Nobody said losing weight was easy. People across the globe (although more in the United States due to societal pressures and beauty norms) have a history of dieting with the end goal of weight loss. And in fact, 85% of people fail to use lose weight with conventional weight loss methods and treatments (1).
For this reason, turning to diet pills (sometimes referred to as weight loss pills) can seem like a great option. It takes all of the hard work that comes along with making healthy and lasting dietary changes out of the picture, right? All you have to do is swallow a pill!
Unfortunately, the grim reality of most diet pills is not so simple, and here’s why…
First of all, what are weight loss pills?
Weight loss pills come in many shapes and sizes. Some are plant-based (natural) and others are either over the counter or pharmaceutical grade, chemically manufactured. There hundreds (if not thousands) of weight loss “products” on the market, and you can find them anywhere from your local health food store to that late night infomercial.
Typically, these pills claim to help you lose weight by working in the following ways:
- Increase the bodies ability to burn fat
- Decrease appetite
- Decrease nutrient absorption (particularly of fat)
What does the FDA have to say about weight loss pills?
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) states that they have “found hundreds of products that are marketed as dietary supplements but actually contain hidden active ingredients…contained in prescription drugs, unsafe ingredients that were in drugs that have been removed from the market, or compounds that have not been adequately studied in humans.”
In other words, hidden ingredients have been found in diet pills that have specifically been taken off the market by the FDA due to their dangerous side effects, such as heart problems or seizures (amongst others).
In February of 2014, the FDA recalled multiple diet pills, including SlimEasy, Super Fat Burning Bomb, and Slim Xtreme (2).
The bottom line is: a pill cannot magically take the place of a healthy diet and lifestyle, and can instead lead to serious consequences.
Dangers of Using Weight Loss Pills
1. Spiked with pharmaceuticals
The fact of the matter is that many weight loss pills contain unknown or unstudied ingredients, which often are later found to cause problems. The FDA recall was due to the discovery of adulterated pills containing ingredients such a prescription anti-depressants, stimulants and diuretics. Additionally, these ingredients are also added in dosages far higher than they would be prescribed by a doctor, so the consumer really doesn’t have any idea as to what they could be ingesting, and what the side effects could be.
While natural weight loss pills could still be risky, the options that are “spiked” with pharmaceuticals or other synthetic ingredients are serious cause for concern, as they can lead to cardiovascular problems and even death (3).
2. Risky stimulant effects
The majority of weight loss pills contain stimulants such as caffeine, ephedra or similar substances that “boost” your metabolism. What this often leads to are feelings of irritability, insomnia, anxiety and trouble concentrating. In people with heart problems, high blood pressure, or those that are simply highly sensitive to stimulants, these effects can be magnified and highly dangerous.
You’re far better off just having a cup of coffee, which has been shown to rev the metabolism by up to 11% (4).
3. Natural weight loss pills are not worth it
While overall a bit less risky, almost all natural diet pills have been shown to not have any major effect on weight loss, and the ones that do typically come with more side effects. If you google “natural diet pills,” you will see thousands of results. These include products such as Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), Gluccomanan, great tea extract, raspberry ketones, garcenia cambojia extract, or plain old caffeine pills.
While some might have minor weight loss boosting properties, many come with side effects such as gas and bloating, diarrhea or uncontrolled bowels. Conjugated Linoleic Acid has even been suspected of causing increased inflammation, insulin resistance and fatty liver if used over a longer period of time.
4. A serious waste of money
Even for the tiny percentage of diet pills that pose little risk of side effects and actually offer increased weight loss, the effects are modest, as best. For example, one of the few weight loss pills that has been shown to cause few side effects is green tea extract, and studies have shown that it can help burn belly fat (5).
But again, the fat burning results are quite minimal, and the supplement must be taken along with a healthy diet.
Orlistat is another recent example of a weight loss drug that works by blocking the absorption of dietary fat. However, one study concluded that it is no more effective than a basic, low carbohydrate diet, and without the side effects (6).
So really, what’s the point?
What’s the best way to lose weight?
Instead of making the risky choice of taking a weight loss pill (natural or not), why not start down the path of making sustainable dietary changes?
Rethink your definition of “diet.” Instead of a short-term, painful period of food restriction with the end goal of weight loss, begin to consider diet as your medical insurance plan, to both prevent future disease, support any existing conditions or symptoms, and let weight loss be an extra added bonus.
Follow these scientifically proven steps for real weight loss:
- Drink water: studies show that drinking water (especially before meals) can boost your metabolism by up to 30% and significantly cut the calories you consume (7). Remember, hunger is often dehydration in disguise.
- Eat a high protein breakfast: Making sure you eat a breakfast that includes high quality protein and moderate good fat will work wonders in keeping you satiated and with far less carb and sugar cravings throughout the day. Try 2 eggs, 1/4-1/2 baked sweet potato, and 1/2 cup raw sauerkraut (great for digestion).
- Drink coffee: Dieting doesn’t have to be painful, and it certainly doesn’t have to exclude coffee, for most people. As discussed earlier, caffeine does have metabolism-boosting effects, so moderate coffee consumption can help in weight loss efforts (alongside a healthy diet).
- Use coconut oil: Whether it’s for cooking or adding to your smoothies, including coconut oil in your regular diet can not only boost overall health, but help you lose weight. The fats found in coconut have been found to boost metabolism and decrease hunger (8).
- Eliminate or reduce refined carb and sugar intake: It is a well known fact at this point that a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates leads to weight gain (9). This includes candy, soda, commercially prepared baked goods, and most processed/packaged foods. Instead, opt for the bulk of your carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits and (some) whole grains, and keep your sugar intake to moderate amounts of natural sources, such as raw honey, grade b maple syrup, stevia and whole fruit.
- Use small plates: This might seem silly, but it works. If we serve ourselves on a large plate, it is nearly impossible to keep portion sizes small. Serving meals on a smaller plate helps us eat reasonable portion sizes, without feeling deprived.
- Chew your food: Our mothers were right! Chewing our food thoroughly is essential, until it literally is like a mush inside our mouths. This not only helps with proper digestion, but it slows us down and allows our brain to register that we are full. Placing your fork or spoon down between bites can really help with this.
- Keep healthy snacks on hand: We tend to make the worst dietary decisions when we are starving, so having healthy snacks in your bag or at the office makes a huge difference. Try single serving size bags of nuts, cut up veggies or fruit, a Larabar, or hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with sea salt.
Remember, weight loss pills are not worth it! They can cause serious side effects (both known and unknown), and are never a replacement for a whole foods diet. Even though it can certainly be harder from the get go, putting the effort into creating lasting dietary and lifestyle changes is not only well worth it, but necessary. And remember, it doesn’t have to happen overnight! A good quality, food-based detox program can set you in the right direction.