Soon the advertisements on television for holiday eating and drinking will be replaced with promotions for weight-loss programs guaranteed to remove those extra pounds effortlessly and quickly. Before the tree is even put out for recycling you will be forced to make good on your New Year's resolution to lose weight, exercise and call your mother daily. (Well, maybe not the latter.)
Most of the programs advertised have been around for decades: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutri-System, and their surgical counterparts, such as lap banding and gastric bypass procedures. Some advertisements, as likely to appear on the Internet as well as your TV screen, may be new and represent the novel weight-loss scams of 2012. The products may claim to be extracted from trees, leaves, shrubs or grasses that grow in exotic regions and may be accompanied by pictures of svelte yet curvaceous women who prior to ingesting the twigs or leaves or roots were considerably overweight with saggy, dumpy bodies. If this year's roster of weight-loss products is similar to those of years past they will be loudly proclaiming:
Magic diet pill!
Melt your fat away!
Diet and exercise not required!
Scientific breakthrough promises 10-pound weight loss per week!
You may even be offered a free trial of 30 days or a money back guarantee. Even though this hype should be about as convincing as thinking that your Christmas gifts were delivered by a sleigh instead of UPS, we post-holiday individuals really want to believe that swallowing some "magic crystals" or pills, or drinking a unique tea will turn our pudge into muscle and dissolve our fat. Of course, this miraculous feat will be accomplished safely and without side effects.
"Not so," says Dr. Michael Levy, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Division of New Drugs and Labeling Compliance. He is quoted on an FDA consumer website warning dieters that weight-loss dietary supplements may contain, "... hidden prescription drugs or compounds that have not been adequately studied in humans."
Case in point: The prescription weight-loss drug Meridia (generic name sibutramine) was removed from the market in October 2010 because an increased prevalence of heart disease and stroke was associated with its use. Now the drug is being sold, on the Internet, as a hidden ingredient in "newly discovered" herbal supplements.
This October, a year after sibutramine was removed from the prescription drug market, the FDA warned consumers not to buy Ja Dera 100% Natural Weight Loss Supplement. This exotically named, natural supplement contains sibutramine. But how would you know from the pretty leaves on the label that the main ingredient was manufactured in a pharmaceutical facility?
If you go to the FDA's consumer website -- http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/default.htm -- you will see lists of products containing what they term "tainted" ingredients. Tainted means that the products contain, according to the FDA, harmful ingredients not listed on the label including controlled -- i.e. addictive -- drugs as well as those prescription drugs with known side effects, including death. The list, just for December, was amazingly long with intriguing names such as Magic Slim Tea, PhentraBurn Slimming Capsules, Health Slimming Coffee, Que She Weight Loss Capsules, Fruta Planta weight loss products, Pai You Guo Slim Tea, Fruit Plant Losing Fat Capsule and Leisure 18 Slimming Coffee. Who thinks up these names? My favorite was Slender Slim. Is there any other kind of slim?
For years I would become apoplectic when looking at advertisements for serotonin-containing capsules, "... guaranteed to remove cravings and increase satiety." My shouting at the computer and occasionally sending letters that probably disappeared into a virtual wastepaper basket did not get the manufacturers of these fraudulent pills to admit that serotonin cannot -- and will never -- get into the brain from the blood, so taking it by mouth is totally useless. Perhaps these products have found their way onto an FDA's "Beware of This Product" list. Certainly it should be on the "Don't Waste Your Money on This" list.
Occasionally the courts have been used to bring attention to products whose hype is not supported by weight loss results. A few years ago, a product called Sensa Weight-Loss Crystals was heavily promoted and advertised in women's magazines. Product testimonials filled up computer screens. The idea was novel: Sprinkle Sensa crystals on your food and their odor, presumably of pleasurable foods, will supposedly stimulate a specific area in the brain that will turn off the appetite. The advertisement predictably promised 30+ pounds weight loss without dieting.
Last spring, a federal class action suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco and included an accusation by one disappointed dieter that she was tricked by Sensa's advertising into believing there was a scientific foundation behind their claims. This woman's frustration is easy to understand, but what is harder to understand is how anyone could believe in the sales pitch. If smells activates the satiety or appetite control center in the brain, then inhaling the smells of bread baking, or chicken frying, or chocolate cake cooling should take away our appetites. Speaking for myself, I find it just makes me hungry.
So another crop of weight-loss supplements will appear in 2012. Here are some I predict will be appearing:
1. Coconut water as the new miracle fat burner. Slimming teas and coffee will be so last year;
2. Thin gel strips that can be put on the tongue (they are used now to deliver caffeine as an energy boost) to deliver an appetite-destroying drug. Some preparations may try to sneak in ephedra, an amphetamine-like drug that has been banned by the FDA for years;
3. Deep-fried protein bars for those who are following a high-fat, high-protein diet and don't have time to cook. These will be consumed several times a day instead of meals; or
4. Specially-formulated crystals to remove all flavor, color and odor from food. Because boring food offers no pleasure, this will work to decrease spontaneous food intake.
Before you start on any diet on Jan. 1, consider this. A comfortable, slow weight-loss diet, accompanied by exercise and increased muscle mass, always works. There are no side effects, no outrageous fees or shipping costs, and no need to drink or ingest a concoction with an exotic name that was probably made in Brooklyn.
Follow Judith J. Wurtman, PhD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stopmed_wt_gain