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The Do’s & Don’ts of Diet Aids

Shira Isenberg

Why bother exercising and cutting out calories, many question, when you can get a quick weight-loss fix in the form of a pill, supplement, or meal replacement? Fact is, when it comes to diet aids, there’s a lot of scary stuff in the fine print.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A serial dieter, Sharon Greenspan* was thrilled when her sister-in-law brought her a bottle of diet pills from Mexico. In just two months’ time, Sharon dropped a dramatic 50 pounds from her 4-foot11-inch frame. “I wasn’t eating anything. I just wasn’t hungry. I drank coffee and water, and if you put cake in front of me, I would just look at it,” Sharon remembers.

But when the bottle was finished, her husband wouldn’t let her get any refills. He was too scared by the side effects. “I was so nervous, always yelling,” Sharon admits. “I felt shaky, but at the same time, super-confident, like I could move mountains.” Once the effects of the diet pills wore off, Sharon started gaining back every single pound she had lost.

The drive to be thin is so powerful that it can propel otherwise smart women like Sharon to take questionable or even downright risky medications in the hope of shedding a few pounds. Even risky diet pills can prove irresistible because you often see the results right away. Why bother dieting or exercising, many question, when there’s a quick fix in the form of a pill, supplement, or meal replacement?

It’s also hard to ignore the tantalizing claims of “natural” remedies or advertisements that demonstrate nearly unbelievable results. Manufacturers are cashing in on this desire for instant weight-loss gratification — in 2009, the sales for nutrition products topped $108 billion (yes, billion).

In truth, the popularity of these diet aids should come as no surprise because in our culture, we often turn to pills to solve problems. Sometimes, it’s a good thing, like taking medication for depression, anxiety, and ADHD. In a similar vein, if you’re overweight (a category that includes two-thirds of Americans), popping a diet pill may be just what the doctor ordered. Especially as excess body fat can cause joint problems, as well as increase the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease.


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