[ The Money Side of Lifeā„¢ ]

Skinny Science: Weight-loss fads that lighten your wallet

By Stephen Ullmer on February 1st, 2009 •

Fat people, fatty foods and fad diets targeted at the ever growing spare-tire-toting population consume ever more room in today's mass media. The United States claims more than 130 million obese or overweight citizens, a staggering figure made worse by the loss of $100 billion to $150 billion in health care costs each year, as reported by U.S. News & World Report. Though it seems that we prefer General Mills to treadmills, as a country we spend $40 billion a year on weight-loss products and services, according to BusinessWeek. All too often we see expansive marketing campaigns for diet pills and celebrity diet crazes that rarely emphasize a balanced diet and regular exercise.

One common diet scheme advocates the metabolic benefits of herbal supplements. Savvy marketers have capitalized on weak FDA regulation of herbal supplements, thereby allowing many ineffective and dangerous supplements to capture valuable shelf space in local health and grocery stores. New FDA regulations will better monitor supplement manufacturers, making sure their products contain what they claim and have no contaminants, but they won't fully go into effect until June 2010. Meanwhile, dietary supplements have become a $22 billion industry, according to The Associated Press.

Other scams include pills that claim to act as fat- and carb-blockers. Technically speaking, such pills may indeed block the absorption of fats and carbs. Unfortunately, as these pills inhibit your ability to absorb common substances into your body, you're likely to offend coworkers with your ensuing flatulence, if the pills work at all.

Ridiculous weight-loss fads are nothing new. Beginning in 1857, Dr. Gustav Zander advocated the use of a belt-driven fat massager that claimed to jiggle away fat. These machines were more than a passing fancy, and "Zander Rooms" actually existed in health clubs for many years. In fact, the Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Virginia paid $50,000 for machines for their Zander Room in 1902 (that's over $1.1 million in 2008 dollars).

This might seem like an antiquated scheme, but similar products called "fat massaging belts" can be found online today, priced as high as $200. Other insane diets included Horace Fletcher's early 20th century diet, which consisted of chewing food almost three dozen times and spitting out the remains, as well as an incredible cigarette diet in the 1920s that predated the Surgeon General's warning.

Many modern diets eschew the weight-loss belts and cigarettes of yesteryear in favor of combining high prices and common sense in a single dietary package. These contemporary diets often encourage consumers to drop weight by limiting their daily caloric intake. This commonsense behavior comes at a substantial price that consumers are apparently quite willing to pay. While the average consumer spends about $40 per week on food, Forbes found that with extra startup costs like program cookbooks, juicers and membership fees, the first week on newer weight-loss programs like The Abs Diet and Weight Watchers can cost from $100 to $385. At this rate, the extra money could be put towards a gym membership and weekly meetings with a personal trainer or nutritionist, rather than a slew of prepackaged meals, points cards, or expensive cookbooks.

Some may believe that certain diets in the marketplace are completely effective, especially with as many tried-and-true believers who swear by their diet of choice. Yet even these results can be explained when one considers that many popular diets advocate portion control or emphasize eating only a particular piece of food at a particular time of day--clearly, the few souls who find themselves able to follow their diet's advice have not discovered a new secret. Rather, they've stumbled upon a simple solution: consume fewer calories on a daily basis than you burn. Whether this balance is accomplished by eating healthier or exercising more, the basic equation is a simple one.

The Bottom Line

Adults need 30 minutes of exercise five times a week, so ride a bike or hit the gym before you shell out hard-earned cash for overpriced and gimmicky diets.


webmd.com; boston.com; abcnews.com; foxnews.com; mayoclinic.com; fitness.gov; books.google.com; bls.gov; usnews.com; businessweek.com; healthandbeautydelivered.com; jennycraig.com; nih.gov; ucsf.edu; usda.gov; nutrisystem.com; forbes.com; atkins.com

miley cyrus

I really like this article. weight loss fads are becoming very expensive for people and at times very dangerous. People are shelling out lots of money for making their dreams come true and some weight loss pills are resulting in side effects like hypertension, nausea, heart palpitations, sleep problems.

by miley cyrus on July 1, 2009

Hi there. That's probably the worst part about some of these ridiculously expensive diets, that they can be really dangerous. It's why it's important that you see your doctor before spending money on any weight-loss product, make sure you do your research, and spend your money wisely.

by jenniebartlemay on July 2, 2009
Ruth Cunningham

You are seriously out of touch with the weight problem many of us face. I've been doing more than 30 minutes of exercise daily and counting calories, nutrition, protein grams, fat grams, you name it, for decades and still, I'm overweight. Many overweight people I know eat far less than you can imagine. And many skinny people I know eat far more than you can imagine. Sorry, you're just wrong.

by Ruth Cunningham on December 10, 2009

It's good to eat healthy and exercise regularly. You make an excellent point, and your personal experience provides a valuable perspective. The article was not meant to offend, only to warn against the more expensive and foolish diet gimicks that aren't worth the big bucks people spend on them.

by jenniebartlemay on December 11, 2009

Maybe it's best you try the classical way first, through exercise and a healthy diet. That's what worked for me all these years, and I've stayed at the same weight for some decades now. But you have to be sure that there's no way they come separately.
Angie Manson

by Anonymous on March 31, 2010

Hi Angie. Thanks for the advice!

by jenniebartlemay on April 1, 2010

I agree that common sense should guide us when trying to lose weight. I am eating small amount of healthy foods and I'm also biking. But what do u do when you're not strong enough to resist some temptations? I am taking some pills to cut my hunger. I've read that these diet pills can be addictive. Is this true?

by Andres on September 27, 2010
Blu Electronic Cigarette

Yes diet pills can be addictive. I would be really careful when it comes to that stuff.

by Blu Electronic Cigarette on February 17, 2011

 Absolutely. Always best to talk to a doctor before trying any diet pills.

by jenniebartlemay on February 18, 2011

 There doesn't seem to be a lot of research into diet-pill addiction. However, there do seem to be a lot that would indicate a potential for those pills to be addictive. Read this article at livestrong.com and talk to your doctor. 

by jenniebartlemay on September 28, 2010

It's amazing to me that people miss the simple equation: Less Calories + Exercise = Weight Loss Millions of people around the world want a quick fix to their weight situation but why not put some hard work and effort into exercising and changing your diet. With all the cheap home gym equipment out there you don't even need to leave your house when you exercise. Just get the bare minimum and maybe a good treadmill to get started.

by Paul on August 10, 2011

 It certainly seems easy, but it's definitely as much a psychological problem as well as a physical problem. You're right, though, that gym equipment doesn't have to be expensive

by jenniebartlemay on August 11, 2011

I agree the weight loss industry is primarily about making money not distilling knowledge about weight loss. Exercise is a critical part of every diet program combined with eating healthy

by delliedean on September 23, 2011
angela d

I found this new website (ettona.com) where you can compare all kinds of methods to lose weight (yes, even some more open-minded ones like Quantum Cookbook that is based on the Law of Attraction). Luckily, majority of content is filled with useful programs and systems for weight loss, muscle building and fitness. Membership is optional, but I advise it, because you get 2 great ebooks for free: '100 Tips for quick weight loss' and 'Lose Weight and keep eating'. www.ettona.com

by angela d on October 31, 2012

 I don't know Angela. It looks like Ettona is more about extreme fitness than healthy weight loss. Always beware of sites that tell you how to lose weight fast. There's a healthy way to lose weight and it usually comes slowly with exercise and a healthy diet rather than super quickly with some technique or other. 

by jenniebartlemay on November 6, 2012

i read your comments all are good but i also suggest to all of you if you want reduce your weight than try Green Coffee Bean Extract review. i really tell you if you use this product you get many benefits to reduce your weight and increase your stamina....

green coffee bean extract review

by Nikolas on April 18, 2013
Mukesh singh

You can eat more protein, It is great for weight loss because it fills you up more quickly as well as being essential for strength and power. Just because you are losing fat doesn't mean you want to lose muscles. Fat burner supplements enhances your metabolism and helps you burn excess calories. Everyone wants to losing weight and maintaining a pleasant physique.

by Mukesh singh on December 26, 2014

We all know that exercise is good for us, but few of us take the time to understand all the ways it benefits our bodies, especially to burn fat. For doing this you can use fat burner supplements, it also helps to burn fat without any side effects. These weight loss supplements works in two way. First, they enhances your metabolism and helps you burn excess calories. Second, they increases your energy expenditure. They help you to shed those extra pounds when used in combination with a healthy food and regular exercise. http://www.healthgenie.in/nutrition/sports-and-fitness/fat-burners

by crest on May 17, 2015
Phen375 Fat Loss Supplements

Thanks for sharing the excellent information. I think weight loss is one of the hardest thing to do but if someone really willing to lose weight they need to apply your tips here.

by Phen375 Fat Loss Supplements on June 13, 2015

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