Weight loss is a subject that I treat with a great deal of respect. It’s something I am hesitant to promote as a product or skill. I believe that not only is it deeply personal, it’s also often (not always) a side effect that detracts from what we should be really focusing on – being healthy. If there is a weight issue, then focusing on your health will often have the welcome side effect of weight loss. The problem happens when we perceive thin as healthy and are prepared to do whatever it takes to get thin.
Wait, what did you just say?
Okay, so that was a loaded paragraph. It probably has some of you saying – ‘what the hell is she talking about! Weight gain or obesity is a very real problem and needs to be dealt with!’. Or, you are silently nodding in agreement. It is a polarizing and powerful subject, which further affirms my hesitation to post anything that says – 10 ways to lose 10 kilos or something to that effect.
Respect is key
There are many factors that affect the weight on your body like health, age, genetics, hormones, bone density, body type, medications, supplements, lifestyle, stress – you get the point. Narrowing the focus to diet and exercise alone is not only myopic but in most cases doomed. Like I said earlier throwing in a quick 10-for-10 post about weight loss is contrary to the ethos of Nutrichologist. If weight is your focus then give it the time and attention it needs and if you are going to enlist someone to help you, make sure they are as committed as you are.
Finding a buddy, coach, practitioner or program is usually the last resort. Between the decision to lose weight and enlisting help we often turn to the offerings flaunted on the internet or shelves at our local pharmacies. (Sadly I have to add health stores and some naturalists to this list as well). A large portion of the solutions on offer are supplements. They come neatly and provocatively packaged as a tea or tablet. As trends have changed so have their terminology and marketing strategy.
Moving with the times
Gradually I have seen the focus shift from slimming or dieter’s tea to cleansing teas or supplements. Cleansing is a hot topic and you cannot fault the marketers for adapting to trend; it is their job after all. If I am forced to, I will say that their proclamations are a little closer to what they really are than before. Not much, but a little.
By now you have gathered that I do not approve of these products, let’s take a look at why.
But, do they work?
Let’s deal with whether they are effective for weight loss or not. If your only goal is to lose weight then yes, they may work.
There are caveats though, they may be doing harm to your body and, you will most likely pick up the weight you lost and a little extra. This applies to about 90% of the population that use this form of weight loss strategy. I’m pretty confident with that stat so I am not going to add in any studies here.
Do a survey
Rather, I am going to ask you to do a little survey of your own. Look to yourself and those around you. How many have tried a slimming strategy like this? How many have been successful? How many have kept the weight off? Lastly, how many did this with the product alone – no ‘only effective in conjunction with a calorie controlled diet’ nonsense?
So what makes them effective and why do we keep going back for more?
- The majority of these products use natural laxatives or diuretics. These cause frequent bowel movements or urination.
- As these forms of elimination are closely associated with the popular cleansing trend there is the added sense of body cleansing with these kind of results.
- Intuitively it feels right and good. (You could add juicing to this list, but that needs its own post. Juicing in and of itself is not bad, but can be misused much like these teas and supplements).
- The proof of ‘loss’ is also sitting right there in the toilet bowl – no guessing required. It was in you now its not. Whether we acknowledge this or not, psychologically there are little tick boxes getting ticked.
You said natural – how can it be a problem if its natural?
- Again, the majority of these products are derived from natural herbs or plants. They can include aloe, senna, rhubarb root, cascara, buckthorn and castor oil. One and all tried, tested and proven since ancient times. Shown to be potent in treating constipation and water retention. No argument there.
- Some of these plants/herbs are so potent they are regulated as a drug and depending on strength may even need a script. This immediately says there is a danger or at very least a cautionary factor that we need to consider.
Now that we have established they work (and work so well that some need to be controlled), how do they actually work?
- Diuretics and laxatives work on your bladder and large intestine (not your small intestine).
- The small intestine is where all your absorption happens. If you are eating highly processed sugary foods then – sorry – that is still going to end up in your system and do all the damage they were always going to do. If you are calorie focused then the answer is also yes, calories are absorbed here as well.
- Prolonged and/or excessive use will eventually affect your body’s ability to absorb fat. So when you see a fatty layer in the toilet bowl you may want to do a little victory shout out. Thing is, it’s not the fat you want to get rid of. You want the stuff sitting around your belly, on your hips etc. and that isn’t what you are seeing.
Dietary fat and the fat on our body is not the same thing
- We need healthy fat in our diet and our bodies. We use the fat we consume for essential things like maintaining cells and mitochondria.
- These kinds of teas or supplements are effectively speeding up the elimination process. By pulling water from our body to loosen everything up and make it come out quicker.
- Losing water weight shows quickly on the scale.
Let’s talk darkside or rather downside if that’s too ominous
The level of severity or how quickly these effects kick in will differ from person to person. Results will depend largely on their state of health when they start. So, if you aren’t experiencing these straight off the bat – give it time.
- Laxative abuse is real and not just amongst those who suffer from bulimia, anorexia nervosa and teenagers. It’s use, rather misuse, is prolific and we need to be aware of it. As you read through this list you will get a better understanding of why.
- Misuse of these products can lead to permanent damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Considering this is our bodies only way of drawing the life giving nutrients from our food and drink that’s a pretty big problem.
- A damaged gastrointestinal tract opens the door to many diseases such as osteomalacia (softening of the bones), cancer, GERD, Celiac Disease, IBS, gallstones, fertility issues – lets just say the list is long and serious.
- Then there is also nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting and rectal bleeding (not sure why that last one isn’t more of a deal breaker for people, but, anyway).
- The diuretic effects of course cause our kidneys to release more sodium to facilitate all that water being drawn from our body. Much of that water is coming from our blood.
- Beside chronic dehydration there is the loss of minerals and electrolytes that our body really needs to function optimally.
- Now for the ironic bit – it may also cause severe constipation and pain due to the colon losing its ability to function properly. In severe cases this has led to the surgical removal of the colon altogether.
There is a place for these herbs and plants in the medical world. But, not in the dieting arena. The option is alluring not only because of the snazzy marketing, but lets face it, it gets the job done quickly. It’s also a really inexpensive way of bypassing the ‘real work’. They make them taste pretty good, and so easy to incorporate in your day to day life. But, and this is the mother of all buts, they come at a very high cost and my question to you is:
Is it worth it?