Many diet programs and products offer a short-term, quick fix, but there is no “magic pill” for weight loss.
When investigating weight loss programs or products, beware of high costs, pressure to buy special foods or pills, and fraudulent claims. Many companies pray on the gullibility and desperation of individuals trying lose weight

Approximately 50 million Americans go on a diet each year — but only about 5% keep the weight they lose from returning. Many trying to lose weight continually struggle to find an effective weight loss method. Unfortunately, there really is no “magic pill”. The only proven way to lose weight and keep it off is by making healthy, permanent lifestyle changes. You must eat healthier, watch portion sizes and be active.

Even if you choose to participate in a weight loss program or use an over-the-counter weight loss product, the bottom line is that you still must eat fewer calories than you burn in order to lose weight. When selecting a weight loss product or program, gather as much information as possible. Many diets and weight-loss supplements have little or no scientific data supporting their claims, others are simply unhealthy.

Here are some examples of ineffective diet products:
Magnet diet pills. Purportedly flush fat out of the body.
Magic weight-loss earrings. Supposedly control hunger by stimulating acupuncture points.
Electrical muscle stimulators. FDA may remove from market if promoted for weight loss.
Diet patches. Removed from the market by FDA in the early 1990s because they were ineffective as a diet aid.
Certain bulk fillers (such as guar gum) may cause internal obstruction.
Appetite suppressing eyeglasses. Claim colored lenses project image on retina and decrease appetite.

Many of these products sound ridiculous, however people spend millions of dollars each year on quick-fix products just like them.

Some individuals, in a fit of desperation, will look toward prescription diet medicines in order to lose weight. This, however may not be the best of ideas as many prescriptions dealing with diet and weight-loss have side effects and may not work for long-term weight loss. Some Over-the-counter pills have harsh side effects too and may be dangerous, for example, supplements containing the appetite suppressant PPA (phenylpropanolamine hydrochloride) have been suggested to increase the risk of stroke. Over-the-counter pills containing ephedra may cause serious side effects, including dizziness, chest pain, increased blood pressure or heart rate, seizure, heart attack, stroke, and even death. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration is taking action to remove the use of PPA and has banned ephedra in over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements.

Below are some common weight-loss supplements along with information about their characteristics and effectiveness (or lack thereof):

Algae Tablets (Spirulina Supplements)
Characteristics: Take tablets as an appetite suppressant before meals, or replace evening meals with six to 10 spirulina tablets, or in a modified fast, take only spirulina and drink juice for several days.
Strengths: Spirulina does contain essential nutrients and can be an acceptable food when used as part of a varied diet.
Weaknesses: Taken in large amounts on top of an adequate diet, spirulina could lead to toxic levels of certain nutrients. Does not teach sound eating habits.
Comments: Tablets are expensive. No studies have found spirulina effective for weight loss.

Chitosan Supplements
Characteristics: Pills contain a dietary fiber derived from the shells of shellfish. Claim that taking the pills will reduce fat absorption, lower cholesterol and promote weight loss. Typical recommendations are to take 2 to 6 grams of chitosan per day, divided into doses of 1 gram with each meal.
Weaknesses: May cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. At high intakes, may interfere with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Comments: Studies have shown weight loss occurs only when chitosan supplements are combined with a low-fat, reduced calorie diet.

Chromium Supplements
Characteristics: Claims that pills will lower blood sugar, reduce body fat, control hunger, reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and increase muscle mass. Supplements are usually available as chromium salts that help increase the absorption of chromium.
Weaknesses: One form of chromium, called chromium picolinate, may cause adverse side effects, including anemia, memory loss and DNA damage.
Comments: Roughly 50 percent of scientific studies have shown chromium has a beneficial effect, while the remaining studies have shown no effect.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) Supplement
Characteristics: take 3 to 5 grams daily. Comes as a capsule or syrup.
Strengths: Some studies have found that CLA produces moderate weight loss compared to a placebo.
Weaknesses: Claims to build muscle and burn fat, but evidence is sparse. Other studies have found CLA supplementation to increase risk factors for heart disease.
Comments: CLA is found in meat and dairy products and has been linked with antioxidant and anti-cancer properties in animal studies.

Characteristics: Major active component is caffeine. It contains twice the amount of caffeine found in coffee beans with concentrated formulas, having much higher ammounts.
Weaknesses: May lead to insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, headaches, high blood pressure and heart palpitations.
Comments: Theory is that it increases metabolic rate, suppresses appetite and enhances physical and mental performance. Caffeine may suppress appetite somewhat at high amounts, but does not increase calorie expenditures.

Glucomannan Supplements
Characteristics: Follow 1,000-calorie per day diet and take two capsules before each meal. Claim that capsules reduce appetite and decrease fat absorption.
Weaknesses: Claim weight loss of 1/2 to 1 lb/day. Sensational, nutritionally inaccurate presentation.
Comments: Glucomannans are naturally occurring food thickeners. Not yet proven safe or effective. Weight loss probably comes from following the diet.

Green Tea Extract
Characteristics: Pills contain polyphenols, which are extracted from green tea and are thought to be strong antioxidants. May help lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and enhance weight loss.
Weaknesses: Extracts that also contain caffeine may lead to restlessness and/or insomnia.
Comments: More studies are still needed to determine if green tea extracts are beneficial for weight loss. Choose extracts that have a “standardized polyphenol content.” People taking aspirin or blood thinning medications should consult their doctor before taking green tea extracts, because green tea extracts may interfere with blood clotting.

Herbalife Nutritional Program
Characteristics: Replaces two meals a day with Herbalife “shakes” and tablets.
Strengths: One meal per day of regular food advocated. Shakes generally include nonfat dry milk.
Weaknesses: Heavy reliance on Herbalife powders and tablets. Suggested rate of weight loss is too high (2 1/2 to 7 1/2 pounds/week).
Comments: Weight loss is never “fun and easy” as claimed. Reliance on a specific product does not teach healthy, lifelong eating habits.

Mega-Thin/100 Formula
Characteristics: Drink Mega-Thin formula. Eat according to specified diet. Formula contains “antifat weapon.”
Weaknesses: Diet de-emphasized. Behavior modification lacking. Emphasis on speed of weight loss.
Comments: Formula probably contains an appetite suppressant.

Nestlé’s Sweet Success
Characteristics: Weight loss program recommends three shakes/ day (powder and skim milk), and a complete dinner of 500 to 650 calories.
Strengths: Low-fat, nutrient rich foods are encouraged for dinner.
Weaknesses: Does not promote healthy eating habits.
Comments: Difficult to maintain weight loss once shakes are discontinued.

St. John’s Wort Supplements
Characteristics: Claims that supplementing with St. John’s wort will suppress appetite and promote weight loss.
Weaknesses: Side effects may include gastrointestinal discomfort, tiredness, insomnia and mild allergic reactions.
Comments: According to the Food and Drug Administration, St. John’s wort has not been proven safe or effective for weight loss. Not recommended for children, or for pregnant or breast feeding women.

Ultra Slim Fast
Characteristics: Weight loss program recommends two shakes/day (powder and milk), a snack and a complete dinner of 500 to 650 calories.
Strengths: Plan encourages regular exercise.
Weaknesses: Promotes use of Ultra Slim Fast Frozen Entrees and snack bars. Does not teach good eating habits.
Comments: Difficult to maintain weight loss once shakes are discontinued.

Commercial Weight Loss Programs
Commercial weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, NutriSystem and Diet Center usually offer a 1,000 to 1,500 calorie diet and individual or group counseling. Few participants succeed in keeping weight off long-term. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought action against some companies and is challenging their weight loss and maintenance claims.