The New York Times recently reported that the Federal Trade Commission charged four weight loss companies with fraud, companies with products we've all heard about from friends and family as well as advertisements. Perhaps you've been one of the victims. The companies, charged with deceptive marketing and false advertising, have agreed to pay $34 million in customer refunds. Thousands, maybe millions of trusting people forked over their hard-earned paychecks to these con artists who sold them weight loss quackery.
However, don't expect this to stop them. The FTC has been catching these frauds for years. They just pop back up the next year with new gimmicks with new names and sales pitches. They all have the same tempting pitch: a pill, an herb or potion that will melt off the fat effortlessly by revving your metabolism or some such thing. Get ready for a new batch in the coming year while you read about the most notorious scams from last year. They are just a sample of the rogues gallery of conmen scheming to pick your pocket. Worse than stealing from you, they keep you from using the real solution to your weight problem while sending you on a goose chase that will leave you feeling hopeless.
1) HCG Diet Direct
The HCG diet was the most common scam that my friends and neighbors fell for last year. We even had doctors selling this fraud. The pitch was that there was a hormone (human chorionic gonadotropin) from human placenta that would boost your metabolism. You either got a shot (made it seem very medical) or put a few drops of it under your tongue. They claimed it would reduce your appetite, reset your metabolism and help you lose a pound a day. For a lot of us who have tried and failed so many times, this promise of magic weight loss by medical sounding people was just too tempting to pass up, even though we knew better, with sources like WebMD debunking it. Of course, you had to stick to a 500-calorie diet at the same time, which has anyone dropping fast, sometimes 10 pounds in that first week. That created excited gossip, and the HCG diet caught on like wildfire. Of course, it didn't really work, but they made a fortune with it. What they are refunding is nothing compared to what they scammed.
2) Sensa Products
This scam appealed to all of us who wished there were some sort of magic fairy dust that we could sprinkle on food to make the calories disappear. Sensa had it! Their explanation, according to the FTC, was that the chemicals in the stuff you sprinkled on the food made you feel satisfied with less food and therefore would eat less. What a load of baloney. There is no legitimate evidence to suggest that is true. Of course, most people never even heard that explanation. They just saw the ad that showed someone sprinkling it on food, saying it was "clinically proven to help you lose 30 pounds without dieting or going to the gym. ABC reported Sensa ads stating, "Simply sprinkle Sensa on, eat all the foods you love and watch the pounds come off." The FTC ordered them to pay back $46 million for false advertising, but they paid back less than half, as they said they were broke. I wonder what happened to the $364 million they ripped off the consumers?
Remember the acai berry craze? There was a firestorm of gossip on the Internet about the unique properties of this nutritious and exotic fruit that Dr. Oz liked. LeanSpa ads said that it would boost your metabolism and make you lose weight. They said it would cleanse your body of fat and the toxic build-up that weighs you down. There were even news stories that proved it! But it was all a lie. The FTC said LeanSpa and its principal executive used fake news websites to promote acai berry and colon cleanse weight-loss products, and offers of free stuff that tricked you into on-going billing. It was the largest natural food products fraud ever. How about colon cleansing? Like fasting that dehydrates you, "colon cleansing" has a short-term effect on the scale, as anyone who's had a colonoscopy can tell you. LeanSpa got caught selling fake weight loss products with lies and they got stopped, but don't be surprised to see the same thing next year with a new name.
Ever wished you could just melt off the fat on your thighs and make the cellulite go away? For years, we've imagined that some magical solvent would melt off that fat if we just rubbed it in, and hucksters have lined up to give us what we wanted while we paid dearly for it. Last year, L'Occitane, a huge maker of skin products with 2000 boutiques in 90 countries, got caught duping customers with that exact scam. Reuters reported that, "The FTC said L'Occitane sold two skin creams that promised 'clinically proven slimming effectiveness' and would 'visibly reduce the appearance of cellulite.' L'Occitane agreed to pay $450,000 to reimburse customers."
Don't be a victim.
I was a victim of these frauds many times before I found the real solution, and I hope my experience will spare you the disappointment and failure they cause. I started dieting when I was a fat kid. I failed with exercise, dieting and scams like those above for 25 years (to over 300 pounds) until I discovered how to solve the problem, 140 pounds and 30 years ago. Believe me, I know how those repeated failures crush your spirit and your belief that you can change things. "It's a matter of diet and exercise," the doctor would say. "You've just got to make up your mind," people would say. I felt sick every time I heard that. I hated hearing it. I tried that over and over and just couldn't do it, so I was always vulnerable to these promises that I could skirt reality and some product would solve the problem for me.
Believe me, you can solve your problem. But it won't be with products or paying someone to make it easy for you. I was the worst of the worst, a big fat failure for 25 years, a hopeless food addict. But I got lucky and learned how to change things. In my last blog I talked about some of what I learned that saved me. However, the very first thing you need to do is give up the idea that something is going to come along that will allow you to avoid learning how to control your eating so you don't eat more calories than you need. Our body weight is a matter of thermodynamics and energy balance. Eat more calories than you need and you gain weight. Eat fewer than you need and you lose it. Do that sufficiently enough and you'll lose as much as you want. Develop habits where you eat the right amount and you'll never again have a weight problem.
However, it's not a matter of just making up your mind or using will power, as if you haven't already tried that a million times. It's not that simple.
Mastering the habits, urges, and feelings that rule our lives is a matter of learning the techniques of behavioral therapy. It's not easy, but it is very doable. And after a while it can become easy, your new "normal."
You can have success in permanent weight loss. We know how to do it. But first, you need to stop being a sucker for these weight loss scams and conmen. As long as you hold out hope that you can lose weight without learning and doing the work of permanent change, it's hopeless. Accept it and you may be on your way.
William Anderson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in weight loss, eating disorders and addictions. He is the creator of "Therapeutic Psychogenics", which helped him lose 140 pounds permanently thirty years ago after years of obesity and dieting failure. He has written a book about it, The Anderson Method, and he is teaching these techniques to individuals and therapists all over the country.