Why diets don’t work, problem 1: Diet products suck

June 21st, 2008  |  Published in How to eat

Most products promoted as weight-loss supplements do not help the body lose fat.

Diuretics & laxatives

They are often just diuretics, which means they make the body dump water. Or they are laxatives, and we all know what those are. Dieter’s tea, for example, is just a fancy diuretic and laxative (often it contains senna, a powerful herbal laxative), and herein lies the very real danger. Your body needs water to function, and it needs to keep certain minerals (often known as electrolytes), such as potassium and sodium, in balance to perform nearly all metabolic activities. But when you force it to rid itself of the water it needs, or to excrete too quickly, it can upset the delicate balance of your body’s minerals. Several people have died from products like the dieter’s tea because the diuretic and laxative combination threw their electrolyte balance out so badly that the heart wasn’t able to get the signals across its cell membranes, and it didn’t know how or when to beat properly. So it shut down.

Another danger in laxatives is that the natural peristaltic action (rhythmic muscular contractions) of the intestines is disrupted. If laxative use continues for too long, the intestinal muscles atrophy and lose their ability to move the food through, which leads to all kinds of intestinal distress such as constipation and blockages. Very unpleasant! It may seem like weight is lost in the short term with these products, but all that’s being tossed overboard is water and improperly digested food, not fat.

Appetite suppressants and stimulants

Other diet products work by suppressing appetite. Here’s a bit of trivia: the drug MDMA, better known as ecstasy, was originally developed in Germany in the early 20th century as a diet drug, because of its appetite suppressant effect. It’s not known whether experimental subjects lost weight permanently, but they started wearing funny pants and hugging a lot.

Usually, appetite suppressants have a stimulant effect. Caffeine, for example, often suppresses appetite and perks you up. Same with ephedrine. These two products have been used in conjunction by many dieters, and in general, if used intelligently, the side effects are limited to jitteriness, irritability, sleeplessness, and an elevated heart rate. Kinda the same as having too much coffee. The side effects usually diminish with use. However, there have been deaths linked to ephedrine use, and while it hasn’t been conclusively proven that the ephedrine was to blame, it wouldn’t be surprising if someone thought that if 25 mg of ephedrine and 250 mg of caffeine was the recommended dose, then maybe 250 mg of ephedrine and 2500 mg of caffeine would work 10 times better.

I’ve tried ephedrine on and off through the years, always with a half or even a quarter-dose. Even 8 mg of ephedrine would give me a good buzz. But I quit when I noticed a weird squeezy feeling in my chest every time I had some ephedrine. Anyone who has a major predisposition to cardiovascular disease and/or anxiety should exercise caution with these.

A good life lesson is not to fuck with stimulants, for they will definitely fuck with you.

Meal replacements

And finally, other things like meal replacements just “work” because they require you to substitute them for a meal. Well, duh, if a Slim Fast bar is 200 calories, and you have to eat it for breakfast and lunch, then unless you eat 2000 calories for dinner, you’re going to lose weight. If you read the fine print, you’ll find that meal replacement bars tell you to eat a moderate dinner and exercise. Amazing.

Hell, you could eat dryer lint and get the same effect.

Also, many of those bars and shakes are loaded with sugar and other chemical crud you don’t need. Next time you buy a protein bar, flip it over and read the label.

Toss the diet crap. Treat your body right.

One supplement that doesn’t suck: glucomannan

OK, here’s one “diet product” that actually doesn’t suck too badly and can actually help with blood sugar control: glucomannan. Glucomannan is a type of soluble fibre that comes from the root of the konjac plant.

In Asian cuisines, konjac is often made into little cakes or noodles (e.g. shirataki noodles). It has a gelatin-like texture. You can also buy it in a capsule or as a powder, which you then mix with water to make a gel. PGX is a common brand.

Glucomannan helps control blood sugar and can bind to fecal fat, helping to remove it from the body. It also absorbs a ton of water and expands in the gut, helping you feel more satisfied and keeping you off the blood sugar rollercoaster. Plus the healthy bacteria in your colon love it. (However, if you are obese, you should consider a good probiotic too, as obese people often have unhealthy gut flora and overgrowth of “bad” bacterial species. You don’t want to fertilize the unwanted stuff.)

If you absolutely, positively, must have some kind of supplement to help you with losing body fat and getting healthy, try 1 g of glucomannan (trust me, don’t overdo it unless you like pooping a lot) with lots of water before your first meal of the day. Supplement intelligently: If you find yourself bloated, farty, and running to the can, cut the dosage down or avoid it altogether.

Of course, you can also get soluble fibre from other natural whole food sources, such as fruits/veggies, beans and legumes, cooked then cooled potatoes, and some whole grains. Or hit up your local Asian grocery for shirataki noodles.

What to do instead

  • Choose nutrient-rich, satiating whole foods — colourful veggies, lean proteins, small portions of healthy fats, etc. These will nourish you and make you feel much more satisfied in the long run.
  • Use stimulants such as caffeine sparingly. If you’re substituting a cup of coffee for a meal, and/or relying on your venti Starbucks to power you through the afternoon, you may have a problem.
  • Be skeptical about health and weight loss claims made by any product. Nothing “burns” fat.
  • If you must eat protein bars, make your own instead.
  • If you must have some kind of “diet supplement”, and/or if you have problems with blood sugar control, try supplementing glucomannan either as shirataki noodles or as a capsule taken before a meal with lots of water. Remember: there is no magic bullet. This stuff just helps you feel fuller longer, feeds your good GI tract bacteria, and helps you avoid wild blood sugar swings.

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