Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Results Not Typical: 21st Century Snake Oil

Last night I saw a weight-loss commercial that left me speechless. It was for the latest and greatest diet pill and its big selling point was that it would not only make you lose belly-fat but it would also make you lose fat from the rest of your body as well. I was flabbergasted by this because it was rather like advertising that water is wet or that ice is cold. Anything that makes you lose weight is pretty much going to cause you to lose fat from all over your body and not just one specific area, the sole exception being liposuction.

This is a perfect example of how the weight loss industry has become the snake oil salesman of the 21st century. We want to lose weight. We want to lose weight right now. We don’t want to have to work at losing weight. The weight loss industry is well aware of this and is only too happy to take advantage of these desires.

Back in the 1800s, snake oil salesmen would travel the countryside selling patent medicines that they claimed could cure any ailment, real or imagined. Today, the weight-loss industry bombards us with pills, shakes, diet plans and exercise equipment that they claim will cause us to lose all the weight we want to lose in virtually no time and with no inconvenience at all.

The commercials all start the same. A spokesperson, either a celebrity or some modern Adonis with a perfect body, tells about how their product transformed their life while pictures flash on the screen showing normal people who lost 60 bajillion pounds in only 3 weeks on the product. We then segue to how easy the product is to use and how minimal its impact will be on your life as you continue to eat burgers and pizza and pasta and even chocolate! Finally we hear about how cheap it is, especially if you call RIGHT NOW!!! Sadly these commercials aren’t that different from a 19th century medicine show. I guess what worked then still works today.

One thing that has changed is that today there are truth in advertising laws. You can make misleading claims but you can’t make false claims. This is why all of these weight loss commercials have disclaimers written in fine print that you couldn’t possibly read before the commercial is over. These typically start with the phrase, “Results not typical.” Sometimes, for variety, they say, "Results may vary." That’s because the average person doesn’t experience anything like the results they claim in the ads and the odds are good that you won’t either.

Forget the pills. Diet pills have been around for quite some time. Remember Cal-Ban 3000? That was the miracle weight loss pill when I was in college. You can’t get it anymore. It was banned after a number of users had to be hospitalized and one even died from it. Then there was Fen-phen which was popular up until it was banned for having such side effects as damaging users' heart valves. Ephedra was great stuff until it turned out that it could cause heart attacks and strokes among other side effects. Now there’s a pill on the market that makes you lose weight by keeping your body from digesting fat. Of course your digestive track isn’t really designed to handle undigested fat so if you’re taking it I hope you’re also wearing Depends. The Mayo Clinic has an excellent page on the effectiveness and potential side effects of over-the-counter weight-loss pills that I highly recommend reading before taking one. Dying isn't much of a weight-loss plan after all.

Forget the gimmicky exercise gadgets too. Like the belt you wear around your waist that shocks your ab muscles while you watch television. It's not going to give you a six pack. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are a few gimmicky exercise gadgets that might be worthwhile, and I'll talk about them in later posts, but by and large they're just a waste of money.

You can also forget the fad diets. Look, losing weight isn’t rocket science. It’s actually very simple. If you consume more calories in a day than you burn, you gain weight. If you burn more calories in a day than you consume, you lose weight. If you're overweight its probably because you don't eat in a healthy manner and you probably don't get enough exercise. If you're overweight for some other reason then you should probably be talking to a doctor, not getting weight loss advice from some random schmuck on the Internet.

I'm overweight. I need to lose at least 100 pounds. I started this blog for the express purpose of helping me achieve this goal. In the future I'll be talking about how I'm going about losing weight, what works and what doesn't.

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