by Barbara Berkeley, MD
It's unfair. I got your attention with the title of this post, and now I must deliver the blow. There is no such pill.
But I was driven to write this post after following a link for yet another one of those clever pop-ups that promise "the hormonal secret to weight loss". This particular one...you may have seen it....claims to be posted by a physician. He even touts his impressive credentials. He tells you that he will deliver his secrets for free, out of the goodness of his heart. And he seems to begin that way, treating you to a long, cleverly animated discussion about weight related hormones. But at the end of the day, the solution to controlling these rogue hormones comes in a little bottle, actually a few little bottles, in the form of yet another magic formula for weight loss. There is plenty of opportunity to key in your credit card.
Googling reviews on this product turns up very little in the way of positive experience. Oddly, the pills come with directions to eat an incredibly strict diet. Those few who do report weight loss are smart enough to wonder whether the diet, and not the pills, might have caused it.
This is the same technique used by the purveyors of HCG, another miracle cure that has no science whatever to back it up. Several years ago, my husband and I went to a tennis camp out west for a few days. The camp was part of a spa and we ate in a communal dining room with those who were seeking balance and rejuvenation. (We, on the other hand, were simply trying to play as many hours of tennis a day as possible.) This created a bit of a problem because the spa food which was served was so spare. After running around in the desert sun for five hours, we needed food and fluid. Seriously. We found ourselves making after hours-raids on the kitchen in search of the few scraps left over from meals. Starving even more than we though, were the small band of people who were staying at the spa for HCG treatment. These folks sat at their own separate table, got daily HCG injections, and were served a 500 calorie per day diet. For this privilege, they paid over $3000 per week. Think they were losing weight? You bet. They were miles from civilization and I can tell you, there was nothing in that refrigerator! Weight loss retreats are yet another form of "miracle cure". I'm thinking of starting one at my home. All I would need to do is lock people in the house, feed them very little (a great savings for me!) and have them do all the work around my property. Come to think of it, haven't I just described the Biggest Loser?
The problem with miracle cures for obesity is that they are strictly about weight shedding and not about weight permanence. Most of them don't even work to speed weight loss. But the worst part of miracle cures is who they target. These cures sell because people who are suffering are vulnerable. I am continually impressed with just how vulnerable they are.
In my own practice and via my blog and facebook page, I am frequently asked about various products, treatments and devices. Those doing the asking are smart, educated people. But their judgement has been subverted by the enormous desire to believe. Maybe just this once it will turn out that this newly discovered herb from the magical tree in Peru really "melts" away fat without effort. Maybe this berry, this belt, this injection, this body wrap, this suction procedure, this way of thinking, this vitamin combination, this herbal brew of the ancients will end my problem with food for good.
Here is my simple, foolproof way of vetting such treatments, devices and claims: If the cure you are investigating has not gone viral on the internet, it doesn't work.
Our modern hyper-connected world insures that good news (and bad) spreads fast. You can be sure that any weight loss intervention that succeeds "miraculously" would be the subject of every headline on every mass media site faster than you can say "egg mc muffin". Those things that do work pretty well, like supervised diet programs, Weight Watchers, anorexic medications, surgery and so on are already well documented. They are not the subject of viral enthusiasm because they all require hard work and commitment and have problems with achieving long term weight maintenance. That is the state of obesity treatment in 2013. We can create weight loss but can't assure it will stick.
Thus this blog for those of you who want to prove that paradigm wrong.
If you are someone who finds yourself going all starry-eyed over the latest raspberry ketone, please stop and think before you open your wallet. Here are a few suggestions:
1. If it's slick, it's probably schtick.
Highly produced commercials and weight loss sites have invested money in their product and expect to make it back. They are counting on you. Real and helpful weight loss information often comes in a low-tech package. See, for example, Robert Lustig's You Tube Sugar: The Bitter Truth (or my own What Causes Weight Gain)
2 Look for 80% positive reviews
When Googling reviews of any product or process, you will always find positive endorsements. Many of these are planted. A treatment that truly works will have an overwhelmingly more positive endorsement profile than one that is a fake.
3. Inspect the package
Is the pill or procedure accompanied by incredibly strict diet or exercise regimen? If so, consider the possibility that it is these interventions, and not the ones that cost money, that are causing any change.
4. Whatever the level of endorsement, do your own thinking
Many of the current weight loss fads (none of which work by the way) became popular through the endorsement of TV personalities, celebs, etc... Remember that TV and mass media gobble up information at a breakneck pace and always need new stories. Anything that relates to weight sells, so new pills, products and cures get reported on even when there is no science to back them up. Regardless of who tells you this product works, please step back from your wallet, take a deep breath and make sure this "cure" passes the smell test.