The Truth About Diet Pills & Fad Diets

Diet and Supplement PillsEveryone is talking about the downside to “Fad Diets” in the media and why they can be so hard to follow. I’m so happy to see a real “anti-diet” spirit growing and a shift to living life through healthy eating and moderation. But let’s take a closer look at diet pills and fad diets to really understand why they are so problematic.

Diet Pills Acting as Appetite Suppressants

Many diet pills work essentially as appetite suppressants that can help you lose weight by changing the normal functions of the body – to make it believe it’s not hungry or full. In some cases, they also change levels of serotonin and catecholamines (such as dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline) – all brain chemicals that affect mood and appetite among so many other things.

As an example, the diet pills phentermine, diethylpropion and sibutramine help to suppress your appetite but they can also bring about a lot of unwanted, unhealthy side effects like heart palpitations, addiction, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, dizziness, blurred vision, headaches, insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Another very old diet pill, Fenfluramine, was one of the active ingredients in the Fen-Phen anti-obesity medication (the other drug being phentermine), which was withdrawn from the U.S. market in 1997 after reports of heart valve disease, and pulmonary hypertension.

Several studies show that diet pills on average can bring about weight loss of 5 to 22 pounds over a 1-year period, but in some cases the effect can level off after 6 months with no additional weight loss.

So ask yourself if the (potential) side effects are worth it when you could simply make small changes to your eating habits and introduce light exercise to achieve the same goal?

Diet Pills Acting via Blockage of Fat Absorption

Drugs to block absorption of dietary fats such as orlistat (marketed as Xenical or Alli) can cause gas, diarrhea, bowel incontinence and soiling. This can also have the unwanted side effect of becoming dehydrated, resulting in loss of other nutrients that are not digested from healthier foods you might be consuming. Vitamin and minerals deficiencies for the body could mean real trouble for your overall, long term health.

Carb Free Diets like the Atkins Diet

Carb-free diets or diets that limit carbohydrates like Atkins, do not restrict the amounts of consumed fats: since there is little carbohydrate or sugar to turn into energy, the body uses fat or protein for energy, which does result in weight loss.

The most pressing health concern of carb-free diets is that it may direct dieters to an overconsumption of meat products high in saturated fat, leading to an increased risk of heart disease. A 2001 scientific review conducted by Freedman et al. and published in the peer reviewed scientific journal Obesity Research concluded that low-carb dieters’ initial advantage in weight loss was a result of increased water loss, and that after the initial period, low-carbohydrate diets produce similar fat loss to other diets with similar caloric intake.

As an aside, Atkins dieters may miss out on complex, whole grains, which have other important nutrients that our bodies have to have to function, for example fiber. Fiber is crucial for intestinal and colon health, because it is responsible for “cleaning” the intestines, helping to keep blood sugar even, and delivering vital minerals that your body needs.

Starvation Diets

Besides feeling totally deprived, starvation diets can strip the body of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients. Not only can starvation diets ruin a glowing complexion and healthy hair, but they leave you feeling drained, fatigued, and moody. They can also make your blood pressure drop, and cause your body to leach calcium that it isn’t getting from its normal food sources, which can be a serious concern for women – who are naturally susceptible to osteoporosis.

Skipping Meals

Skipping meals might seem like an easy solution to weight loss, but when your blood sugar takes a dive you could be doing your body more harm than you think. Decreased blood sugar can not only cause moodiness, but studies have shown that people who skip meals tend to eat more and take on even more calories with other meals or snacks.

Studies also show that eating breakfast can help to improve metabolism. I eat small meals throughout the day that are packed with veggies – they are low-calorie, low fat, and low sugar, and are a great way to avoid that low energy feeling. In my case, eating small healthy meals and snacks keeps cravings for unhealthy foods at bay and helps me not to overeat from being unbearably hungry.

Diet Shakes

Many diets that use diet shakes require that you replace breakfast and lunch for a shake and then eat a low calorie meal. While you are limiting calories (which will lead to weight loss), you may not be getting the nutrients you body needs, not to mention a host of additives and emulsifiers like gum arabic, calcium caseinate, cellulose gel, canola oil, potassium phosphate, soybean lecithin, cellose gum, mono and digycerides, maltodextrin, artificial flavor, carrageenan and dextrose.

Vitamins, minerals, and fiber that you would normally get from meals that contain fruits and vegetables, might be present in the shakes but there is no guarantee that your body will absorb those artificially placed nutrients. If you want maximum nutrition with fewer calories, eat raw or lightly steamed vegetables, nature knows best!

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  1. I once tried using Xenical because my doctor said it was “safe”, until I found out (the hard way)what it does to you.I immediately stopped using it. It takes time to pack the pounds, and so it will take time and a lot of discipline as well to let go of it 🙂

  2. There is only one way to lose weight. Diet and exercise. Now diet doesn’t mean starving yourself or skipping meals. Just eat right and exercise. My old friend tried to starve herself….she didn’t look very healthy.

  3. Thank you for great post!

  4. albert duncan says

    I agree that long term crash dieting is bad for you and proper diet and regular exercise is the only solution, but crash dieting has it’s uses and can be a real motivation boost at the beginning to get you stated. However if should only be done for a few days and if you go back to your old ways you will lose the benefits.

  5. Bernardo Canclini says

    Very interesting post. I discovered your blog within the weblog directory I do not know how it got here up however you made a really informative post. Good job.

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