Nutrition Articles

12 Ways to Spot a Fad Diet

Identifying Weight Loss Scams

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The next time you watch an infomercial, read an advertisement, or spot a new supplement reporting miraculous weight loss results, we wouldn’t blame you for cocking a wary eyebrow. When evaluating claims for weight loss products, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends a healthy portion of skepticism; most don’t come close to fulfilling their claims. And in the rare cases where a product might result in some temporary weight loss, it is almost never a permanent solution and is usually unsafe.

Before you spend money on products that promise fast and easy results, weigh the claims carefully. You might even consider contacting the FTC directly for more information or if you have concerns.

These 12 tips will help you critique and evaluate weight loss claims and spot a scam before it’s too late:

1. "It’s so easy to lose weight without dieting or exercising!" Face it—permanent weight loss takes work, effort and time. Pass on any products that promise miraculous results without the effort. Buy one and the only things you’ll lose are money and confidence.

2. "Eat whatever you want and still lose weight!" Losing weight requires sensible food choices, not overloading on high-fat, high calorie foods.

3. "Lose weight forever…you’ll never need to diet again!" For weight loss to be permanent, it requires lifestyle changes. On-going maintenance is always a must.

4. "Block the digestion and absorption of fat, carbs, or calories!" Remind yourself that a little pill to curb cravings and suppress appetite just doesn't exist. There is no magic potion that will allow you to completely block the digestion and absorption of fat, carbs, or calories either. The majority of these over-the-counter products and "supplements" are scams with no supporting scientific research and thus a waste of your hard-earned money.

Note: SparkPeople does not endorse or recommend the use of any diet pills, but since this article was published, one over-the-counter weight-loss medication has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. When taken with low-fat meals, Alli can prevent up to one quarter of the fat you eat from being absorbed. Alli is not without risks, so talk to your doctor and do your homework first.

5. "Rapid weight loss: Lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks!" Looking to lose weight rapidly for your high school reunion or wedding? Products that safely produce lightning-fast weight loss just don’t exist. A weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week is the safest and most effective way to take off weight and keep it off.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • I love the comment,"Suck it up and some day you won't have to suck it in." That way it becomes more appreciated. - 8/17/2014 9:18:49 PM
  • Excellent advice! Perhaps people need to exercise their skeptical and critical thinking, too? - 2/13/2014 9:11:07 AM
  • its all determimation and willpower. After im done with my goal im going to as well sell stupid worthless products that don't work either. Everybody should do it. ... Its the American way! - 9/22/2013 11:11:12 AM
  • I love how the bottle in this ad so closely resembles the bottle in the article about Alli - 8/9/2013 7:22:57 PM
  • I agree. You earn your weight loss. Thanks NancyAnne55 - 6/9/2013 10:16:28 AM
  • I find it a bit ironic that this article be featured at the same time ads for Sensa are on nutrition tracker. While I realized Sparkpeople.com does not endorse its advertisers, seeing a product like this on my nutrition tracker makes it appear otherwise. - 2/22/2013 11:05:24 AM
  • I would like to come out with a new REVOLUTIONARY product. A little white plastic bottle with a great label that promises fantastic weight loss, health benefits, and added years to your life. It will have a huge cotton ball inside that you have to take out. And when you take the cotton ball out it will have a string attached to a message that reads: "GOTCHA...only eating healthy, limiting your calories, and getting exercise is going to work...WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE" - 2/22/2013 6:28:21 AM
  • When I read this article the tv ad for "Sensa" came to my mind. Just sprinkle sensa on your food and lose the weight. If it were only that easy! In the ad I see people sprinkling it on hot dogs and french fries....... then also there is a new ad for Jenny Craig called "my day". You do 5 days with Jenny and 2 days of your own healthy choices but yet the people on "my day" are shown eating movie popcorn and french fries. Is that healthy? They are telling people to make healthy choices but showing people they can eat whatever they want. sigh....... - 2/22/2013 3:23:40 AM
  • BAMAJAM
    Too bad that the FDA does not monitor the "miracle diet pills/powders" industry, and require products be safe for comsumption. People are often desperate to lose pounds, and will risk their health in taking these diet aids....
    WHY--- doesn't the government require testing on this?
    - 1/28/2013 2:05:44 PM
  • MOMASAURUS
    You EARN your body. Work. - 1/28/2013 12:38:27 PM
  • SSIRISH
    What is with all the "fad ads" on this story? I realize advertising pays the bills, but I would think you would be a little pickier about what shows up. Kind of discredits your whole story. - 1/28/2013 10:54:33 AM
  • Has anyone heard anything or taken skinny fiber? - 1/27/2013 2:20:12 PM
  • Has anyone heard anything or taken skinny fiber? - 1/26/2013 10:22:05 PM
  • While I do think there are some unsafe diet pills out there, I think that this article is making claims no differently than what the author says the diet pill industry does. Indeed, there actually are many healthy, natural supplements out there that not only work, but they are totally safe, and indeed beneficial. I have personally studied and read peer reviewed journal articles about many of these supplements. There are many natural supplements that do aid in appetite suppression, lower cholesterol, encourage thermogenesis (increased metabolism to burn calories), balance sugar levels, and a host of other positive health benefits. There are huge numbers of these articles that exist, proving that some of these supplements do indeed allow people to lose weight without a ton of exercising or changing of a person's diet. In my experience, however, one has to do their own research, and discover what's right for them. For many of the articles I've read, while exercise and diet doesn't have to change while taking the supplements, people who did lost more weight, and obviously are more healthy. Why wouldn't we all want to take supplements that not only have proven health benefits aside from weightloss, but would allow you to drop a few pounds as well? I think people need to research and educate themselves before they start slamming natural products that actually have science and rigor behind them. - 1/26/2013 5:26:14 PM
  • Weight loss is earned, not purchased. - 1/26/2013 1:42:25 PM

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