Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What Isn't in a Diet Supplement?

I was going to write about the top ingredients in weight loss and diet supplements, however, finding a reliable and impartial source is near to impossible.  Most of the top sources are also selling the products, so of course, they're going to say their products work!  Top ingredients in an almost exhaustive list include fruit fibers, proteins, green tea, caffeine, antioxidants and more.  These ingredients claim to suppress appetite and increase satiety, increase muscle mass and/or metabolism, and block fat and/or sugar absorption, to name just a few.  Some claims are real, while other claims are as thin as dental floss.  Even if the claims are real, the effect on your physical body, is typically negligible.  (See my previous blog post on 10% Pill, 90% Program:  it's really the associated program that causes the measurable results, and most programs include a change in diet (eat more good foods, and decrease or eliminate bad foods) and exercise.)

Why are diet supplements so popular then?

Diet supplements, in my opinion, are popular because of what's known as the "placebo effect".  Take a look at the picture.  All of these reasons, associated with a placebo (also called a sugar pill), can also be associated with diet pills.


Diet pills are typically prescribed or offered by a trusted source.  If your doctor prescribes them (some doctors receive kickbacks, profits and fees for selling products) and you trust your doctor, you are more apt to take them regularly and believe that they will work.  If a television show that you trust (Dr. Oz, for example) demonstrates a new weight loss pill, plan or program, you are more apt to believe in the product.  If your best friend touts to you the benefits of the latest product that he/she has tried, you are more apt to believe it will work for you too.  In all cases, if the source can be trusted, you are more apt to believe in the results.


Because you're doing something positive and good for yourself, you are more prone stick with it and, again, believe in the benefits.  Statements like, "I'm at least trying" are a positive self-affirmation, which can lead to success.


When a product claims to help you lose weight, and you expect it to help you lose weight, it just might work, because you tend to try hard to make it work.  When a product makes inflated claims (lose 20 pounds in one week!), you want it to work, almost desperately.  You expect it to be miraculous.  When you have a certain set of expectations, whether real or inflated (i.e. promotional), you think a product should behave a certain way.  If you expect a product to produce certain results, it stands a better chance of achieving success.


Some research supports the fact that the brain behaves differently, even when taking a placebo.  There appears to be an increase in endorphins (and other hormones/chemicals), that actually physically change brain activity, when studied under a brain scan.  This increase in brain activity can create a causal effect between pill and weight loss.


Similar to Pavlov's dog, some people are conditioned to the extent that just the thought of taking a pill for weight loss can induce a positive effect.  Certainly, this can be achieved through other stimuli as well.  For instance, you associate pain with fire, so you avoid touching fire.  You salivate when you smell french fries.  This may be especially true for people who have been successful in previous attempts to lose weight through weight loss supplements, thus creating a conditioned response.  When the thought of taking a diet pill to lose weight excites you to the point that you want it to work, possibly because it has in the past, it may have a positive effect.


Supplements have a purpose, but typically, the purpose is to lure you into thinking they work.  It's a billion dollar industry for a reason. 

Just remember to weigh the pros and cons of all supplements before trying them.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How much does it cost?
  2. How long are you supposed to use them?
    • Multiply the cost by the length of time of use to get a true estimate of cost.
  3. Do the supplements come with a "program" that requires some form of exercise?
  4. Do the supplements come with a "diet" that reinforces any of the following:
    • Eating good foods
    • Avoiding bad foods (high carb/high fat/fried/fast food/processed food/sugary drinks)
    • Portion control
    • Fasting
  5. Do the supplements require any form of laxatives?
It's your body and it's your choice what you put into it, and how much you choose to spend, if anything on supplements.  Whatever you choose to do, just stay on the right track for the rest of your life; especially, the parts about incorporating daily exercise into your life, eating good foods, and avoiding bad foods.  Do it for life, even if you don't use the supplements anymore!

Living 365fitt,

Contact Kathy at kathy@365fitt.com for individual coaching, or for one of the Living 365fitt Programs on lifestyle change.


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