If you walked into your doctor’s office tomorrow with a minor complaint and she said “I would like to try this experiment with your health. There is no real proof it will work, but I read on the Internet that it should. It might not work at all, and it might actually damage your health. Are you in?”
What would you say? Most of us would say, I hope, “Are you KIDDING me!? My health is much to valuable!”
Yet I hear from people all of the time who do just that, and they aren’t even doing it under the advice of a doctor.
Weight loss can make us desperate. We are so bombarded with messages around us telling us that we are not attractive, not valuable, “less than” our skinny counterparts. Magazines tout bikini bodies and the “secrets of fast weight loss” used by the latest stars. I don’t know about you, but while I might admire Jennifer Aniston’s hair and easy demeanor on the screen, I’m not going to her for medical advice.
It is this desperation that leads us to sometimes do foolish things without thinking it all of the way through. I am not casting stones…I had a bad run in with a no carb diet at one point, and a very ugly month of eating no more than 800 calories per day. So I have BEEN there and like many of us, I didn’t think about long term ramifications.
I recently had a discussion with a woman who shared with some friends the “secrets” from a loser on one of those popular weight loss shows. He shared how he lost 12 pounds in 48 hours. His advice? I can’t even bring myself to repeat it because it was ridiculous and potentially dangerous that for me to even share it might border on malpractice! I begged this woman to please not take his advice (nor advice from anyone associated with that show) because it could damage her health. She countered that he had some good ideas, and declined to respond when I pointed out that his good idea left his body without a ready source of fuel over 18 hours of the day. I have a heart for her and for everyone who desperately wants to lose weight, including all of the contestants on those shows, but it scares me when people start to experiment with their health in order to conform to someone else’s idea of what is healthy.
Before you undertake any new health experiments, I would encourage you to ask yourself a few questions.
Is this a supplement and if so, what do I know about it and where did I get the information?
Supplements aren’t all bad nor all good. Natural doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. I’ve said it before, “Plutonium is natural, but you won’t catch me sprinkling it on my corn flakes.”
It is important to understand that supplements, unlike medications, are not tested by the FDA. In order for the FDA to approve a medication it must be safe and effective. If a supplement is certified by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or the United Natural Products Alliance, it’s guaranteed to meet a certain standard of quality. (The USP’s screening process, for instance, ensures that a product will break down properly and effectively release its ingredients into the body.) Look for a certification seal from any of these organizations whenever you buy a supplement. Look for that on the label.
It is also very important to understand about how supplements may interfere with each other or with prescribed medications. ALWAYS tell your doctor about all supplements you are taking. You may also ask a pharmacist for information.
If you have done your homework, never start more than one supplement at a time without supervision. Check the labels for side effects and if you note any of them, stop taking the supplement. Trying more than one at a time will make it hard to figure out just which one is causing the problems.
If it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. You can’t burn fat in your sleep. There is no pill that will force your body to use fat for fuel over carbohydrates at any level that makes a real difference. A pill will not give you six pack abs. Sorry. I wish it were true…it’s not.
If a supplement is accompanied by a very low calorie diet, that should send up a huge red flag. If you’re taking an expensive pill and eating no more than 500 calories a day and losing weight…it’s because you’re starving your body. A very low calorie diet over a long period of time can actually damage your metabolism. (I don’t even want to hear of any of you intelligent people doing it over a short period of time!)
If a diet cuts out all of one category of food from your diet, be very wary. Our bodies need a variety of vitamins and minerals from a variety of foods. That doesn’t mean it isn’t okay to cut out refined sugars or flours if that’s what you desire, but don’t cut out all fruits or all vegetables or all (or even most) carbohydrates.
Be very wary of “a study shows…” articles in a Women’s magazine. Most of the times the information from these studies is picked up off the AP and the writer doesn’t understand or explain the entire study. When I read something that sounds completely different from what we’ve been told in the past, I go online to find the original abstract of the study. It is also important to remember that one study only sets down a path for more study, but doesn’t definitively prove or disprove a previous study. A study, to be valid, must be replicated and peer reviewed.
If you’re unsure, please ask someone who knows that you trust for good, solid advice. That can be your doctor, a nutritionist, or another health practitioner. I am always very happy to help as I have a degree in Health Education and never put forth information without researching it first.