3 Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Diet Supplement

Diet pills sound like a good deal, but the facts might surprise you

weight loss supplement facts
Get all the facts about diet pills. Peter Dazeley/ The Image Bank/ Getty Images

Are you thinking about taking a weight loss supplement? Diet pills and supplements sound like a great idea.  Every dieter wants to lose weight faster without an extended diet and exercise program.  But many diet supplements promise more than they deliver.  So how do you know which product to choose?  Before you buy any supplement, first make sure that the diet pill is safe. Check with your doctor, your pharmacist or your registered dietitian.

Then get the answers to these three questions.

3 Things to Know Before You Buy a Weight Loss Supplement

  1. How much weight will I lose with this pill?  Many weight loss supplements say that they help boost your metabolism.  Some say that they help you burn more fat.  In many cases, the manufacturers aren't necessarily lying when they make those claims.  But what they aren't telling you is how much more fat or how much it affects your metabolism.  In many cases, the weight loss supplement provides very little benefit. 
    Companies that make diet supplements must support their claims with research. But many times the research doesn't prove what the consumer thinks it proves.  For example, some weight loss products have shown a very small amount weight loss in a very limited and restricted laboratory setting. Their results allow them to legally say it can improve weight loss. But that doesn't mean that the product will help you lose significant pounds and inches in a real life setting.
  1. What happens when I go off this pill?  Some weight loss supplements contain caffeine or other stimulants to keep you energized during the day.  Others contain "thermogenics" that say that they help boost your body's metabolism.  Even if these products did provide the benefit that they advertise, you could run into problems when you stop taking the supplement. 
    If your body gets used to stimulants, you're likely to feel sluggish and sleepy when you stop taking the pill. And what do most people do when they feel sluggish?  They eat. This could cause the pounds to come back. If you're like many dieters, you gain more weight than you lost.
  1. What is the total cost of losing weight with this pill? Weight loss supplements are not cheap.  Many products require that you take more than one pill per day at a cost of $50 - $75 per month.  Since the potential benefit (if there is one) is very small, the total cost of reaching your goal weight with a supplement could be substantial.
    For example, if you need to take a diet pill for 6 months to lose your weight, the total cost could be $300 or more.  That's a lot of money to spend on a product that may or may not make a small difference.  Think about other ways to spend that money on programs that are proven to have a weight loss benefit. You could pay for a few sessions with a registered dietitian to get personalized meal plans. You could buy a new piece of workout equipment or join a gym.

If you are thinking about taking a weight loss supplement, make sure you gather all the facts before you buy. Remember that the Food and Drug Administration does not approve diet pills or weight loss supplements, they only regulate the labeling of the products.  It's best to ignore the advertisements on the package and be wary of claims made by the seller.  Use non-profit websites like the National Institutes of Health Herb and Supplement Database to get the most up-to-date and unbiased reviews.

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