Friday, May 25, 2012

Recycled weight loss silliness

Despite the annoyance, one thing I have to accept is that weight loss scams continue to be recycled. When I was young and fiesty I would campaign against these charlatans. Now I am resigned to a world where making money is more important than contributing to the public well-being.

Eat biscuits, lose weight
Recently I gave four lectures on “superfoods and superdiets” to doctors and nurses attending a 3-day conference. Clearly they were grateful for balanced and practical nutrition information and enthusiastically asked questions. Sadly, out in the exhibition area was a shonky company promoting the “Cookie Diet”.

You would have heard about variations on this “diet” before. You eat nine cookies during the day and finish off with a meal of fish and salad, or similar, meaning that you have dined on 1000 – 1200 Cals (4200 – 5000 kJs). Yes, you lose weight, just as you would have on 1200 Cals of real food, but that means someone can’t fleece you of $60 a week for a bag of cookies.

My tip is that if you really think that scarfing cookies is a weight loss solution, then go and buy some Tim Tams (Australia’s favourite chocolate biscuit) – much cheaper and I guarantee they will taste better too. Six Tim Tams and a meal of grilled fish and salad will also clock in at 1000 – 1200 Cals. At that rate, a week’s supply of Tim Tams will cost around $12.

There is nothing clever or original about this “eat expensive biscuits and salad until you go stark-raving bonkers, start chewing the leather furniture and go out and buy four family sized pizzas” diet plan. If you lived in Australia in the 1980s you will remember Limmits biscuits. Same useless idea.

Just poo out those calories
As I say, the scams just keep getting recycled and you eventually reach an age where you think: “Oh is that back again?” Another old, failed, scam is the story about a certain pill that stops you from digesting fat or carbohydrate or both, leaving you to poo out all those Calories. Just take a couple with each meal and watch the fat drain off your body. Always helpful to throw in the line “no exercise or special diet required” to get everyone interested.

Anyway, the Undoit tablet claims to [ “undo”] 10g of fat and 200g of carbohydrate. If I understand that claim then it means that you will malabsorb about 500 Cals (2100 kJs) with each tablet. They suggest you can take up to three tablets a day, thereby malabsorbing 1500 Cals (and losing $1 per tablet too).

Now, I use the word “malabsorb” for good reason. You see, your guts were designed to absorb nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamin and minerals. It is nature’s clever way of keeping us alive. Malabsorption is unnatural.

There are some situations in which the gut does malabsorb and you will know about them very quickly. If you did malabsorb fat and carbohydrate to this claimed level, you will have severe gut pain, enough gas to inflate an air balloon, steatorrhea and a gastroenterologist at your bedside. Steatorrhea is fatty diarrhea. Take it from me, having worked in malabsorption wards, steatorrhea creates an atmosphere that will clear an entire suburb. Tear gas comes a distant second.

Hand picked science
In a smart move the company does direct you to clinical studies knowing that most people are happy that there have been “studies” but not willing to check them out. Let me help. The studies were on people taking chitosan, a type of fibre found in crustacean shells, or an amylase blocker, which stops starch digestion. Yes, folk lost weight, usually in the region of 3kg over 12 weeks, but that is as long as the studies go. We know that humans backslide pretty quick.

The only paper that measured poo found that chitosan increased fecal fat loss by around 6g per day (that’s 54 Cal; 225 kJs). Not quite the 10-30g fat malabsorption claim. I couldn’t find one that measured the carbohydrate loss in the stool, which makes the claim of a 200g carbohydrate loss incredible.

 A review paper they naturally didn’t mention, concluded: “Results obtained from high-quality trials indicate that the effect of chitosan on body weight is minimal and unlikely to be of clinical significance.” Spoils the fun really.

What does it all mean?
What it really means is that it is time for me to trade in my scruples and start making some serious cash for myself. Do you really want to know what sensible weight loss advice makes you these days? Nuffink. Nada. Zilch. Unless you are happy getting around on a second hand push bike.

I’m going to make a magic deflabbing milk powder-based drink with special Nepalese and Amazonian herbs, a unique hunger-delaying fibre (love to tell you but it’s secret) and a scientifically formulated vitamin range, and flog it on late night TV and current affairs programs with a couple of Photoshopped before and after snaps. It’s been done many times before and you just watch the cash pour in. Then I’m going to get me a great car and an envied address. With the change I’ll buy a Greek island. Maybe two. Real cheap right now.

But then again, I don’t think the world needs another parasite.