SCAM ALERT: The Skinny on Internet-Based Weight Loss Diets

weightlossThe Internet is flooded with weight loss plans that actually make your wallet skinnier than your jeans.  If you’d rather pay NOTHING for some really good diet and weight-loss information, read on.   However, if you want to blow $30-50 to buy an ebook that steals from the hundreds of printed diet or weight-loss books currently available for free on the Internet or about $10 on Amazon……well, then you may want to stop reading.   Because most of the online weight-loss “plans” are really just feel-good, motivational ads designed to get you to cough up some money.

For example, the 3-Week Diet promises to “melt away” 12-23 pounds in three weeks — 100% guaranteed.  That’s seven pounds per week.   It’ll set you back $47 to download this plan.  Yet, for exactly $47 less that that you can get information about a time-tested, medically-supported diet that will help you lose between 6-10 pounds per week.   It’s called the Mayo Clinic Diet and it’s FREE.   Same results but cheaper and better than the 3-Week Diet.   Yes, there is such thing as a free, low-calorie, lunch!

These slick websites ask for the “low price” of $19-39.95 for what appears to be an ebook or a “program” that “guarantees” weight loss.  This is a textbook version of the numerous other $39.95 infoscams that have infected the Web over the last three years.  (We’ve reviewed some of these scams and they are laughably bad)  Here’s how they work:  you are treated to a videomercial that touts the “proven way to lose weight;  many of them are targeted specifically at women.   Is it a scam?   Is it a rip-off?  Does it work?   You’ll never find out, largely because of an increasingly pernicious Internet industry that uses fake product review sites to hide customer reactions.   Often times, you’ll also never be able to find out about the credentials of the authors — none apparently exist on the Internet, nor are they provided at his own alleged web site.    Even the ones written by real, verifiable people are largely recycled diet plans that are well-established on the Net.

Beware of Misleading Affiliate Marketing

If you look for a review of the product, you are deluged with lots of fake review or “scam” sites that simply direct you to the main sales site or offer some officious pablum talking about how the product is highly rated or recommended.   The marketers for this service pay 75% commission for any referrals they generate.   So these “affiliate marketers” create create fake review sites which effectively thwart any customer who is looking for real reviews.   It is also a tactic to obscure any customers who have posted complaints or alerts about fraudulent claims.  This affiliate marketing trick makes it very difficult for consumers to detect this and other such scams.   Many offer 100% or 60-day guarantees.

But these marketers bet on the fact that most consumers won’t seek refunds until after the 60-day period expires.   In fact, they count on it.   They know that most people will lose some weight initially, but when the pounds inevitably come back, the consumer will assume the fault is theirs, and not the plan.  IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.   THE MARKETERS KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT DIET REBOUNDS.  The Weight Rebound or Yo-Yo Effect is well-established in the scientific community as a consequence of fast weight-loss done through calorie-restriction.   The rebound is caused by the body working to restore equilibrium after you’ve put it through a “famine shock”.  However, there are ways of avoiding the weight rebound that the Internet marketers don’t want you to tell you about.   One way is to use a high-protein diet or meal replacements;  that’s one of the reasons why the Paleo Diet has proven so effective.

Another is through gradual weight-loss plans that change your lifestyle, and not just your calories.  Perhaps most importantly, these are free or low-cost diets available on line.  Please know that no matter how well-intentioned you are, without a commitment to exercise and substantial lifestyle changes, you likely won’t succeed in maintaining any weight loss.  And if you have that commitment or will-power, then just about ANY diet will succeed.   You don’t have to pay $40 for the information.    Begin by going to the Mayo Clinic’s free and reputable website.  The medical experts at the Clinic have fashioned a thoughtful and time-tested plan that has worked for untold numbers of people.  Then follow-up with your doctor to make sure that the diet you’ve chosen will work for you.

Time-Tested Weight-Loss Plans Are Freely Available

Here are some additional free and reputable dieting and weight-loss resources for you on the Net:

Smart for Life

Livestrong Diet –  Aims for a loss of about 1-2 pounds per week.

GM Diet  –  It’s not really a General Motors-designed diet plan.  It’s actually a short one-week detox program.   But it could be a useful starter to a major personal diet reboot.  Linora Low gives a helpful (and free)  step-by-step video and written guide to how to do this detox program.

The Lose Weight Diet –  It does what many of the diet scammers do (take free  information and distill it down to 3 easily understood phases) but he actually offers it for free!

Our Bottom Line

Perhaps the most important free diet information you can find is about the dangers of sugar and processed foods.   There are tremendous numbers of articles about these two health scourges, including a number of free articles at this website.   But if you want to spend money buying information about this, the two best resources currently available are:  “Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansink and David Kessler’s “The End of Overeating” .  Both books are available on the Internet for a few bucks if you are OK with a used (previously read) version.

Wansink’s  book documents how we often manage to eat hundreds of extra calories every day without gaining any extra satisfaction or even knowing that we’ve eaten them. Over time, this easily translates into weight gains of 10 pounds or so each year. He demonstrates how people will eat more food based on cues that we don’t even recognize we are responding to. One of these cues is quantity; if there is more food available, we will eat more. Another cue is variety; if there are more different types of food, or they are presented in a mixed up assortment, we will eat more. This type of mindless eating often occurs whether we are actually still hungry or not. You can painlessly and knowingly lose 10 pounds every year, simply by reversing the bad habit. Rather than consuming extra calories that bring you no greater pleasure or satisfaction, eliminate this mindless ‘margin’ of calories.

His common-sense suggestions include:
* Eat until you’re 80% full. You may be surprised to find that you are, in fact, completely satisfied at this point.
* Dish out 20% less than you think you want. Same principal as above, just a different variation of it. Put less on your plate to begin with, so you don’t feel the urge to ‘clean your plate’. Out of a 2000 calorie day, you just saved yourself 400 calories. In just over a week, that’s a pound of fat lost. And you probably didn’t even notice the change!
* Put everything you want to eat on your plate at once, including dessert. This will give you a true visualization of how much you are packing away at one sitting, rather than having two or three servings and not seeing how much it adds up to.
* Use small serving dishes and tall, slender glasses. An easy way to fool the mind into thinking you are getting more.
* Mind habitual eating routines. For me, this is a bowl of ice cream after dinner. It doesn’t fulfill any need of mine, it is simply habit.
* Don’t deprive yourself – eat your favorite foods, just less of them. This is my very favorite rule, because I will never change my eating habits if it means eliminating the delicious foods that I love. However, I can easily eat less of the foods that are higher in calories, and still get the same pleasure without the excess.

The End of Overeating is Dr. David A. Kessler’s attempt to impart all of the knowledge that he developed about the American diet during his many years as a doctor and head of the Federal Drug Administration.   This guy is smart and determined.  He goes into detailed scientific reasons for why we overeat, and how the food industry plays into our psychological weaknesses, causing us to eat way more than we should. This book addresses the seemingly irresistible cravings to eat certain foods and the inner dialogues that accompany these cravings for a growing portion of the population. For example, suppose you go to a meeting after lunch, when you’ve already eaten and are not hungry, and find someone has brought in a tray of cookies. For some people, they will see the cookies, know that they have already eaten and don’t need one, and stop thinking about the cookies. For many of us, we will see the cookies, know that we have already eaten and don’t need one, but think about how good they probably taste, and start having an inner dialogue about how much we really want a cookie, but really shouldn’t, etc. All of a sudden the cookies are front and center in our mind and even if we turn our focus to the meeting, the cookies will be calling to us until we either eat one (or more), or leave.

Kessler boils it down to the appeal of sugar, fat and salt in combination, and compounded by the reinforcing nature of them when we consume them and experience the reward of pleasure. He calls this ‘conditioned hypereating’. The food industry plays into this by creating highly palatable combinations of sugar, fat and salt layered together, marketing them to us as ‘fun’, and making them available to us 24/7.   There are physiological processes going on in our brains, reinforcing the eating habits that are making us sick. With awareness, we can re-program our brains, basically, so that we no longer crave the unhealthy foods. He frequently compares the steps to breaking these eating habits to the steps drug and alcohol addicts must take to break their addictions.   “The enduring ability to eat differently depends on coming to view these foods as enemies, not friends”, he reminds us.

For example, he talks about developing negative associations with the unhealthy stimuli. This could include picturing your fat thighs rubbing together every time you walk by a chain restaurant that you find especially tempting. Eventually your subconscious will make the connection that tempting chain restaurant = fat thighs, and you will not be tempted, and may even be turned off by the stimulus of the restaurant.   He suggests:

*Figure out your cues. Food cues, situational cues, all of them.  Add negative associations to your normal cues.
*Refuse everything you can’t control.
*Create an alternate plan with a specific behaviour to adopt in place of what normally would be conditioned hypereating.
*Remember the stakes. When faced with a situation that may involve conditioned overeating ensure that your visualization takes you all the way through to the inevitable end of the eating episode where you acknowledge that following momentary pleasure may come the pain of guilt or depression or the simple fact of it being counterproductive to your health.
*Reframe things in terms of you vs. them. Kessler calls this active resistance. Recognize that Big Food is out to get you and try to see food in those terms.
*Thought stopping. Try to stop your food-related thoughts dead in their tracks.
*Talk down the urge. Approach it with rationale thoughts. “Eating this will only satisfy me momentarily”, “If I eat this I’ll demonstrate that I can’t break free”.

Dr. Kessler doesn’t need your money and is not motivated by getting you to buy his book.  Much of it has been summarized and is freely available on the Net.  He hopes that once we become aware of what is happening to us and how we are playing into it, we can change our habits and ourselves and create healthier responses.  His book is dense and chewy — it is not light reading.   But if you really want to understand how you are being manipulating into poor eating decisions, it is mandatory reading.

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