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There is no magic pill when it comes to shedding pounds

I fell for it.


Up late one night folding laundry, I caught an episode of “The Dr. Oz Show” where celebrity surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz extolled the virtues of green coffee bean extract for weight loss. Soon after, I bought a bottle on Amazon.

I should have known better, but for several weeks, I took the big gelatinous pills several times a day, as directed on the bottle. Nothing happened. Pounds didn’t melt away. I was exactly the same, and disappointed.

Whether it’s green coffee bean extract, acai berry supplements or slimming creams, doctors and consumer watchdogs agree: There is no magic bullet when it comes to shedding pounds.

“When you have a doctor — an actual medical doctor — who is making extravagant claims about various ingredients, that is going to be very appealing to consumers,” said Mary Engle, the associate director for advertising practices at the Federal Trade Commission, which prosecuted the makers of the green coffee bean extract on Oz’s show and got a $9-million settlement last month.

“When you have someone who is authoritative and respected making these claims, it adds saleability. … It may help overcome the initial skepticism about whether this is really going to work.”

Americans spend nearly $3 billion a year on diet and weight-loss supplements, Engle said. The agency has prosecuted about 40 cases in the last five years involving false and misleading claims in the industry.

But experts warn against seeking out miracle cures for obesity or shortcuts to shedding unwanted weight. They say hard work and sound medical guidance is typically the best way to achieve healthful weight loss. And many people like Lisa Alexander of Pontiac cosign on that advice, and offer cautionary tales about diet pills, weight loss supplements, etc.

“When you’re a fat girl, and you want to be thinner and you want to lose weight, you try a lot of things,” said Alexander, 53, who works in finance for LaFontaine Nissan in Highland Township.

“I would diet, and I would eat hard-boiled eggs, and grapefruit. I’ve taken Xenical, and over-the-counter diet pills that make your daggone ears ring and make you crazy. None of it ever worked. I would lose 15 pounds, and in the next six months, I’d gain 30.”

At 298 pounds in 2008, Alexander’s blood pressure was so out of control, her doctor was concerned she might have a stroke or heart attack.

She knew she had to do something, or she wouldn’t live long. So Alexander made an appointment with Dr. Michael Wood, medical director of the Harper Bariatric Medicine Institute at the Detroit Medical Center, and learned she was a candidate for surgery.

After her lap-band surgery, Alexander had to learn a new way to eat, and to live.

Today, Alexander is “160 pounds, soaking wet,” and at 5-foot-7, she wears a size 8.

“I thought I was a good-looking big girl, but I look better now. I just don’t put the stuff in my mouth anymore,” she said. “It’s not worth it.”

Only 2% of people who are that obese are likely to lose the weight without surgery and keep it off, he said.

“Our goal is to not only have you lose the weight, but to lose the weight and maintain the weight loss indefinitely,” he said. “After surgery, about 80% of patients are able to lose about half their excess weight and maintain it.”

Changing a lifestyle

For people who don’t qualify for bariatric surgery, there are other medical programs that can help.

“Obesity is a disease,” said Dr. Meryl Held, medical director of Medical Weight Loss Clinic. “Just like any other medical condition or medical issue, it is helpful to have the support of science and physicians and years of experience to help you navigate and become educated on the appropriate things to eat and the lifestyle changes that need to come in place not only to lose the weight, but to lose it in a healthy way, without losing muscle mass, and then to understand the lifestyle changes to maintain that weight loss,” she said.

Depending on how much weight a patient would like to lose, the cost of the program starts at $200 and can run as much as $1,000 or more, said David Paull, president of MWLC, which has 33 locations in Michigan and one in Ohio. It often is not covered by insurance, however medical flex spending accounts can be used for the program, Held said.

“Absolutely, it’s calories in versus calories out. That’s true,” said Held, “but the type of calories that are ingested also are super important. Our bodies react to different chemicals in different ways. … It’s not just how many calories, it’s what kind of calories.”

Dr. Tom Rifai, medical director for metabolic nutrition and weight management at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, agreed.

Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, combined with lean protein is vital, Rifai said, in keeping off the extra pounds.

“There is no over-the-counter supplement that meets anywhere near the level of miraculous claims compared to actual evidence,” he said, noting that some supplements can actually be harmful.

“Potential risks of many supplements range from over-stimulation to problems regarding blood pressure and the heart,” he said. Not to mention, the waste of “time and money not focusing on the evidence-based tools that we know really are necessary for healthy weight loss.”

Held said that while some of the diet supplements appear promising in preliminary studies, the jury is still out.

“Some of them are effective and some of them are just a gimmick, and we’re still sorting through which ones have potential and which ones do not, she said. “These alternative therapies are a mixed bag. … People are desperate to try something to get them out of a funk. Most people have tried something and failed, and so they’re willing to go for whatever is out there that sounds promising.”

Even if that something is a scam.

Contact Kristen Jordan Shamus: 313-222-5997 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.

If you go

The Detroit Medical Center and Medical Weight Loss Clinic plan a free community event, “Your New Self — The Shape of Things to Come,” a no-cost weight-loss and wellness community event 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at the Regency Manor Banquet Center, 25228 W. Twelve Mile Road in Southfield.

It will include a fashion show featuring patients who’ve lost weight, fitness demonstrations, consultations, giveaways, presentations from doctors and more.

For details or to register, go to harperbmi.org/your-new-self-event or call 855-564-7639.

Top weight-loss tips

Dr. Meryl Held, medical director of Medical Weight Loss Clinic, offers these suggestions to help you lose weight:

Cut out extra sugar, including soda and soft drinks.

Drink as much water as you can, aiming for 8 to 10 glasses of water a day.

Add a serving of vegetables with each meal, trying to crowd out the food that’s bad for you with food that’s good. “Veggies are low-calorie, and you can eat a lot of them without adding too many calories to your diet. That can help you feel full, especially when you’re trying to lose weight.

Make sure you’re getting enough lean protein so you feel full longer.

Physical activity is always important. If you are healthy enough for exercise, try to get in 10,000 steps a day.

More on diet scams

The Federal Trade Commission offers tips and advice on its website to help consumers spot potentially false advertising in diet and weight-loss supplements. To learn more, go to www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0061-weighing-claims-diet-ads.

To file a complaint with the FTC, call 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357) or go to www.ftc.gov.

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