We live in a very “on-demand” culture that expects quick results. This is especially true when it comes to weight loss.
Plus, add the pressure of appearing a certain way — in regards to clothes, hair, and body — many people oftentimes turn what should be healthy weight management into an obsession. You just want to “get rid of extra pounds,” maybe just “slim down a bit,” or even a goal to “fit into that pair of skinny Jeans that you haven’t worn since you were 21.”
Of course, there are many issues with this mindset, yet one of the biggest pitfalls is that we’re all different. Our body types range in size and shape. None of us fit into one single box. Therefore, when you try to fit into a given stereotype, you’re fighting a losing battle against an image that isn’t necessarily real to your makeup or design.
So, when we can’t achieve a certain body type naturally (because it’s not natural), we turn to weight loss supplements.
Unfortunately, these products use ingredients — mostly human-derived chemicals — to encourage unnatural fat burning, reduce your appetite, or even decrease the absorption of fat. Of course, they don’t advertise the many side effects including weight gain. On top of that, some of these supplements have even shown to cause long-term health issues such as indigestion, stomach discomfort, microbiome changes, and such.
A Short History of Weight Loss Supplements
Have you ever thought to ask where supplements came from? How about why they became a necessity in our society?
These questions are inherently linked to how beauty has been crafted, how it has changed, and how it affects our individual sense of self over the years.
Of course, by asking these simple questions, you unravel an entire history plagued with the need to quickly drop weight, pharmaceutical companies capitalizing on this desire without regard for consumer safety, and a list of horrifying weight loss supplements delved out to the masses with hardly any regulation.
The Fat Reducers of the 1800s
At the beginning of the “late 19th century, attitudes concerning weight, particularly among women, began to shift toward a slimmer, more athletic appearance.” It was this shift in what defined “beautiful” that actually brought about the desire to make weight loss more achievable in a quicker amount of time with less effort. While diet or weight loss supplements existed before this time, this societal need caused them to gain popularity and have paved the way for their increase in growth over the years.
You may be surprised to hear that weight loss pills were actually in existence in the “patent medicine era of the late 1800s” and were referred to as “fat reducers.” These early weight loss supplements increased the metabolic rate by interacting with the thyroid, which led to “unexpected side effects including abnormal heartbeats, increased heart rate, weakness, chest pains, high blood pressure, and even death.”
Even faced with death, people still used these thyroid-based weight loss pills until the 1960s!
Enter the 20th Century
Changes in weight loss supplements are generally directly linked with the creation or discovery of new medications, pharmaceuticals, or chemicals.
That’s because most of these concoctions are riddled with ingredients that are 100 percent man-made.
Enter the 1930’s and the introduction of dinitrophenol — a chemical whose “effect was first noticed among factory workers who were exposed to [the chemical] and lost weight.” After further research, it was found that the weight loss was achieved by the “uncoupling oxidative phosphorylation, leading to a heightened metabolic rate and increased fat metabolism.” Yet, more issues arose with this new drug as reported cases of hyperthermia, severe rashes, damage to the sense of taste, and eye cataracts began to flood in. This led to a higher level of governmental control via the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who halted the use of dinitrophenol.
Next up, amphetamines in the 1950’s — a “stimulant that was given to soldiers during World War II to keep them alert” — which people were now taking to help quickly drop unwanted pounds. Then came aminorex fumarate in 1965. Both drugs were withdrawn from the market due to “adverse neurological and psychological effects,” as well as cases of pulmonary hypertension. Finally, those thyroid-based pills came back in the 1960s but were … yes, you guessed it … withdrawn due to “risks of toxicity.”
The Inbetween Drugs
Between the 20th and 21st century and after the wave of the 1930s and 1960s, entered the era of Ephedra and Fenfluramine.
Ephedra was created in the 1970s from a combination of ephedrine and caffeine, originally used to treat asthma, yet it soon became a popular weight loss supplement. Unfortunately for the American people, in 1994 the FDA decided to classify “ephedra as an herb that did not require FDA approval,” yet the drug began to show increasingly worrisome side effects including “cardiovascular and neurological problems.”
Ephedra was finally deemed “unsafe” by the FDA.
Earlier in 1973, Fenfluramine “was approved as a weight loss treatment,” yet the popularity of this particular drug didn’t really skyrocket until 1992, around the same time as Ephedra. You may recognize this weight loss supplement as fen-phen due to the fact that it was combined with phentermine. Once again, unwanted side effects “began to emerge among those taking fen-phen, including pulmonary hypertension, heart lesions, and valve abnormalities.” Fen-phen was removed from the market as of 1997.
Modern Weight Loss Supplements
You may think that over the years the lesson to be learned is that weight loss supplements simply aren’t safe. Yet, even in these modern health-conscious times of ours, new weight loss supplements are still hitting the market!
With that said, marketers and brand managers are far smarter when it comes to selling these pills.
For instance, many of the weight loss pills are now called “dietary supplements” and are concocted around “herbal formulations.” Sounds a lot better, right? In this regard, many people purchase a supplement that has a whole list of “other health benefits” and will also help them lose weight.
Yet, it’s all the same thing!
The most recent weight loss supplement to hit the shelves is “Orlistat, sold by prescription as Xenical and over-the-counter as Alli,” which is purported to help “reduce the amount of dietary fat that is absorbed by the digestive tract.”
With that said, what horrible side effects can we await from this diet pill in another five to ten years? Should we even chance it? History tells us absolutely not.
Dangerous Ingredients to Avoid
The history is telling, yet what is it about these supplements that cause such horribly adverse and dangerous side effects and health issues? Yes, we’re gonna get into the nitty-gritty of the ingredients! While there are a host of super dangerous ingredients that we no longer have to worry about — as they’re banned — there are a few unbanned substances that you should steer clear of.
In fact, most ingredients that you believe may be benign are in fact linked to unwanted side effects.
Most of these compounds are, in their natural state, perfectly safe such as a cup of green tea or coffee. Yet, when these compounds are taken into a lab and broken down to utilize in a supplement, they oftentimes become potent and dangerous.
Here are a few ingredients commonly used in weight loss supplements that you may believe to be “all-natural,” but are in fact dangerous.
1. Caffeine Powder
We all know that caffeine is addictive — try going without that cup of joe in the morning and see what happens — yet did you know that caffeine is also used in weight loss supplements? Caffeine powder, also called 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, is said to “improve attention, enhance athletic performance, and increase weight loss.” Yet, it also comes with a slew of side effects including “seizures, heart arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, and possibly death.”
Chaparral actually goes by many names, making it much harder to identify when reading the back of the supplement bottle including creosote bush, greasewood, larrea divaricata, larrea tridentata, and larreastat. This ingredient is purported to aid in weight loss, as well as reduce or improve inflammation, treat the common cold, help infections and skin rashes, and is even marketed to help with cancer. What about the side effects? Chaparral has been linked to kidney problems, liver damage, and, you guessed it again, possibly death.
Germander is actually a broad term for “about 260 species of plants in the mint family.” When it comes to supplemental form, you’ll want to keep an eye out for germander — also called teucrium chamaedrys and viscidum. This ingredient is said to aid in weight loss, alleviate fever, help arthritis and gout, and relieve stomach problems. On the other hand, germander has also been linked to liver damage, hepatitis, and possibly death.
4. Green Tea Powder Extract
This is one of the most commonly used ingredients in weight loss supplements that are marketed as “all-natural.” Green tea extract powder — also called camellia sinensis — is “made from dried green tea leaves [and] … contains caffeine as well as plant compounds called catechins, including epigallocatechins-3-gallate (EGCG).” Even though green tea extract powder is filled with antioxidants, it’s almost impossible to discern “how many milligrams you’re consuming because food and drink manufacturers don’t have to list the amounts of green tea extract or EGCG on labels.”
This is why weight loss supplements containing green tea extract powder has been linked to a variety of side effects including “dizziness, ringing in the ears, reduced absorption of iron, liver damage, and possibly death,” as well as the exacerbation of anemia and glaucoma, elevation of blood pressure and heart rate.
Methylsynephrine also goes by oxilofrine, p-hydroxyephedrine, oxyephedrine, and 4-HMP. Lots of chemical names for a dangerous chemical component! This compound is used primarily in weight loss supplements and is said to increase energy and improve athletic performance. On the other end of things, you may end up with a few side effects including heart rate and rhythm abnormalities and cardiac arrest.
The Myth of Successful Weight Loss via Supplements
Yes, weight loss supplements — including “prescription drugs, nonprescription drugs, herbal products, or other dietary supplements” — can be used as tools to help with weight loss, but “there is relatively little research about these products.” Yet, with all of these weight loss supplements available, how is it that “only one-third of Americans are now able to maintain a normal weight, one third are overweight, and one third are obese”? In fact, in these modern times “excess weight is a risk factor for most illnesses.”
This is because weight loss supplements don’t teach how to manage weight after you’ve lost it. The body is a hugely complicated organism meaning there is rarely one simple answer to achieve body changing goals.
For instance, there are “many promising scientific discoveries [that] have been made revealing the brain and gut mechanisms regulating appetite and weight.” With that said, any treatment “derived from [these discoveries] never work because each addresses only one simple target in a very complicated system.” This system of ours — this human body of ours — was expertly crafted over years of evolution “going back millions of years, [in which] we have many inbuilt, overlapping, redundant systems to ensure that we use energy efficiently and develop fat stores whenever possible.”
A weight loss supplement may change your system for a mere moment, allowing for quick weight loss, but afterward, you still have to deal with the natural and inherent systems put in place.
For this, you’ve got to turn to lifestyle habits.
Natural is Better: Scientifically Proven Tips for Healthy Weight Management
If you’re not convinced yet, then maybe a little bit of information regarding the success of natural weight loss without supplements may sway you?
While supplements may provide that super fast, super easy weight loss achievement, it’s almost always fleeting. Why you ask? Once you’ve lost the weight you want to lose and you stop the supplements, then those old habits creep back in, those habits that caused the unwanted weight gain in the first place.
By naturally losing weight via tailoring a healthy diet and increasing physical activity, you’ll break bad weight-gaining habits and be more successful at actually maintaining a healthy weight long term.
Alright, we know the dangers and we know why weight loss supplements will inherently fail in the end if not paired with appropriate lifestyle changes. So, what has been proven about weight loss? What is safe? How do you go about managing a healthy weight in a healthy way?
1. Quick Weight Loss Tips
Maybe you haven’t given up on the whole “quick weight loss” scheme, yet you absolutely have given up on those weight loss supplements. Luckily, there are three things you can do today that are scientifically proven to drop pounds quicker.
First, remove refined sugars and cut back on starches. By cutting back on these ingredients, “your hunger levels go down and you end up eating much fewer calories,” plus your body “instead of burning carbs for energy, your body starts feeding off of stored fat.” On top of that, you’ll also lower insulin levels, shed excess sodium, decrease water weight, and even lower bodily inflammation.
Next, increase your intake of veggies, protein, and fat! Boosting protein and fat will also boost your metabolism, reduce cravings, and cut that late-night snacking. When it comes to filling your plate, also make sure you’ve got tons of nutrient-rich veggies that will fill your tummy yet not increase your carb intake by that much.
Lastly, get to being active! In particular, weight lifting has been shown to “burn lots of calories and prevent your metabolism from slowing down, which is a common side effect of losing weight.” If weights aren’t your thing, you can also do “cardio workouts like walking, jogging, running, cycling, or swimming.”
2. Cut Sugar and Refined Carbs
There’s a whole slew of tips and tricks to managing a healthy weight long-term, yet while you may think that most of it involves adding a bunch of healthy foods to your diet, it’s mostly about cutting out the really bad stuff.
If you’re looking at tailoring your diet to maintain a healthy weight long term, it’s recommended to cut back on sugar and eat less refined carbs. Both of these foods are found in plentiful amounts in processed foods, this also includes package products that are marketed as “healthy,” but contain loads of these ingredients.
So, this means you need to start cooking!
When it comes to sugar, studies have shown “that sugar (and high-fructose corn syrup) consumption is strongly associated with an increased risk of obesity, as well as conditions including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”
Alright, so what’s the deal with refined carbohydrates? These include “sugar and grains that have been stripped of their fibrous, nutritious parts” such as white bread and pasta. The definition alone should actually cause you to pause. Yet, you can even look at studies that “show that refined carbs can spike blood sugar rapidly, leading to hunger, cravings and increased food intake a few hours later,” plus eating refined carbs is “strongly linked to obesity.”
When it comes to integrating foods you want to look at nutritional value.
For instance, look for foods that are high in protein, healthy fat, dietary fiber, and also have a broad range of vitamins and minerals. These foods will nourish the body, keep you full, and help boost energy. Also, make sure you’re choosing whole, single-ingredient foods over-processed foods. If you look at the label and there are more than three or four ingredients, try to steer clear! Also, never pick up packaged foods in which you can’t understand the ingredients label.
In short, we’re talking about raw fruits, veggies, and grains!
These food groups not only “contain few calories” but they also are generally powerhouses when it comes to fiber. Plus, “their high water content gives them low energy density, making them very filling.” Want some science along with the advice? Simply put, studies show that “people who eat vegetables and fruits tend to weigh less.” It’s also super important to choose those snack foods wisely such as “whole fruits, nuts, and baby carrots.”
Yes, this means you’ll most likely need to dust off those pans in the kitchen and start whipping up meals! This may sound super overwhelming (maybe even scary), but it’s so much easier then you think. Want some super quick protein-rich recipes? Check out these. Looking to get more healthy fat? Check out these. Experimenting with cauliflower pizza? We’ve got ya covered.
Yes! You knew this one was coming.
Physical activity is a key component for healthy weight management. Make sure to choose an activity that you enjoy the most. By choosing a physical activity that you enjoy, rather than one you think will benefit you the most, you’ll actually have way more success. Plus, once you’ve integrated one activity and your body begins to become more athletically inclined, then you’re more likely to pick up other activities that maybe you thought you hated before.
If you love lifting weights, — linked to a boost in metabolism — get to the gym or purchase a set for home. If aerobic is your thing, — linked to reduced belly fat — then try tennis, swimming, running, cycling, hiking, or long walks. If classes are your jam, — a more socially inclined event — try a pilates or yoga studio.
Basically, get your heart pumping for at least 30 minutes a day!
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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