Drinks, pills are no substitutes for exercise and diet

Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff
Photo illustration

In just a few seconds in a photo or a video montage, a woman goes from flabby to fit before your eyes.


Stomach flattens, love handles disappear, thighs slim down, smile widens - all as the voice-over touts the breakthrough science of a product that works while you sit, eat, or sleep your way to a better body.

It's the stuff of infomercials hawking rapid weight-loss pills or calorie-burning shakes and drinks.

In this time of year, when more than a few folks have decided to shed pounds, the advertisements and their promises of a quick result will probably get more than passing notice.

It sounds good, but easy weight loss is something to be wary of, dietitians say.

"It's better to lose it slower and, though people don't want to do it, exercise at the same time," said Cheryl Mehta, a registered dietitian at University Hospital. "If you lose it really quick and you're not exercising, then you lose lean protein mass. And you don't want to lose that."

The idea of forgoing a change in diet and exercise in favor of taking some "miracle" product might cross many people's minds at the beginning of a new year, but Ms. Mehta cautions against it.

"The thing is, there is no quick fix," she said. "You lose weight (most effectively) when you eat fewer calories than you have been and you burn off more, so you have calorie deficit."

Trimming the ad fat

That message is easily lost in the flurry of no-effort diet pitches filling the airways. The ads have been around for years, dietitians acknowledge, and so have the warnings that if they sound too good to be true, they probably are.

Though consumers are still buying, they're getting more savvy - and so are some of the weight-loss companies. A few have softened their pitches to say their products achieve optimal levels only when combined with diet and exercise.

A visit to a product's Web site will show disclaimers explaining the need for a combination of diet and exercise for maximum weight loss. That's usually below paragraph after paragraph of praise for a product with big scientific terms such as Garcinia cambogia or Cissus quadrangularis complex and testimonials from individuals.

Some even warn that the Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated the statements on the site.

Too many times, all of that extra information is lost on eager consumers, Ms. Mehta said.

"They focus on what they want to hear," she said.

Few dietitians recommend the over-the-counter products advertised, regardless of their claims.

"I don't think they're real safe to take unless with a physician's approval," Ms. Mehta said. "A lot of them have side effects of high blood pressure. They may have a lot of caffeine that yeah, they will increase metabolic rate, but at what cost to your blood pressure and other things?"

Liquid fitness?

NEXT MONTH, COCA-COLA WILL LAUNCH Enviga, a green-tea and caffeine-based drink promoted to stimulate the metabolism to increase calorie burning.

Powered by 100 milligrams of caffeine, or an amount similar to that of a cup of coffee, and 90 milligrams of the antioxidant Epigallocatechin gallate, the drink has been dubbed a "negative-calorie" drink.

According to research sponsored by Coca-Cola, the 5 calories per can are said to be canceled out by the 60-100 calories that a person in the lean to normal weight range can expect to burn by drinking three cans of the sparkling drink each day.

Even before the drink, available in three flavors - berry, green tea and peach - has come out nationally, it has garnered criticism from those who say Coca-Cola is hoodwinking the public into thinking weight loss can come in a can.

Not so, said spokesman Ray Crockett.

"Some have characterized this as a weight-loss product, but it's not a weight-loss product," Mr. Crockett said. "We look at it as a small step that a person can take to help maintain a healthy lifestyle. We're not suggesting it's a magic bullet, but a small step one can take."

Mr. Crockett said Enviga was developed to go along with regular exercise and a balanced, moderate diet and is a direct response from Coca-Cola to its weight- and health-conscious customers, who wanted a drink to work with their calorie-counting lifestyles.

"More consumers are looking for things that fit into their daily routine," he said, and Enviga is not just for those who are paying lip service to weight loss. "It's for people who have a balanced, healthy lifestyle who are taking care of themselves, getting their exercise, watching their diets."

Why, then, should those people drink Enviga?

"Because every little bit helps," read the Web site for the drink, enviga.com,.

Mr. Crockett agreed, saying that even in the company's marketing, there are disclaimers about how the drink was created to "never to replace diet and exercise." The idea that Enviga is no quick fix is something research shows their customers understand, he said.

"This is not going for them to say, 'You know what, I'm going to drink my Enviga today and not do my exercise' or 'I'm going to have my extra scoop of ice cream,'" he said. "That's not the way it works. We're going to emphasize to people this is not the secret to maintaining weight if you're not going to take care of yourself."

Dietitians are going for that same goal.

"What people really need to do is learn how to eat healthier for a lifetime and learn now to make healthier food choices," Ms. Mehta said. "Sometimes making a few little changes can turn out to make a really big difference."

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.

Lose weight the right way

- Get active. Current guidelines say that you have to exercise at least five times a week for 30 minutes to lose weight. No matter what you in your diet, weight loss won't be effective without some form of exercise.

- Watch what you eat. Making healthier food choices is just the beginning. Watch portion sizes and the content of meals, and try not to skip meals.

- Watch what you drink, too. Too often, people forget that what they're drinking affects weight. If you drink four soft drinks, try cutting down to two and then shift to diet drinks. Coffee also can be a problem Those lattes with whipped cream and extra squirts of flavor can really add up.

- Consult a dietitian or physician. Having someone who can analyze what you eat and how you exercise is invaluable. This professional can then design a weight-loss plan that will work for you.

Source: Cheryl Mehta, registered dietitian



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