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Diet pills are not the answer

Millions of Americans dream of the perfect diet pill. They want something that will burn fat with no effort, has no side effects and will keep fat away for life.

Many drugs have been marketed as diet wonders. But in every case, not only did the drugs fail to be the panacea expected, they also produced side effects such as depression, heart attacks, strokes, addiction and even death. Some effects were serious enough to warrant removal of the drugs from the market.

This year, a new diet drug, Qnexa, has been undergoing FDA review, and in July, an FDA panel voted against recommending approval citing concerns over side effects.

Most people who use diet drugs have little understanding about their effectiveness and side effects. At the same time, they believe that if a drug has been approved by the FDA it means it's safe and effective. But how many drugs have been pulled off the shelves after the FDA has approved them? It's important to understand that all drugs have side effects, that FDA approval is not a guarantee of safety, and that the history of diet drugs has not been good.

Research shows that, on average, people lose no more than 5 to 10 percent of their weight while taking diet pills and this is if they are taken with "healthy diet and exercise." Yet millions of Americans, even ones who are not obese, turn to diet pills to lose weight. In most cases, these are people who have turned to diet pills in the past, but have regained their lost weight. These yo-yo dieters unrealistically believe that the next, new diet pill will be the one that works.

Most studies also show that even if the medications initially seem to produce modest weight loss, in time they lose their effectiveness. And lost weight is usually regained when the medications are discontinued.

Patients are supposed to be told that it's extremely important to learn good eating and exercise habits while taking diet pills. Here lies the real problem and it's psychological in nature.

Humans have an uncanny ability to deny that anything bad could happen to them. They can easily fool themselves into thinking that they will not be the ones to experience negative consequences of diet drugs.

So, if you're not concerned about the health risks of diet pills, then consider this:

Diet pills are more likely to get you what you don't want (weight gain) rather than what you want (weight loss) because they:

• Give a false sense of security. People depend on diet pills to take care of the entire problem, and then believe — despite all evidence — they won't regain the weight.

• Waste time. Most people on diet pills put little, if any, effort into changing the lifestyle factors that made them heavy in the first place. Before long, you've gone back to the old ways and regained the weight.

• Benefit the wrong people. Even if the drugs don't work in the long-term, pharmaceutical companies still make a great deal of money, especially if customers keep losing and regaining.

Diet pills have a limited effect on weight. They have no effect on behavior change, they have poor long-term effects, and they psychologically encourage people to think short-term.

Research results shows that gradual lifestyle changes result in far better results than diet pills. It's time to recognize the problems with diet pills and give up waiting for the next panacea.

Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D, is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or drrod@fatmatters.com. Her book, "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management," is available at FatMatters.com.

Diet pills are not the answer 09/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 24, 2010 3:37pm]

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