You don't have to be overweight for diet pill advertisements to flood your news feed. Even relatively healthy people at times turn to the magic wonders that promise you'll look like Kim K. if you just take their product for a few weeks, but is there any validity to it? Do diet pills work?
Before I start I want to clear up some misconceptions about what diet pills are. The way we speak, about the things in our life that are making a difference, adds a lot to the misinformation about products out there. You may have heard that your second cousins niece is taking this awesome pill that's helped her lose 50 pounds and you may be wondering if taking a diet pill will also give you those results. The problem being that you don't know what they are taking, why it is working, and if it will work for you.
A lot of marketers take advantage of this confusion by using buzz words that are commonly known to make people want to buy.
So how can you be prepared to make healthy decisions for yourself? How can you know if something works or not?
First I want to note the several products that are commonly referred to as "diet pills". These include supplements, medications, and stimulants.
What are supplements?
Supplements are products that are meant to be used in conjunction with a healthy meal plan and fitness routine. In the U.S.A supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration so if something is sold as a "supplement" it is not considered a food or a medication. (There are other countries that do regulate supplements. )
I like to separate supplements into 2 categories: those that we know our body can use and those that we think our body might be able to use.
What we know: Vitamins, Minerals, Fiber, Enzymes, Essential Fatty Acids, and Pro-Biotics.
We know that there are essential vitamins that our body uses but cannot make and therefore supplements have been created to fill this gap. Healthy people who have a healthy diets don't necessarily need to take these products but they can help fill in gaps in nutrition when we know we can't or wont be eating from a full array of healthy food.
Check out my video series here on the Basics of Nutrition to understand how these products work in our bodies.
These kinds of supplements are often added to a healthy meal plan and fitness routine in order to help people through the weight loss process. The supplements themselves do not cause weight loss and often times, if a healthy meal is not being followed, it can be a waste of money to take them. The good thing about these supplements is that they usually don't hurt to take. (Although you should be wary of cheap brands and consult your doctor if you are pregnant or have any other health issues.)
What we think: Superfoods and magic beans.
The internet is a great thing but it is also a highway of misinformation. There are countless stories and anecdotal evidence that support the promises that certain exotic fruits, vegetables ,and plants are capable of curing disease or helping you lose 50 pounds overnight. The problem is that these products have not been studied enough to prove their effectiveness and those that have been studied have shown to be helpful for only specific health issues. There are many that have been shown to help with weight loss but results still only come when used in conjunction with a healthy meal plan. There is no magical cure and anyone who tries to say that their product is, is trying to sell you something. On top of that, some of these products can actually create more health issues and can interact with medication so it is important that you consult your doctor if you have present health issues and that you do thorough research on each of the ingredients listed on the bottle.
Check out my Health Products page for a list of products that I believe in.
There are medications that are used to help people with weight loss, some are over the counter and some require a prescription. These medications have shown to be effective for certain people if people are following a healthy meal plan . The medications can fit into two categories; medications that alter the absorption of nutrients, and medications that help with the patients decision making.
Medications like Alli, that have been FDA approved help people lose by affecting the way they absorb fat so that the patient does not absorb all the calories from the food they are eating. This medication is available over the counter or, in higher doses, through prescription. The kind of medications that alter your bodies ability to absorb calories create an illusion that no dietary changes need to be made and while it is possible to see weight loss the benefits have to be weighed with the side effects and it needs to be taken into consideration that weight gain will occur when they stop the medication.
Other weight loss medications fall into the category of helping patients make the changes, they need to make, easier. Medications like Contrave are used to help people fight the cravings that they may experience while trying to stop eating unhealthy foods or stop binging. These medications can be very helpful for people who have tried to stick to a meal plan but have struggled but in order for any weight loss to happen, dietary changes MUST occur. In other words, they wont cause weight-loss. The side effects must also be weighed and your health must be assessed to ensure that these are best options for you.
You may also hear other people talk about other types of medications that they were given that led to weight-loss. Before assessing the need to use drugs to lose weight, your doctor will probably make sure that there aren't other health issues that may be causing weight gain like thyroid issues, diabetes, or hormone issues. If your doctor prescribes these and you experience weight loss, it is not a good idea to share with people the name of the drug in the hopes that they can also use it to lose weight. Everyone is different and it can be dangerous to take medications that your body does not need.
Check out this list of weight loss medications currently available.
So I saved the best for last.
Stimulants, as I call them, are what are typically sold as "diet pills" and these can be both medications and supplements. Stimulants are products that have a stimulant effect on your metabolism and can help speed up the weight loss process.
When used to supplement a healthy meal plan, these products can help with speeding up the process, alleviating detox side effects, and making it easier to stick to the plan by providing energy and suppressing appetite.
Often times the supplements sold are nothing more than excessive amounts of caffeine and other chemicals that can cause health problems if they are taken by people with health issues or without doctor supervision. The best example of this is Ephedra, a drug that was commonly used for rapid weight loss that had everyone in LOVE, until people started getting sick. It was banned in 2004 from being sold as a dietary supplement and "according to the FDA, there is little evidence of ephedra’s effectiveness, except for short-term weight loss. However, the increased risk of heart problems and stroke outweighs any benefits." To this day, ephedra is sold illegally as a weight loss supplement and other dangerous stimulants are sold as well to millions of people that are desperate to find a wight-loss fix.
Stimulants can cause weight-loss but without following a healthy meal plan , that weight often comes right back on. At best, these products help you lose water weight and at worst, can damage your metabolism. Always read the ingredients list carefully and look up each ingredient to ensure you are not taking something that can hurt you and always ask your doctor if you have a current health issue.
So how can I know if I should take this pill?
The first question you should ask yourself is, whether you need to lose weight or not. Our world can often times make us believe that we aren't good enough, skinny enough, or fit enough. If your motivation to lose a few pounds come from trying to please someone else, then losing those pounds, will not be enough. There are legitimate ways to check if you are within healthy standards like using a BMI chart, checking your body - fat composition, and asking your doctor at your yearly checkup.
If you do want to lose weight , the second step is to follow a nutritional weight loss plan and fitness routine that fits your current health status. It should not be a one size fits all approach, and it should base itself on choosing foods with higher nutritional content and portion control rather than cutting out entire food groups or starving yourself.
Once your nutritional needs are being met, then, certain supplements, medications, or metabolism boosters can be used to help you along your journey.
Always do your research and watch out for people who may be trying to scam you. I wish you the best of luck in your journey :)
Share this post with your friends on social media to ensure that they are making responsible health decisions as well :)
And if you are just starting your health journey let me help you along the process. A huge part of the journey is getting past our mental barriers and pushing past the our obstacles. Schedule a complementary coaching session here. You can also take this test to find out which supplements can help you with losing weight.