Quick Weight Loss or Quackery? (cont.)

Francie M. Berg, a licensed nutritionist, and founder of the Healthy Weight Network, agrees. "If you want to tone your body or become more fit, you need to do the work. It's not lying on a table, and having [a gadget] lift your feet," she says referring to no-effort toning tables, beds, and machines.

The value of toning and weight-loss equipment depends on how much work you can get a person to do to burn energy, says Berg, pointing out that when people see desired results with normally passive devices and treatments, it's usually because they've also made efforts to eat well or exercise.

Truth With a Twist

Berg coordinates the Task Force on Weight Loss Abuse for the National Council Against Health Fraud, which gives out annual Slim Chance Awards to selected weight-loss products.


"Weight-loss promoters have long cashed in on the concept of acupressure and magnetic therapy for weight loss."

This year's "worst gimmick" prize went out to MagnaSlim, which claims to relieve stress, and its byproduct of overeating by placing magnets and a magnetized solution at specific acupuncture points. The magnet at the acupressure point would supposedly improve cell function, restore Chi (life force energy), and give a person more control over what they put in their mouths.

Weight-loss promoters have long cashed in on the concept of acupressure and magnetic therapy for weight loss, even though there is no proof it works, says Berg. Items using similar concepts on the market include magnetic weight-loss earrings, adhesives, beads, and seeds.

It is apparently not uncommon for manufacturers to piggyback on ideas and studies that may have genuine validity, and twist them for commercial purposes.

Another example would be the electrical muscle stimulators (EMS) promoted to do anything from slough off weight, to tone muscle, to form six-pack abs. Some ads claim this is possible without exercise.

Health experts scoff at such an idea, but do say EMS is a valuable tool for physical therapy. "There are times when that really helps," says Anderson, pointing to rehabilitation programs for people with physical injuries or stroke-related debilitation.

"The problem I have with it is if it's being marketed as muscle stimulation, and that will help you tone up and lose weight," says Anderson. "Well, it probably will help you tone a little bit, but it shouldn't take place of being more active, and looking at how many calories we put in our mouth each day."

Gad Alon, PhD, associate professor in the department of physical therapy and rehabilitation science at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, has studied the effects of EMS, and many promoters often refer to his research in peddling their wares.

He says many of these marketers misuse his work, saying things like, 'Seven physicians at the University of Maryland have concluded that you may never have to do sit-ups again.'

First of all, says Alon, there were no physicians present for the studies; he and his students conducted the studies, and they never addressed the topic of weight loss.

Alon warns, though, that some EMS devices in the market might not have the proper specifications to work properly. He says they may use electrodes that do not have good conductivity, or some may be too small to cover large muscle areas.

The Damage and What to Do About It

Some of the weight-loss gadgets may seem too good to be true, yet even smart people fall for them. Why are people so willing to believe these quick and easy schemes?

"Hope springs eternal," says Edward Abramson, PhD, a clinical psychologist, and author of Emotional Eating: What You Need to Know Before Starting Another Diet. He says people are always looking for a shortcut, especially for difficult, ongoing problems.

Besides losing money on bunk products, however, consumers could get their hopes dashed. Abramson says repeated disappointments with weight loss could undermine a person's overall sense of well-being. He says some people could even internalize blame to a point that could lead to eating disorders.

Berg adds that false weight-loss systems and goods could also prevent people from seeking real treatment, interfere with responsible programs that do work, and promote distrust of the medical community.

To avoid falling prey to such schemes, the FDA says consumers should be particularly skeptical of claims containing words like easy, effortless, guaranteed, miraculous, magical, breakthrough, new discovery, mysterious, exotic, secret, exclusive, and ancient.

The experts interviewed by WebMD also recommend concentrating on weight-management strategies that are proven to work, such as incorporating a balanced diet with reduced calories with a regular exercise regimen. Some tips include:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Foods high in fiber such as whole grain breads, fruit, and cereal can help you feel full longer.
  • Exercise. Get 30 minutes of physical activity a day even if you must split it in 10-minute increments throughout the day. Try to exercise on most days of the week, chose an activity you enjoy. Start slowly and then add more days as tolerated.
  • Be accepting. Accept your body the way it is.
  • Maintain. Instead of having a goal to lose weight, think of not gaining it, says Anderson.
  • Be aware of your mind and body while you exercise. Cotton says it helps not to read magazines or watch TV while working out. "When you're present, you're better able to make decisions about your habits ... and your true needs," he says.

Published Feb. 26, 2004.


SOURCES: Sallie Elizabeth. Smooth Synergy. Richard Cotton, spokesman, American Council on Exercise; chief exercise physiologist, myexerciseplan.com. Federal Trade Commission report, "Deception in Weight-Loss Advertising Workshop: Seizing Opportunities and Building Partnerships to Stop Weight-Loss Fraud," December 2003.Federal Trade Commission report, "Weight-Loss Advertising: An Analysis of Current Trends," September 2002. Jennifer Anderson, PhD, RD, professor; extension specialist, department of food science and human nutrition, Colorado State University. Francie M. Berg, licensed nutritionist; founder, Healthy Weight Network; coordinator, Task Force on Weight Loss Abuse for the National Council Against Health Fraud. Gad Alon, PhD, associate professor, school of medicine and department of physical therapy and rehabilitation science, University of Maryland, Baltimore. Edward Abramson, PhD, clinical psychologist; author, Emotional Eating: What You Need to Know Before Starting Another Diet. MagnaSlim web site. Cellulite USA web site. WebMD News Article: "Americans in Denial About Their Weight."


©2004 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 7:39:32 AM