7 Easy Ways To Spot Fad Diets

The FTC Finally Targets Deceptive Advertising

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Fad DietsI think it was P. T. Barnum who said “There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute”. That’s particularly true in the diet world where hucksters seem to be all around us – especially this time of year.

You’ve seen the weight loss ads touting:

  • Pills or powders that suppress your appetite or magically prevent you from absorbing calories.
  • Fat burners that melt the pounds away.
  • New discoveries (juices, beans, foods) that make weight loss effortless.
  • The one simple thing you can do that will finally banish those extra pounds forever.

You already know that most of those ads can’t be true. You don’t want to be a sucker. But, the ads are so compelling:

  • Many of them quote “scientific studies” to “prove” that their product or program works.
  • Their testimonials feature people just like you getting fantastic results from their program. [You can do wonders with “computer enhanced” photographs.]
  • Many of those products are endorsed by well known doctors on their TV shows or blogs. [It is amazing what money can buy.]

So it is easy to ask yourself: “Could it be true?” “Could this work for me?”

Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has stepped up to the plate to give you some guidance. Just in time for weight loss season, they have issued a list of seven claims that are in fact too good to be true. If you hear any of these claims, you should immediately recognize it as a fad diet and avoid it.

7 Easy Ways To Spot Fad Diets

Here are the seven statements in ads that the FTC considers as “red flags” for fad diets that should be avoided:

  1. Causes weight loss of two pounds or more a week for a month or more without changing your diet and exercise routine.
  2. Causes substantial weight loss no matter what or how much you eat.
  3. Causes permanent weight loss without lifestyle change even after you stop using the product.
  4. Blocks absorption of fat or calories to enable you to lose substantial weight.
  5. Safely enables you to lose more than 3 pounds per week for more than 4 weeks.
  6. Causes substantial weight loss for all users
  7. Causes substantial weight loss by wearing a product on your body or rubbing it on your skin.

I’m sure you have heard some of these claims before. You may have actually been tempted to try the products or program. You should know that the FTC said that it considers these to be “Gut Check” claims that simply can’t be true.

Operation Failed Resolution

Unfortunately, the FTC guidelines didn’t exactly make it to the front page of newspapers and blogs. They weren’t featured in the network news shows. So the FTC went one step further. In a program called “Operation Failed Resolution”, the FTC:

  • Sent letters to 75 publisher and broadcasters asking them to review the FTC’s “Gut Check” claims when screening ads for publication.  The implication, of course, is that the publishers and broadcasters could be held liable for false advertising if they ignored the FTC guidelines in accepting advertisements.
  • On January 7, 2014 they initiated legal action against what they considered the four most outrageous weight loss claims. Those were:

Shake, Shake, Busted

Sensa, the company who’s ads claimed that you could just “shake, shake” their ‘fairy dust’ on your food and lose weight, was required to pay $26 million for unfounded weight loss claims and misleading endorsements (testimonials).

And, as for those clinical studies Sensa claimed to have had, the FTC alleged that one study was based on fabricated data, and the other two studies were equally flawed. The FTC also alleged that Sensa paid people for their testimonials.

Acai Nonsense

LeanSpa was fined $7 million for claiming that a mixture acai berry and a colon cleanse could help you lose weight. Among other things, the FTC prohibited LeanSpa from claiming that products were clinically proven to work when they are not.

Rub A Dub, Dub

L’Occitane was fined $450,000 for claiming that a skin cream called Almond Beautiful Shape would slim a person’s body “1.3 inches in just 4 weeks.”

HCG Deception

HCG Diet Direct was fined $3.2 million for claiming that human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) plus a very low calorie diet could help you lose a pound a day. The FTC alleged that HCG had not been proven to provide any more weight loss than the low calorie diet alone. The FTC stated that HCG “has been falsely promoted for decades as a weight loss supplement.”

Don’t Wait For the FTC to Act

You probably recognize that there are a lot of other companies out there hawking similar products. There are lots of similar weight loss ads that seem just too good to be true. The FTC is watching them and will probably try to shut them down one by one. When the actions against these four companies were announced, the FTC said:

“We cannot comment on companies that either we haven’t brought an action against in the past or we aren’t announcing today, because our investigations are non-public. We do have other investigations going on in the health area, but we can’t identify the companies we’re investigating”.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait for the FTC to act. They have given you “7 Easy Ways To Spot Fad Diets”. All you need to do is to avoid diets that make those kinds of claims.

The Bottom Line

  • Don’t be a sucker. Don’t fall for those enticing weight loss ads that sound too good to be true. The FTC has given you 7 simple rules for identifying the weight loss products that you should avoid, based on the claims they make. I listed those at the beginning of the article.
  • The FTC has taken enforcement action against manufactures of appetite suppressants, acai berry weight loss products, HCG weight loss products and sliming creams for false advertising.
  • The Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection summed up the enforcement actions by saying “The chances of being successful just by sprinkling something on your food, rubbing cream on your thighs, or using a supplement are slim to none. The science just isn’t there.
  • There are no magical pills or potions that will make the pounds melt away. You need to change your diet, change your activity level and make significant lifestyle changes if you want to achieve long term weight control.

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.

Are Fat Burning Sports Supplements Safe?

It’s Buyer Beware in the Sports Supplement Market

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Muscular man holding container of training supplementsFor many athletes it’s all about being bigger, faster, stronger. That’s what makes the fat burning sports supplements so appealing. If you believe the ads, they will burn fat, increase muscle mass and give you an energy boost. But, are fat burning sports supplements safe? Are they effective?

What Are Fat Burning Sports Supplements?

Simply put, most of the fat burning sports supplements contain metabolic stimulants of some kind. That’s where the energy and fat burning claims come from. The stimulants range from clearly ineffective to downright dangerous.

Are Fat Burning Sports Supplements Effective?

Because sports supplements are considered to be foods rather than drugs, the FDA cannot require sport supplements manufacture to prove that their products are either safe or effective. As a consequence, most sports supplement manufacturers don’t conduct clinical trials to prove the effectiveness of their products. Their claims are based on animal studies and testimonials. However, in most cases there is no objective evidence that their supplements actually work.

Are Fat Burning Sports Supplements Safe?

All stimulants carry some risk. Even small amounts of caffeine can be problematic for some individuals, and many sports supplements contain massive amounts of caffeine. But, it is not caffeine containing sports products that are the most worrisome.

Many sports supplement manufacturers are firm believers in the “better living through chemistry” motto.

  • They start with an herbal ingredient that has stimulant properties
  • They synthesize what they think is the active ingredient
  • Perhaps they chemically modify it a bit….
  • ..and, Voila! They have a proprietary new sports supplement
  • They label it a fat burner, prepare their claims and they’re ready to go to market

And, why bother testing it? Unless the product kills or seriously harms people, the FDA can’t step in and tell a manufacturer to take their product off the market.

And, if you think that the manufacturers and sellers of the product are looking after your best interests, think again.

Case Study #1: Jack3D and DMAA

I told you about this story last year, so I’ll just give you a brief recap here.

  • After a couple of marines died after using Jack3D prior to a workout, the US military ordered that the product not be sold on their bases. The manufacturer continued to make the product. GNC stopped selling it on military bases, but continued to sell it in all its other stores.
  • Eventually the FDA stepped in and recommended that Jack3D not be sold. The manufacturer claimed that the active ingredient, DMAA, was found in the geranium extract they used in their product. Since that was a food ingredient, they claimed the FDA did not have jurisdiction.
  • The FDA denied that claim based an extensive testing of geranium extract. At that point the manufacturer stopped making it (They have since resuming making the product with yet another poorly tested stimulant). GNC said they would stop selling Jack3D “as soon as their inventory was used up”.
  • The FDA finally had to raid the GNC warehouses to get the product off the market.

Case Study #2: OxyElite Pro and Aegeline

In case you thought that was an isolated case, the same sports supplement manufacturer has recently been involved in a second case that sounds all too familiar.

  • The FDA recently advised consumers to stop using OxyElite Pro after reports of 24 cases of acute non-viral hepatitis (a very rare disease) in users of that sports supplement in Hawaii. Two of those patients required liver transplants, and one of them died.
  • In this case the manufacturer stopped domestic distribution of the product, but argued that the product is safe. They claimed that counterfeit versions of OxyElite Pro were being sold in the US market.
  • On October 11, 2013 the FDA sent a warning letter to the manufacturer stating that the active ingredient, aegeline, was not a lawful dietary ingredient. The manufacturer replied that it was a natural constituent of the citrus fruit tree Bael. (I’m not sure why that makes it safe. I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat a lot of Bael fruit.)
  • As of a few days ago England, Denmark, Spain, Australia & New Zealand have warned consumers in those countries not to use OxyElite Pro.

It’s too early to tell how this story is going to turn out, but my money is with the FDA.

Case Study #3: Craze and DEPEA

And, in case you thought the problem was with a single rogue manufacturer, there is a developing story around yet another popular sports supplement, Craze, made by a different manufacturer.

  • Researchers from the NSF, Harvard and the National Institute for Public Health in the Netherlands recently published a paper claiming that Craze contained DEPEA, a methamphetamine-like compound.
  • The manufacturers claimed that the researchers did the chemical analysis incorrectly and their product actually contained a close analog of DEPEA that is found in dendrobium orchids. (Again I’m not sure why that makes it OK. I don’t think people eat a lot of dendrobium orchids either).

Stay tuned. I’m sure this story will have some interesting twists before it’s finished.

The Bottom Line:

1)     In the sports nutrition industry, it is buyer beware. There are lots of rogue manufacturers out there who care more for their bottom line than your well being. Do your homework and search for reputable companies with a long track record of product quality and ethical standards. There are some out there.

2)     Ignore the outlandish claims, no matter how appealing. Once again, stick with establishing companies with a track record of product integrity. Only use sports supplements that are backed by clinical studies showing that they are both safe and effective.

3)     Be particularly cautious about sports supplements that claim to burn fat or give you energy. They generally contain metabolic stimulants, and often those stimulants are poorly characterized. Most have not been proven to be effective, and some have the potential to do more harm than good.

4)     Fat burning supplements are often cross marketed as weight loss supplements. They are just as dangerous for dieters as they are for athletes.

5)     Don’t assume that just because the ingredients supposedly come from a natural source (geraniums, Bael trees or dendrobium orchids, for example) they are safe.

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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