The Worst Diet Scams

By , SparkPeople Blogger
More than 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese (source), and we spend more than $40 billion a year on weight loss, much of it on pills, gadgets, and creams that don't live up to their lofty claims.

When you're desperate to change your life, and you're just starting out, it's hard to know what's truth and what's hype. Everything sounds like the secret to losing weight, finding happiness, and becoming your best you!

Late-night infomercials boast major fat burning with stunning before-and-after photos.

Magazine ads claim that a pricey cream is key to flat abs.

Celebrities tout shoes that promise a tighter, more toned posterior just by walking!

Sounds too good to be true, right?

That's because it usually is. You already know 12 Ways to Spot a Fad Diet, but the latest scams go beyond mere dieting. We asked our experts to weigh in on the year's worst diet rip-offs. Find out how to avoid falling for slick marketing ploys--before you spend any money.

When it comes to weight loss, the #1 rule is: If it sounds too good to be true, it is! 

Rip-Off #1: Toning shoes and clothes

Toning shoes claim to have an uneven, unstable sole that mimics balancing on a wobbleboard. Each brand and style is different, and many major shoe companies offer at least one style of the shoes, from sandals and sneakers to clogs.

The shoes' unique soles and extra cushioning purport to force the muscles to work harder as you walk. The wearer's abs, glutes and legs "tone up" as they compensate for the unsteady sole, thus leading to an increased calorie burn, advocates say. Several reputable shoe companies have sponsored studies of their products (most of the studies are not peer-reviewed, it should be pointed out) that claim that these shoes led to increased weight loss and greater toning. 

Toning clothes
have tiny resistance bands sewn into them, which force the body to work harder with every step. The clothing restricts movement slightly, and the slim fit is intended to make the wearer appear thinner.

One study did find that wearing resistance tights while walking on a treadmill burned more calories-- but only when walking uphill. Research on this clothing (which can range from $50 to upwards of $200 per piece) is limited, but much of what we read about this clothing warned that such clothing could do more harm than good--either by restricting circulation or interfering with natural movement—and that the supposed benefits are probably very small.

Our expert says: "These products are marketed as if they are able to help women tone their legs and butt, but we know that losing weight from a specific area of the body (known as “spot training”) is NOT possible. The only studies that cited the shoes' benefits were about muscle activation—not long-term safety, actual increases in strength or actual increased muscle tone or weight loss—and the studies were very small, short-lived and conducted and/or funded by the companies selling the products. My expert opinion is that the advertisements for these shoes were very misleading to consumers, and that they were never proven either safe or effective at doing anything more than changing the way you walk mildly, which may change the way your muscles activate in the short term.

"That is not the same thing as weight loss or toning the legs, and it’s unlikely that the 'novelty' of a minimal increase in muscle activation will provide any tangible results in one’s body. That the FTC is now after these manufacturers for deceptive advertising should tell you for sure that they do not do what they claim." – Coach Nicole Nichols, certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and health educator
Money saved: $50-$200

Rip-off #2: Slim-down creams and lotions

Orange peel thighs. Cottage cheese legs. Flabby bellies. Long after you've lost the weight, the cellulite and loose skin sticks around for many. Rather than consider them badges of honor, memories of where we've been, we try everything we can to get rid of them--including rubbing on pricey creams and lotions that boast the ability to smooth and tighten skin--and reduce the appearance of cellulite, which is simply subcutaneous (below the skin) fat that is pushed to the surface.

Many of these creams, which can be found at drug stores, in fancy department stores and online, boast caffeine or one of its derivatives as its miracle ingredient. There is no magic fat-burning ingredient, caffeine included, but the same chemical that gives your coffee its jolt can have a temporary diuretic effect on your skin and increase blood flow to the area where it was applied, thus making it appear smoother and tighter--but only for a short time and not enough to suddenly cause you to lose inches or unwanted pounds. The cellulite is still there, and when the diuretic effect wears off, your skin will return to "normal"--cellulite and all.  

The FTC has singled out one manufacturer for false advertising
, and others have been under scrutiny by the media as well.  (Test your knowledge about cellulite.)

Our expert says: "Because cellulite is fat, losing weight (if you are overweight) may help diminish the appearance of cellulite as the size of your fat cells decrease. There is no way to 'spot train' any area of the body. Cardio exercise helps burn fat from all over the body and enhances fat loss. Strength training is important for both weight loss and overall health as well, but simply targeting the areas of your cellulite (hamstrings, buttocks, or abs for example) will not make it go away.

"Many people can lose weight and notice an improved appearance in cellulite, but it's no guarantee. Because it's so closely linked to factors that you can't control (genetics, gender, hormones), losing weight may not completely get rid of cellulite.

"Creams, treatments, massage techniques, and other cellulite therapies do NOT get rid of cellulite. While some products may help diminish the appearance of it through hydration or firming of the outer layers of the skin, these results are temporary won't result in actual fat loss." -- Coach Nicole Nichols, certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and health educator

Money saved: $15-$100+

Rip-off #3: Body wraps

Lose inches overnight--no exercise needed! Slim down by the weekend, without lifting a finger!

Body wraps are all the rage these days, and when you read those lofty claims, you can understand why. They sound more like a spa treatment than a part of a healthy weight-loss plan.

Made of natural or synthetic cloths that are applied to various body areas for hours (or even days), these body wraps claim to reduce the size of the body parts to which they are applied.

One company claims: "Expect 'ultimate' results with this amazing 45-minute body wrap! The wrap is infused with a powerful, botanically-based formula to deliver maximum tightening, toning, and firming results where applied to the skin."
Experts discredit the claims that the wraps can result in fat loss. Sure, you can moisturize your skin with these wraps, and you might lose some water weight from sweating, but that's only temporary. Those claims of losing pounds are likely a result of dehydration, experts say.

Our expert says: "Did you know that the human body can hold five to six pounds of water? We've all struggled with annoying 'water weight' gain from time to time, for various reasons: menstruation or hormonal changes, too much salty food, medications, or edema chief among them. While these pounds certainly count when you hop on the scale, they are temporary--and they're the weight that you lose when you suddenly shed large amounts of weight. When you use a body wrap, the lost inches are either a result of sweating or the redistribution of fluids to other parts of the body.

"And remember that just as you can't 'spot-tone' one particular body part, you also can't shed weight from one part of the body at a time." -- Tanya Jolliffe, nutrition expert

Money saved: $20-$450 per wrap

Rip-off #4: Acai berry, hoodia and other exotic supplements or food additives

Lose 20 pounds in 2 days with hoodia!
Açaí flush is the secret to weight loss.
"Ginseng helped me shed unwanted pounds and keep my energy up!"
Every year, there is a new exotic ingredient on the market that's being touted as the next best weight-loss supplement. Hoodia and acai are still popping up all over the Internet, but they're not alone on store shelves and in Google searches for "diet supplements."
While manufacturers would like you to believe that these plants are harmless and will spur massive weight loss, there is no one food or supplement that is the key to losing pounds and keeping them off.
We could list any number of bogus supplements and their purported benefits here, but acai and hoodia are two of the biggest culprits this year.
Know this: Not only has the FTC cracked down on fake news sites boasting diet and weight loss secrets related to acai, but the hoodia industry has also been the target of legal action.
Our experts say: "Berries are a rich source of vitamins and minerals; however, the health and weight loss claims being made by some companies that sell acai berry juice are not supported by scientific evidence.  When you combine an overpriced product with health claims that are not research based, it equals nutrition scam.

"For years the South African San bush people have used the succulent plant, Hoodia gordonii, to stave off hunger during long hunts.  A few preliminary and unpublished research studies indicate that there may be some type of appetite-suppressing mechanism from a molecule in Hoodia called P57. This molecule supposedly affects the hypothalamus of the brain to reduce appetite. Now this plant from the Kalahari Desert is being imported and made into Hoodia pills, tablets and capsules to supposedly help with hunger control for those trying to lose weight. However, there is no conclusive evidence to support these claims regarding appetite control and weight loss. For now, more evidence is needed to determine if Hoodia is effective for any clinical condition.   Beyond that, there is plenty of fake Hoodia on the market.   News reports suggest that some Hoodia products don't even contain any actual Hoodia." -- Becky Hand, R.D., L.D., SparkPeople Head Dietitian

"The supplement industry is not regulated the same way that prescription medications are because they are classifed as food products.  There are not enough independent clinical trials (or in most cases no clinical trials at all) to substantiate many of the incredible claims that these products make.  Unfortunately, there is a tendency for some of these products to be laced with actual prescription drugs that can have dangerous side effects.  The substance that you believe to be suppressing your appetite is actually an unlisted banned medication. If you buy any of these products, you must accept the risk that you may getting something in addition to what you think you are taking. Buyer beware." -- Dr. Birdie Varnedore, M.D.

Money saved: $20-$100/month

Rip-off #5: Protein-pushing pros

Let's start by saying that your body needs protein, which has the unique ability to build, repair, and maintain body cells and tissues like your skin, muscles, organs, blood, and even bones; form enzymes and hormones that enable your body to function normally; control your body’s acid-base balance; as antibodies, protect you from disease-carrying bacteria and viruses; maintain your fluid balance; and control your body’s acid-base balance. Protein helps you stay fuller longer and gives your meals and snacks staying power.

We also want to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with protein powders, supplements, and shakes; it's the way they are marketed that classifies them as a rip-off. Though trainers and manufacturers tell us we'll never lose weight, bulk up or slim down without them, most of us have no need for protein supplementation. For the average American, getting enough protein is not a concern.

Health organizations recommend limiting your protein intake to 10-35% of your total calorie needs. is programmed to calculate your protein baseline to be 20% of your total calorie intake. For someone who is consuming 2,000 calories, this would equal 100 grams of protein (at 4 calories per gram, equals 400 calories). In most cases, this example protein intake could still be considered healthy if it ranged from 50 grams (10% of intake) to 175 grams (35%).

Because most of our members are striving to meet weight loss goals, we also recommend a minimum level of protein—at least 60 grams daily for females and 75 grams daily for males. This requirement will help prevent muscle loss and promote feelings of fullness among dieters.
If you're an athlete or a bodybuilder, chances are you'll need more protein than the average person. But the rest of us, even those of us who are active, don't really need the added protein.

Our expert says: "Protein powders and supplements are probably the biggest scam of the year. Very few people need them when eating a healthy diet.  If you are within your SparkPeople protein range, then protein shakes are a complete waste of your money (they are pricey) and just a source of extra calories.  There are a few folks who are not getting in adequate protein from their food selections, so a protein shake can help. 
"The big scam comes in when trainers and others who try to sell these products to consumers--with no knowledge of their eating habits. For example, fitness trainers who look at a person and say, 'Hey, you need to use a protein shake after your workout.' Then the trainer says, 'And you can buy the protein shake from me personally.'---This SCREAMS of unethical and irresponsible practice!

"If you enjoy these products or need them, there's nothing to worry about. But if you feel at all pressured to buy fancy protein supplements from anyone--be it a trainer, a clerk at a vitamin store or a friend who's using the same product--just say no." -- Becky Hand, R.D., L.D., SparkPeople Head Dietitian

Money saved: $20-$50 per month

Rip-Off #6: HCG injections

Coach Nicole warned us about this wacky diet--which involves eating a strict diet of no more than 500 calories a day, plus injections (gulp!)--a couple of years ago. Yet now, just as then, hCG is a hot diet trend, heavily marketed in print and radio ads. It's so widely used that you probably even know someone who has tried it.
She said: "If you're completely changing your diet and eating a third of the calories you should be eating to stay healthy, it's hard to know what's really causing weight loss: the diet, the hCG injection/pill or both. Research shows that the restrictive diet is responsible—that hCG injections aren't really doing anything to promote weight loss. What's more, the FDA has never approved of hCG as a weight loss aid."

Our expert says: "Numerous double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies conducted between the 1970s and 1990s (see a list of selected sources below) have shown that hCG injections provide NO weight-loss advantage. In study after study, researchers compared two groups: a control group who followed the diet only and another group who followed the same diet AND received hCG injections. Time after time, the weight loss between the two groups was identical, demonstrating that hCG injections offer no weight-loss advantage over dieting alone. Or in layman's terms, "hCG injections have nothing to do with the weight loss. SAVE YOUR MONEY!" -- Becky Hand, R.D., L.D., SparkPeople Head Dietitian

Money saved: hundreds of dollars a year

At SparkPeople, we firmly believe that weight loss needs to be slow, safe, and gradual to be lasting--no exceptions. Our Success Stories speak for themselves.
Want to learn more about spotting fads and scams?

Are there any dieting scams we missed? Have you fallen for any of these?

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