3 Weight Loss Scams To Avoid

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Drugs and Health, Lose Weight, Weight Loss

Weight Loss, Wealth Loss, Or Health Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney


weight loss scamsP.T. Barnum once said “There’s a sucker born every minute”.  Those words were never truer than in the weight loss industry and weight loss scams.

You’ve seen the ads: “Lose 4 pounds/week of belly fat”; “Lose 40 pounds in two weeks”; “burns off fat effortlessly”; “The pounds just melt away”. It’s hard to believe that people actually fall for those ads. Yet they do.

The problem is that weight loss is hard. You have to change your lifestyle – eat healthier, exercise more, give up some of your favorite foods. Even worse you can’t just make those changes for a few weeks or a few months. Those lifestyle changes need to be permanent if you wish to achieve lasting weight loss.

That just doesn’t fit with the American psyche. After all, our doctors and the TV ads promise us a “pill for every ill”. If you think that way, it is only logical that there should be a pill for weight loss.


Unfortunately, the unscrupulous supplement manufacturers are only too happy to fill that expectation. They don’t care whether their products actually work or whether they may actually kill you. They just want to make a quick buck.


Here are the 3 weight loss scams making headlines today.

3 Weight Loss Scams to Avoid


Fake Weight Loss Marketing Schemes

weight loss scams to avoidThe first 2 weight loss scams fall into the category of ones that lighten your wallet. In a recent press release the FTC recently charged two Florida-based supplement manufacturers of concocting elaborate, but completely fraudulent, marketing schemes to sell their weight loss products– one containing forskolin and another containing white kidney bean extract.

The schemes started with the marketers hacking people’s email accounts and sending messages touting the fake products to all of their contacts. The messages were worded in such a way that the email appeared to be a recommendation of the product coming from a trusted friend or family member.

The emails were linked to fake “news websites” that were designed to look like they were put up by an independent consumer reporter who had reviewed and endorsed the product rather than by the product manufacturers. These web sites featured glowing testimonials from consumers who had supposedly lost significant weight using those products. Of course, the fake “news websites” contained links that took consumers to websites where they could purchase the products.

In the complaint they filed in court, the FTC said “these weight loss claims are false and lack scientific support”.  In plain English, the FTC was saying that the testimonials were made up and there was no scientific evidence that the products actually worked.  The fake “news websites” also said that the products were endorsed by Oprah and a television show called “The Doctors.”   The FTC said that both of those claims were also false.

And, if all of this weren’t enough, the defendants in these two cases then approached people who had legitimate health and weight loss blogs with large followings and offered them affiliate status if they would feature links to the fake “news websites” the defendants had constructed. In plain English, affiliate status means that the owners of the blogs receive a commission whenever someone started from their blog and clicked all the way through to one of the defendant’s sites and bought a product*.

The FTC is seeking an immediate injunction that would shut down these fraudulent marketing schemes and prevent the companies from selling fake products that don’t work.  I hope the FTC is successful at obtaining the injunction against both companies, and I hope it happens quickly. Unscrupulous manufacturers like this need to be put out of business.  Please, be careful to avoid these kind of weight loss scams.

*Just so you know, I have also been approached by companies offering “Health Tips From the Professor” affiliate status for marketing their products.  I have chosen not to do that.  I don’t want to become like so many other popular health blogs that seem to be more about marketing than about health.  I will not feature any product I don’t believe in on my site.  Integrity is more important than money.


Weight Loss Products That Might Actually Kill You

weight loss drugThe third of the weight loss scams is of the more dangerous kind – one that might even kill you.

The FDA recently sent a warning letter to a marketing company called The Ultimate Weight Loss Company claiming that 3 of their weight loss products that were labeled as containing bee pollen actually contained two undeclared drugs that the FDA has banned for consumer use.

The first undeclared drug in their products is a compound called phenolphthalein, which was widely used in laxative drugs. It was also widely used in weight loss products because its laxative effect also causes water loss from the body – giving the appearance of rapid weight loss. However, research in the 90s suggested that it also increased the risk of several cancers.  Laxative and weight loss drugs containing phenolphthalein were subsequently withdrawn from the market and the FDA currently classifies phenolphthalein as an unapproved drug.

The second undeclared drug in their products is a compound called sibutramine. Sibutramine suppresses appetite and increases metabolic rate. It was the active ingredient in a weight loss drug called Meridia, which was initially approved by the FDA in 1997.

The problem is that, like many drugs that increase metabolic rate, sibutramine also increases heart rate. While that is relatively benign for some people, it can cause arrhythmia, heart attack and stroke in anyone with a weakened cardiovascular system.

A large clinical study published in 2010 (James et al, New England Journal of Medicine, 363: 905-917, 2010) showed that Meridia significantly increased the risk of heart attack and stroke in subjects with preexisting heart disease. Shortly after that the FDA declared that it caused an unacceptably high risk of heart attack and stroke, and it was withdrawn from the market. The FDA currently classifies subutramine as an unapproved drug as well.

Of course, some of you are probably saying to yourself: “My heart is fine. If this drug suppresses my appetite and revs up my metabolism, where can I get it?”  My response is: “Not so fast. Here are a few statistics you should know”:

  • 47% of Americans are at risk for heart disease, and many don’t know that they have a problem until they drop dead from their first heart weight loss drugs killattack.

Unfortunately, the combination of phenophthalein and sibutramine are still used in fraudulent weight loss products because they work. These two drugs together might actually give you 10 pounds or more of weight loss in the first couple of weeks. They might also kill you.  They are certainly weight loss scams to avoid.

In their warning letter to The Ultimate Weight Loss Company the FDA said that their products pose “a threat to consumers because sibutramine is known to substantially increase blood pressure and/or pulse rate in some patients and may present a significant risk for patients with coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, or stroke. This product may also interact, in life-threatening ways, with other medications a consumer may be taking”

The problem is not just that the weight loss products manufactured by this company contained unapproved drugs that are dangerous. The problem is that those compounds weren’t on the label.  The label claimed the products contained bee pollen.  The consumer had no way of knowing that the products might be dangerous.

Even worse, as soon as the FDA shuts down this company, another one will pop up somewhere else. The combination of phenolphthalein and sibutramine is one of the  weight loss scams that turn up time after time.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Weight Loss Scams?

It is definitely “buyer beware” in the weight loss industry. Unscrupulous manufacturers and weight loss scams abound. You have learned from this article that:

  • You can’t trust testimonials. They are often fabricated.
  • You can’t trust before and after pictures. They can be photoshopped and purchased over the internet.
  • You can’t trust endorsements by celebrities or doctors. Endorsements can be bought and sold, and sometimes they are just fabricated.
  • You can’t trust claims about “proven results.” They often aren’t backed by real science.
  • You can’t even trust product labels. Some products contain dangerous ingredients that aren’t even on the label.
  • You can’t even trust the FDA and FTC to protect you. They are doing their best, but two new scams pop up for every one they shut down.

So what can you do to keep from being ripped off or endangering your health?  Here are my top 4 recommendations for avoiding weight loss scams.

  • Don’t be taken in by claims of rapid weight loss, effortless weight loss, or “magic” ingredients. The experts tell us weight loss should not exceed one or two pounds per week and should include lifelong lifestyle change. If the ads claim anything else, run in the other direction.
  • There are no “magic” foods or “magic” combinations of protein, fat and carbohydrate.  It also doesn’t matter whether the diet is Paleolithic age or space age. Weight loss simply requires calories in to be less than calories out.
  • Look for clinical studies published in peer reviewed scientific journals showing that the weight loss program actually works.
  • Choose companies that have established a reputation for quality and integrity over a period of decades, not just a few months or a year or two. Weight loss scams come and go. Good reputations take a long time to develop.



The Bottom Line

Weight loss scams have been in the headlines recently.

  • The FTC recently announced legal action two companies selling weight loss products containing forskolin or white kidney bean extract. According to the FTC the companies were using a “fraudulent marketing scheme” and the weight loss claims for their products were “false and lacked scientific support”.
  • The FDA recently announced legal action against a company selling three weight loss products which they claimed contained bee pollen, but which actually contained two unapproved and dangerous drugs that can cause heart attack and stroke in susceptible people.

In both cases the products seemed legitimate. They seemed safe. When you read the details of the FTC and FDA cases it becomes apparent that:

  • You can’t trust testimonials. They are often fabricated.
  • You can’t trust before and after pictures. They can be photoshopped and purchased over the internet.
  • You can’t trust endorsements by celebrities or doctors. Endorsements can be bought and sold, and sometimes they are just fabricated.
  • You can’t trust claims about “proven results”. They often aren’t backed by real science.
  • You can’t even trust product labels. Some products contain dangerous ingredients that aren’t even on the label.
  • You can’t even trust the FDA and FTC to protect you. They are doing their best, but two new scams pop up for every one they shut down.

In the article above you will find my top 4 recommendations for avoiding weight loss scams.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

A Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss

Posted January 15, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney


low carb dietTraditional diets have been based on counting calories, but are all calories equal? Low-carb enthusiasts have long claimed that diets high in sugar and refined carbs cause obesity. Their hypothesis is based on the fact that high blood sugar levels cause a spike in insulin levels, and insulin promotes fat storage.

The problem is that there has been scant evidence to support that hypothesis. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 32 published clinical studies (KD Hall and J Guo, Gastroenterology, 152: 1718-1727, 2017 ) concluded that low-fat diets resulted in a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss than isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets.

However, low-carb enthusiasts persisted. They argued that the studies included in the meta-analysis were too short to adequately measure the metabolic effects of a low-carb diet. Recently, a study has been published in the British Medical Journal (CB Ebbeling et al, BMJ 2018, 363:k4583 ) that appears to vindicate their position.

Are low carb diets best for long term weight loss?

Low-carb enthusiasts claim the study conclusively shows that low-carb diets are best for losing weight and for keeping it off once you have lost it. They are saying that it is time to shift away from counting calories and from promoting low-fat diets and focus on low-carb diets instead if we wish to solve the obesity epidemic. In this article I will focus on three issues:

  • How good was the study?
  • What were its limitations?
  • Are the claims justified?


How Was The Study Designed?

low carb diet studyThe investigators started with 234 overweight adults (30% male, 78% white, average age 40, BMI 32) recruited from the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. All participants were put on a diet that restricted calories to 60% of estimated needs for 10 weeks. The diet consisted of 45% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. [So much for the claim that the study showed low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss. The diet used for the weight loss portion of the diet was not low-carb.]

During the initial phase of the study 161 of the participants achieved 10% weight loss. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups for the weight maintenance phase of the study.

  • The diet composition of the high-carb group was 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the moderate-carb group was 40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the low-carb group was 20% carbohydrate, 60% fat, and 20% protein.

Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • The weight maintenance portion of the study lasted 5 months – much longer than any previous study.
  • All meals were designed by dietitians and prepared by a commercial food service. The meals were either served in a cafeteria or packaged to be taken home by the participants.
  • The caloric content of the meals was individually adjusted on a weekly basis so that weight was kept within a ± 4-pound range during the 5-month maintenance phase.
  • Sugar, saturated fat, and sodium were limited and kept relatively constant among the 3 diets.

120 participants made it through the 5-month maintenance phase.


Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

low carb diet maintain weight lossThe results were striking:

  • The low-carb group burned an additional 278 calories/day compared to the high-carb group and 131 calories/day more than the moderate-carbohydrate group.
  • These differences were even higher for those individuals with higher insulin secretion at the beginning of the maintenance phase of the study.
  • These differences lead the authors to hypothesize that low-carb diets might be more effective for weight maintenance than other diets.


What Are The Pros And Cons Of This Study?

low carb diet pros and consThis was a very well-done study. In fact, it is the most ambitious and well-controlled study of its kind. However, like any other clinical study, it has its limitations. It also needs to be repeated.

The pros of the study are obvious. It was a long study and the dietary intake of the participants was tightly controlled.

As for cons, here are the three limitations of the study listed by the authors:

#1: Potential Measurement Error: This section of the paper was a highly technical consideration of the method used to measure energy expenditure. Suffice it to say that the method they used to measure calories burned per day may overestimate calories burned in the low-carb group. That, of course, would invalidate the major findings of the study. It is unlikely, but it is why the study needs to be repeated using a different measure of energy expenditure.

#2: Compliance: Although the participants were provided with all their meals, there was no way of being sure they ate them. There was also no way of knowing whether they may have eaten other foods in addition to the food they were provided. Again, this is unlikely, but cannot be eliminated from consideration.

#3: Generalizability: This is simply an acknowledgement that the greatest strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. The authors acknowledged that their study was conducted in such a tightly controlled manner it is difficult to translate their findings to the real world. For example:

  • Sugar and saturated fat were restricted and were at very similar levels in all 3 diets. In the real world, people consuming a high-carb diet are likely to consume more sugar than people in the other diet groups. Similarly, people consuming the low-carb diet are likely to consume more saturated fat than people in the other diet groups.
  • Weight was kept constant in the weight maintenance phase by constantly adjusting caloric intake. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the real world. Most people gain weight once they go off their diet – and this is just as true with low-carb diets as with other diets.
  • The participants had access to dietitian-designed prepared meals 3 times a day for 5 months. This almost never happens in the real world. The authors said “…these results [their data] must be reconciled with the long-term weight loss trials relying on nutrition education and behavioral counseling that find only a small advantage for low carbohydrate compared with low fat diets according to several recent meta-analyses.” [I would add that in the real world, people do not even have access to nutritional education and behavioral modification.]


low carb diet and youWhat Does This Study Mean For You?

  • This study shows that under very tightly controlled conditions (dietitian-prepared meals, sugar and saturated fat limited to healthy levels, calories continually adjusted so that weight remains constant) a low-carb diet burns more calories per day than a moderate-carb or high-carb diet. These findings show that it is theoretically possible to increase your metabolic weight and successfully maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet. These are the headlines you probably saw. However, a careful reading of the study provides a much more nuanced viewpoint. For example, the fact that the study conditions were so tightly controlled makes it difficult to translate these findings to the real world.
  • In fact, the authors of the study acknowledged that multiple clinical studies show this almost never happens in the real world. These studies show that most people regain the weight they have lost on low-carb diets. More importantly, the rate of weight regain is virtually identical on low-carb and low-fat diets. Consequently, the authors of the current study concluded “…translation [of their results to the real world] requires exploration in future mechanistic oriented research.” Simply put, the authors are saying that more research is needed to provide a mechanistic explanation for this discrepancy before one can make recommendations that are relevant to weight loss and weight maintenance in the real world.
  • The authors also discussed the results of their study in light of a recent, well-designed 12-month study (CD Gardener et al, JAMA, 319: 667-669, 2018 ) that showed no difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. That study also reported that the results were unaffected by insulin secretion at baseline. The authors of the current study noted that “…[in the previous study] participants were instructed to minimize or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximize intake of vegetables. Probably for this reason, the reported glycemic load [effect of the diet on blood sugar levels] of the low-fat diet was very low…and similar to [the low-carb diet].” In short, the authors of the current study were acknowledging that diets which focus on healthy, plant-based carbohydrates and eliminate sugar, refined grains, and processed foods may be as effective as low-carb diets for helping maintain a healthy weight.
  • This would also be consistent with previous studies showing that primarily plant-based, low-carb diets are more effective at maintaining a healthy weight and better health outcomes long-term than the typical American version of the low-fat diet, which is high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast, meat-based, low-carb diets are no more effective than the American version of the low-fat diet at preventing weight gain and poor health outcomes. I have covered these studies in detail in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

Consequently, the lead author of the most recent study has said: “The findings [of this study] do not impugn whole fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates. Rather, the study suggests that reducing foods with added sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates could help people maintain weight loss….” This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.

The Bottom Line


  • A recent study compared the calories burned per day on a low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diet. The study concluded that the low-carb diet burned significantly more calories per day than the other two diets and might be suitable for long-term weight control. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be the first real evidence that low-carb diets are superior for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • However, the study has some major limitations. For example, it used a methodology that may overestimate the benefits of a low-carb diet, and it was performed under tightly controlled conditions that can never be duplicated in the real world. As acknowledged by the authors, this study is also contradicted by multiple previous studies. Further studies will be required to confirm the results of this study and show how it can be applied in the real world.
  • In addition, the kind of carbohydrate in the diet is every bit as important as the amount of carbohydrate. The authors acknowledge that the differences seen in their study apply mainly to carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They advocate diets with low glycemic load (small effects on blood sugar and insulin levels) and acknowledge this can also be achieved by incorporating low-glycemic load, plant-based carbohydrates into your diet. This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.
  • Finally, clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. When you examine the data from the current study, it is evident that some participants burned more calories per hour on the high-carb diet than other participants did on the low carb diet. That reinforces the observation that some people lose weight more effectively on low-carb diets while others lose weight more effectively on low-fat diets. If you are someone who does better on a low-carb diet, the best available evidence suggests you will have better long-term health outcomes on a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet such as the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

For more details read the article above.



These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.