The weight loss industry mirage

They attract consumers with promises of incredible results within weeks—sometimes days! And yet, according to studies, weight loss programs and natural products seldom work . . . if ever!

In the latest Obesity Canada's guidelines, published for doctors and the general population, an entire chapter is dedicated to the commercial weight loss industry. Marie-Philippe Morin, from the Faculty of Medicine and Research Centre at the University Institute of Cardiology and Respirology of Quebec, Marie-France Langlois, from University of Sherbrooke, and Yoni Freedhoff, from the University of Ottawa, pored through the latest scientific literature in order to establish these guidelines. Note that these guidelines were developed for patients who are overweight or obese—a group of individuals who are more likely to consume the aforementioned products and programs.

The weight loss and maintenance industry is huge and is expected to reach 278.95 billion dollars by 2023. “When someone is desperate to lose weight, they don’t always have clear judgement when it comes to what the industry has to offer,” points out Marie-Philippe Morin, co-writer of Obesity Canada’s guidelines.

Natural products that aren’t that effective

To date, no natural weight loss product sold off the shelf in Canada (PGX, garcinia cambogia, green tea extract, chromium picolinatem, chitosan, conjugated linoleic acid, and glucomannan) has proven its effectiveness. “Studies show that the success rate for these products is low and results short lived,” mentions Dr. Morin.

It’s important to remember that obesity is a chronic disease, same as diabetes or high blood pressure. Online and within the retail ecosystem, many individuals and businesses claim to be weight loss specialists or to be able to offer ultra-effective weight loss products to consumers. “People need to be careful: miracle solutions, miracle diets . . . these things simply don’t exist. You need to turn to healthcare professionals with the skills and know-how to tailor their advice to each patient’s reality,” says Dr. Morin.

Inconsistent programs

When it comes to weight loss programs, some deliver on their promises, while others do not. “People need to be extra vigilant, especially with programs that offer major weight loss in a very short period of time, with little effort and almost no follow-up,” points out the specialist. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Certain programs that combine nutrition, physical fitness, and support (think Jenny Craig®, Nutrisystem®, Optifast®, and WW®), can lead to modest weight loss. “There are good tools available, but you need to be reasonable when it comes to your long-term goals and weight loss,” says Dr. Morin. We’re all familiar with the refrain: patients often gain back the weight the moment they stop the program. “According to studies, the number one key to success is consistency. People need to stick to the program for as long as possible in order to maintain their results,” concludes Dr. Morin.

Professional support—the key to success?

To help them lose weight—and keep it off—patients who are overweight or obese should consider working with professionals, such as nutritionists and kinesiologists. Unfortunately, the current state of the healthcare system doesn’t facilitate access to such professionals. Many individuals only have access to a family doctor, who has limited support to offer. “Oftentimes, doctors feel helpless in terms of what they can offer patients. This leads to a feeling of desperation, driving these patients to turn to weight loss programs and products,” explains Dr. Morin. For Dr. Morin and her colleagues, long-term support from a dedicated team, in lieu of trendy weight loss programs, is what can make a major difference for patients suffering from the chronic disease that is obesity.