Resolve to Avoid Weight Loss Scams

High angle view of a mature woman standing on a weight scale

Indulging in all those rich holiday treats packs on the pounds, which is no doubt why many of us put weight loss at the top of our New Year's resolutions.

It's no coincidence that January brings an increase of advertising touting the latest weight loss miracles. Supplements and other drugs, fat-burning food programs, weight-reducing devices…can any of these products really help reach a healthy weight?

Being overweight is a growing problem for seniors today, who have not been spared by our nation's obesity epidemic. Now more than ever, geriatricians are spreading the word that excess body fat raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis and diabetes. The National Institute on Aging even recently reported a link between being overweight and the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

So, it is the first week of January and you've just hopped on the scale. Bad news? What next? Many seniors hope for a quick fix to help them shed those extra pounds. But scammers are always quick to take advantage of the hopes and health concerns of consumers. The "diet products" they sell are more likely to shrink your wallet than your waist, and some may actually be dangerous. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration shares guidelines for evaluating a weight loss product, program or device:

Know what you're taking. Be aware of the ingredients contained in any weight loss product. Some of these substances can be toxic. Even "natural" supplements can be harmful when consumed in high amounts, taken for a long time, or used in combination with certain other drugs, substances, or foods.

Purchase with care. Remember that supplements are not FDA-approved. While some are safe, others may be unsafe, containing harmful or tainted ingredients. Research products and services with the Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov),  the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) and the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) before you purchase any weight loss items. This may not only save you time and money, but may also save your health.

Always talk to your doctor before beginning a weight loss product or program. Weight loss products may be harmful for people with certain health conditions, and may interact with other medications. Your healthcare provider is the best judge when it comes to selecting a safe, effective weight loss regimen that is appropriate for you.

Ask yourself if a claim sounds too good to be true. Drugs and devices that claim they will "melt fat" are useless and may cause health problems. They are sold with false or misleading advertising. Be cautious if claims for a product seem exaggerated or unrealistic. Be skeptical about testimonials and photos. Scammers make up "real life stories" and use photoediting tools on photos to create a phony "before and after" effect.

Safe Weight Loss Tips

For most of us, it isn't easy to lose weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese! Over 40 million Americans go on a diet each year, spending billions on weight-loss programs. What are the most effective ways to shed unhealthy fat?

  • Step one: talk to your healthcare provider. Your doctor is the best place to start for medical advice about a weight-loss strategy that's right for you.
  • Avoid "crash diets." Fasting and other very low-calorie diets can be dangerous for older adults. If you are still tempted to try this method, remember that rapid weight loss makes it more likely that you will regain those pounds—and then some.
  • Learn more about nutrition. The more you know about the foods you eat, the more able you are to select foods that provide healthful nutrients, rather than those that provide empty calories and leave you hungry for more.
  • Add exercise to your daily routine. Physical activity burns calories and helps control appetite. The USDA even modified their traditional "food pyramid" to include exercise as a vital component of weight loss.
  • Reset your ideas about portion size. Food portions have grown and grown over the past decades. The amount of food in packaged foods and restaurant meals has expanded as fast as our waistlines! (Check out the resources at the end of this article to find some useful information about portion sizes.)
  • Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast makes it more likely that dieters will increase their subsequent daily food intake. This year, the Society for Neuroscience even used brain imagery to demonstrate that those who missed the first meal of the day were more likely to be obsessed with food.
  • Choose more plant-based foods. High-fiber, low-fat veggies are full of nutrients and help fill you up with fewer calories.
  • Join a support group. You can find weight loss support groups through your healthcare provider, senior living community or senior center, or through commercial companies. Informal weight loss groups of friends and families can also help you stay motivated.
  • If you get off track, get back on. Few people make it through a weight-loss program without fluctuations. If you splurge at a party or overdo it for a day or two, that doesn't have to mean the end of your healthy weight goals. Just start over the next day.

Legitimate healthcare providers have developed safe weight loss programs for seniors and people of every age. Medicare or your private insurance may cover part or all of the costs of a weight loss intervention. This might include counseling or in some cases, weight loss surgery. It's never too late to benefit from a healthier weight!

Learn More

Watch entertaining, educational videos on the FDA "Weight Loss Fraud" web page.

Visit the USDA's Choose My Plate website to learn more about eating well.

Reboot your ideas about portion control with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "portion control pitfalls game" and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute "Portion Distortion" quiz.

Read about the Medicare Weight Loss Coverage on the Medicare website.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2014