Fake Diet Programs: How to Recognize a Diet Scam

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Back in 2013, the Federal Trade Commission charged four weight loss companies with fraud. These companies promised weight loss to customers who bought specific “food additives, creams and other dietary supplements.”

Luckily, these duped customers were refunded $34 million, but that doesn’t mean diet fraud is a thing of the past. It still happens, and to make sure you’re not tricked into a fake diet, remember these key points before you sign up.

1. The Diet Makes Claims that are False

Sensa products seemed to be a dream come true for people who wanted to lose weight without cutting back on calories. All you had to do was sprinkle a Sensa product over your meal, because it would allegedly make you feel full and prevent you from overeating.

The thing is, if there’s a chemical additive that stifles your appetite, one has to question whether or not it’s safe. And since Sensa had to pay close to $50 million for their false advertising, it’s easy to see that it was a money-making scam, rather than a weight loss solution based in science.

2. Does the Diet Claim that One Food Will Solve Your Weight Problems?

The acai berry was touted as a panacea for weight loss. It was said to boost metabolism, lead to weight loss, and cleanse and detoxify your body. But in the end, this natural food was used to promote a variety of fraudulent products. It can happen with any other food, too, so be aware of diets that offer one-food solutions.

You might have seen all the websites promoting acai as the be-all-end-all for weight loss concerns. But many of those sites were fake, and created by the same companies who were selling the acai products. So, it’s always important to approach fad diet information with a fair degree of skepticism.

3. The Diet Claims that Your Weight Loss Isn’t About Calorie Restriction

The truth is, your body gains weight when you consume more energy than you put out. Therefore, if you consume more calories than you burn, you will eventually gain weight. Of course, there can be other factors to someone’s weight gain, but that’s the tall and short of it.

And any diet that denies this or leads you to believe that you can eat anything you want and still lose weight is a big red flag.

4. There are Plenty of Testimonials Praising the Diet

If the fad diet has a website or Facebook page full of raving testimonials that praise the diet, it’s always a good idea to read these with a grain of salt and a bit of skepticism.

It’s not that you want to be difficult and a Debby Downer. It’s just that anyone can write a positive testimonial, and some of these testimonials may be endorsed to support the company. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean these endorsements are genuine or trustworthy.

5. The Diet Promises Quick Results

Losing weight takes a lot of effort and commitment. And even if you lose weight quickly at the onset of your diet, that doesn’t mean the weight will magically stay off. It can take many months to safely lose weight and maintain your new weight.

Losing weight has to do with lifestyle decisions, changing certain habits, overcoming urges, etc. Any diet that tells you otherwise is ignoring the science behind homeostasis and healthy weight loss.

6. Do You Have to Purchase Products to Follow the Diet?

This is a common scam tactic, and something to watch out for. For example, the notorious HCG diet claimed that you needed to take the human growth hormone (human chorionic gonadotropin) to help boost and reset your metabolism.

The diet also required you to consume a mere 500 calories per day, which would make anyone lose weight. Scientists have exposed the HCG diet as bogus, but nonetheless, many individuals fell for this scam.

The French skincare brand, L’Occitane, was also guilty of fooling their customers into buying a cream that promised a “noticeably slimmer, trimmer you” by helping to reduce the appearance of cellulite.

So, be aware of diets that make you purchase pills, supplements, creams, etc.

7. The Diet Forces You to Make Extreme Calorie Restrictions

Anyone will lose weight if they reduce their daily caloric intake to 500 to 600 calories a day. But this sort of program is both unhealthy and unsustainable. Therefore, if there’s a new diet claiming to help you lose many pounds in one to two weeks, watch out. It’s not that it’s impossible. It is do-able, but it’s probably not healthy or safe.

8. Are You Supposed to Swap Out Meals with Smoothies and Protein Bars?

There’s nothing wrong with a homemade smoothie, made with fresh fruits and vegetables, but if your diet requires you to cut out a healthy, home-cooked meal and pushes you to consume beverages with added protein powders and supplements, or to consume a protein bar instead, you can look elsewhere for your weight loss solution.

Protein bars and smoothies can be very high in sugar and calories, neither of which are very helpful when you’re trying to lose unwanted weight.

9. Does the Diet Demonize One Food Group?

Obviously, there are some foods that are simply not good for you, like partially hydrogenated oils, junk food, and many processed foods. But the human body requires fat, protein and carbohydrates to thrive and be well.

Therefore, if a diet deprives your body of all fat, or all protein, or all carbohydrates, this isn’t a balanced diet and it’s probably not a good idea. Sure, you might need to adjust how much of each food group you consume. But to cut one out entirely is a bad idea for a healthy weight loss program.

Losing weight takes effort, time and commitment. It’s no wonder that diet fads can be so appealing – they promise what we want, but be on the lookout for diets that are too good to be true. They probably are!


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