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Opinion

Quick fixes ‘shed pounds easily’

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February 12, 2009

I tend to be very vocal when watching TV. I can’t just sit quietly and accept whatever I see and hear on the tube-I have to question it. And that goes double for commercials. At best they are artfully disguised grabs for money and at worst they simply insult our intelligence. Commercials offer a lot of “quick fixes” to our problems, and one thing they really exploit is weight loss.

It’s been going on for decades now: a steady stream of miracle pills, mysterious drinks and complex supplements that all claim to help you “LOSE WEIGHT-FAST AND EASY!” They throw out the names of people who allegedly lost 200, 90, 140, 45, 5,000 pounds, blah blah blah, using their formula. Many throw out “before” and “after” pictures of their subjects as proof, even though some subjects look like completely different people, rather than the same person who just dropped a few pounds between photos.

When I see commercials like this, I mutter to myself, “whatever happened to just eating less and exercising more?” And I think I’ve figured it out. The problem with simply eating less is that (ideally) you’re buying less food and dropping the snacks. That means you’re probably saving money-and there are a ton of companies out there that realize it. So they try to convince you that you can save a lot of time and energy by taking their bizarre concoctions, often at a higher cost than most regular food. It’s a clever scheme, but also misleading. Why not spend the money on a gym membership instead? That way you’re taking matters into your own hands.

But there are other problems with diet formulas besides their cost. Some can actually be a threat to your health, more so than just eating a few too many Twinkies. Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration exposed 69 weight-loss products with hidden ingredients that could have dangerous side effects. Sixty-nine! One of them is StarCaps, which contain bumetanide-the same drug some NFL players were suspended for using under the steroid policy, because it hides the presence of steroids in urine samples and can cause digestive problems and muscle weakness.

These particular products are just the latest entry in the mad diary of America’s dieting history. The examples are varied and often quite entertaining. One of my personal favorites is the CDC, or “Calories Don’t Count” diet back in 1961. A nutty doctor claimed you could fill your stomach with almost anything and still lose weight, offering a practically useless pill to back it up. The FDA sued him silly and he was convicted of conspiracy, mail fraud and violating federal regulations.

All of these products can teach us the same lesson: “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” We’ve heard the saying a million times and yet we fall for things like that frequently, almost obsessively. Maybe we let ourselves be fooled because it’s easier than facing reality. Too many people would rather spend all day pretending and throwing money at quick fixes than acknowledge a hard truth. And in this case, the truth is that getting ourselves in shape takes a lot of time and effort.

So don’t be fooled. I’m no nutrition expert, but I doubt if any of these bizarre products is a good substitute for time-tested weight loss methods-and some of them can be more trouble than they’re worth.