologist for myexerciseplan.com.

If that is the case, then a sizeable chunk of currency could be going down the drain. According to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) weight-loss advertising trend report, in the year 2000 alone, consumers spent an estimated $34.7 billion on weight-loss products and programs.

While it is not known how much of that accounts for sales of unproven or fraudulent merchandise, an FTC study of weight-loss ads from different media shows that nearly 40% of ads make at least one false claim, and an additional 15% make at least one claim that is very likely false, or lacks proof.

To add to the number soup: results from a national health survey conducted between 1999 and 2000 indicate that more than six out of every 10 Americans are overweight or obese, a figure that has increased dramatically in recent years.

Another recent survey that looked at the attitudes of Americans adults toward their own weight found that despite the fact that two-thirds of men were considered overweight, only about half (51%) said they wanted to lose weight versus 68% of women who said they wanted to lose weight.

Put it all together, and there are arguably more people wanting to use weight-loss products, and according to the government's trend report, the "marketplace has responded with a proliferating array of products and services, many promising miraculous, quick-fix remedies."

There are, indeed, numerous therapies, including weight-loss programs and dietary supplements. Then there are the popular treadmills, bun and ab rollers, the body bow, and bun and thigh max.

For this piece, however, WebMD looked only into passive exercise devices such as electrical muscle stimulators and toning tables, cellulite reduction therapies, and gels, creams, eyeglasses, earrings and similar doodads marketed for weight loss, and muscle-building.

Granted, not all remedies may be the same, but health professionals say far too many of them can't be trusted.

Passive Weight Loss

To Elizabeth's credit, she tries to eat right, jog, do Pilates, and perform squats to supplement her endermologie sessions. In fact, good nutrition and regular physical activity are recommended with the treatment.

However, many weight-loss, cellulite-busting, and muscle-building products promise results without having to do too much.

"It's the idea that an individual can get to the body size they want without any increase in physical activity, or without any change in eating," says Jennifer Anderson, PhD, RD, professor and extension specialist at Colorado State University's department of food science and human nutrition.

She simply laughs at appetite-suppressing eyeglasses, weight-loss patches and chewing gum, toning gels, fat-melting creams, and evening solutions that claim to trim waistlines during sleep.

"In some instances, it's a total gimmick," says Anderson. "In other instances, it will reduce a lot of water weight quickly, but it's never going to change eating behaviors, activity levels, and make that the key to their lifestyle."

This quick water weight loss never leads to real, long-term weight loss, says Anderson, noting that the only weight loss and toning plan that works involves eating well and moving your body.

Furthermore, she says there is no proof that cellulite can be massaged away, or taken out by injections of vitamins, special underwear, or use of other gizmos. To get rid of the dimpled fat, weight must be shed, and skin made firmer by doing strength training.


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