Spotting Weight-Loss Scams

Turn on the TV, glance at a newspaper, pick up a magazine, or surf the Internet and you're apt to find products and programs promising to help you lose weight. Many of us want to shed pounds to look and feel better, so such advertising finds a ready audience.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which regulates advertising of weight-loss products, people looking for quick and easy weight loss, too often opt for pills, patches, and/or creams that aren't worth the money or the risk.

Fad diets fade out

People also turn to fad diets hoping for dramatic results. These diets may help you lose weight in the short term, but you're not likely to keep it off. Most of us can't stick with the demands of a diet that severely limits food amount, restricts food choices, or requires special food. A realistic initial goal for weight loss is 5 to 7 percent of your body weight. 

Always carefully evaluate marketing claims. The FDA, which regulates safety, manufacturing, and product labeling of health products, says advertising is becoming more sophisticated, so consumers need to protect themselves.

Recognize a scam

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Truth is, there are no foods or pills that will burn or melt fat away. You should be skeptical of any diet or product that:

  • Offers quick weight loss of more than 1 to 2 pounds a week

  • Promises you'll lose without exercising or cutting calories

  • Guarantees permanent weight loss

  • Assures you that it works for everybody

  • Purports to work by wearing it or rubbing it on your body

  • Bases claims on testimonials or before-and-after pictures

  • Carries a hefty price tag for seminars, pills, or prepackaged meals

  • Pledges "complete satisfaction or your money back"

  • Uses phrases like "miraculous" or "never before published" 

Health tip

The desire for quick weight loss is easily understood. However, to lose weight and keep it off, you should eat a healthy diet, cut back on the number of calories you consume daily, exercise to burn more calories than you take in, and aim for a weight loss of ½ to 1 pound a week. To lose ½ pound a week, you must cut back an additional 250 calories a day from what you ordinarily consume. To lose 1 pound a week, you must cut back 500 calories a day.