The skinny on diet pills
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan, approximately 25 percent of girls seeking to lose weight turn to diet pills. Unfortunately, many of these girls will end up disappointed, or worse, sick.
Diet pills are not very effective in promoting long-term weight loss because they act on immediate sources of weight gain instead of focusing on fat loss. Additionally, the energy-increasing ingredients such as ephedra and caffeine cause several harmful side effects, including mild to severe anxiety, bloating, stomach cramps, headaches, nausea, light-headedness, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, blurred vision and insomnia.
So why do people keep using these products? Initially, they seem to work. Diet pills promote quick weight loss, fooling the consumer into thinking that they will continue to lose weight if they continue with the product, and instilling a fear that the consumer will gain weight if he or she stops taking the pills.
So how do the products work? First, they make you lose water weight. Several pills include diuretics that they promote as “cleansing” or “flushing out” the body. Reduced water weight will make someone appear smaller and may even accentuate muscle tones, but that is only because the individual is on the verge of dehydration. Upon rehydrating, none of this weight loss is maintained.
Secondly, diet pills increase energy, reducing the need to eat. When you have tons of energy and can accomplish anything, you don’t pause for food to refuel. This energy usually comes in the form of high dosages of caffeine, ephedra or guarana, all of which increase heartbeat and blood pressure and lead to anxiety, lightheadedness and headaches as well as a large variety of other uncomfortable symptoms. As college students, it is important to note that stimulants of any type may initially increase focus but when consumed in such great quantities can reduce the brain’s ability to remember or process information effectively.
Thirdly, the pills suppress appetite. Diet pills fool your body into thinking you don’t need to eat, so you avoid food and lose weight. The problem with this is that it alters the body’s natural hunger symptoms. Once the pill regimen is stopped, hunger can come back even more ravenous than before, causing weight gain. Altering the body’s ability to regulate food intake can also lead to other eating disturbances and possibly eating disorders.
Still, stores like General Nutrition Center (GNC) promote the sale of these products and claim that they are completely safe. Curious about what a sales person might say about the pills, I visited the GNC in the Galleria this past Sunday and spoke with a salesperson there.
The two most popular weight-loss pills among men and women are the Vitapak Energy supplements and Hydroxycut pills; the salesman said he assumed they are the most effective, as they are the two products that both men and women consistently come back to buy.
The Vitapak Energy packets are individual packets of approximately six vitamins, a few of which are designed to “promote fat burning” and “increase metabolism.” Due to their harmless effects, and packaged with other recognizable vitamins, the ginseng and other energy boosting ingredients are well-hidden in an earthy and natural-looking way, promoting them as “safe” for the body.
On the other end of the spectrum, Hydroxycut Products look like they are right out of a commercial, with pictures of svelte men and women on the cover and promises of reducing weight by a certain poundage in a said number of weeks. Hydroxycut contains loads of caffeine (300 mg per serving), and the salesman warned of possible dehydration but claimed that otherwise they were entirely safe.
The problem with claiming supplements are safe is that no higher power regulates what is sold and consumed, since dietary supplements do not need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
There is one exception to the rule: Alli. Alli is the only diet pill currently on the market that has been approved for usage by the FDA. Alli was approved because it works only in the digestive system, avoiding many of the dangerous health side effects of other pills. Instead of speeding up metabolism, Alli prevents the digestion and absorption of dietary fat (approximately ¼ of what is consumed) so that this does not affect body composition but instead bypasses digestion and heads straight for elimination.
While this may seem like a free pass to eat all the fries and burritos you want, it is extremely important to realize that while on the Alli regimen, strict adherence to a healthy diet is essential. In fact, the pills come with manuals on healthy eating, exercise tips and lifestyle changes that promote weight loss.
Those using Alli as a quick fix will be disappointed, as it is not intended as such. Failure to adhere to a healthy diet while on the pills will result (according to the Alli Web site) in loose stools, frequent stools/diarrhea and excess gas with oily residue. This is a product that should only be taken with your doctor’s advice or recommendation and is typically used by severely overweight patients, not college students looking to drop five pounds by formal season.
When it comes to weight loss, there is no quick fix. No shake, bar or pill is going to shed pounds the way a healthy diet and increased exercise will. Weight loss is all about decreasing calorie intake and increasing energy output, i.e. burning more calories than you eat.
In order to effectively lose pounds of fat, most health professionals recommend combining daily aerobic and weight training exercise with healthy diets of around 500 fewer calories than usual; this should amount to one to two pounds of healthy weight loss per week. As always, please seek professional advice from a doctor and nutritionist if considering embarking on a new workout or diet plan to promote weight loss.