My face was used to sell weight loss pills, but my best diet advice is basic
One of my pet hates is seeing “miracle weight loss pills” getting flogged online. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered I was selling them one day.
It was a lazy Sunday morning in September 2020 – I was eating brunch outside in the sun when I received an email from an irate woman from New Zealand. Kathleen wrote:
“Hi, I have just purchased your product and was horrified when I went into my bank account to see two lots of money taken out … Your false advertising stated this product was much cheaper than the amount taken out of my account. I no longer want this product. Very unhappy!!!”
I had no idea what she was talking about and assumed it was a scam and continued eating my porridge, until I received another email a few minutes later. I started to worry – surely there had been some mistake?
I responded to both and quickly realised I had a very serious problem on my hands.
Then more people started reaching out. There was no denying what was happening – someone had stolen my identity and was diddling people out of their money.
‘The excess weight will disappear. 100 per cent natural. 100 percent organic’
‘Free Trial. How mother of 2 finally drops 3 dress sizes after being overweight for years!’
My trustworthy face was being used to sell keto diet pills across the Asia-Pacific region. The advertisements were a bit dodgy with vague language, but they were authentic enough to draw people in.
It turns out Kathleen was a woman in her mid-60s who had been targeted by advertising on Facebook and fell for the scam, paying almost $500. I was outraged. I posted warnings on my social media accounts, asked my followers to be careful, alerted the ABC, called my medical indemnity team and contacted Scamwatch.
Unfortunately, I discovered that when someone steals your identity and uses it to sell weight-loss products, there is very little you can do.
I went through a bizarre range of emotions, but my own annoyance and irritation was nothing compared to the anxiety and anger felt by the people who emailed me.
Targeted ad campaigns can be effective because they appeal to our vulnerabilities. You might be keen to lose weight, but too embarrassed to speak with your doctor about it – a quick weight loss solution in the form of a bottle of pills might seem like the answer, but even without the scams it’s a risky business.
The keto pills my face was selling were tied to one of the more popular current fad diets: the ketogenic diet. It involves eating a high amount of protein and fat, but a very low amount of carbohydrates to induce ketosis, where your body breaks down fat to produce ketones for energy.
It’s common to lose weight after starting keto, but the diet is difficult to follow over a long period. So, like with many diets, weight that is lost is difficult to keep off. The keto pills my face were selling are meant to help this process take place. But the reasoning behind them is flawed.
Accredited dietitian Linda Cumines tells me: “It doesn’t actually make sense. How can adding ketones make you burn fat even more? It’s your body that’s got to produce the ketones to reduce weight.” Instead, your body uses the pills as its energy source and leaves your stored fat exactly where it is.
Mandy-Lee Noble is an accredited dietitian who has been researching diets for years. When asked if fad diets or diet pills are successful, she doesn’t beat around the bush: “No diet has evidence of providing significant weight loss in the majority of people long term [two to five years]. Essentially no diets are helpful,” she says.
It might feel deflating to hear this from a dietitian, but Noble says it’s not our fault: “Human bodies are biologically ‘hard-wired’ to defend their highest adult body weight.”
Losing weight takes time and effort. Keeping it off requires permanent lifestyle change.
But when two-thirds of Australian adults are overweight or obese, a significant proportion of the population is turning to diets or weight loss products, which have little, if any, regulation.
The Dietitians Association of Australia found almost half of Australian adults surveyed in 2017 had tried to lose weight in the previous year, and nearly half of these people had spent money on a diet or weight loss product.
Popular diets are designed to lure people in with all kinds of exotic vegetables, “superfoods” and timed eating rituals, but Noble stressed fad diets are not a long-term plan for sustained health, but a shorter-term tool for rapid weight loss in response to the societal pressure to look thin. Some of the more well-known ones include the keto diet, but also the Paleo, Atkins and intermittent fasting diets. Some diets have a bit more staying power. One of the most fondly favoured diets in medical circles is the Mediterranean.
The best advice is the basic advice: exercise regularly, eat a wide variety of vegetables, and don’t eat too much. Of course, other factors include your past medical history, medication, metabolism, income, genetics, environment, exercise, your general relationship with food and how motivated you are. But there are no miracle solutions for weight loss.
Guidance from a dietitian or exercise physiologist can help monitor your weight and fitness level, hold you accountable, offer a professional perspective and provide you with evidence-based information. This is a much better approach than trying to do it on your own and you’re more likely to be successful with weight reduction over the longer term if you slowly, steadily and consistently chip away at it.
And if you see my face selling natural weight loss pills, it’s pretty safe to conclude my identity has been stolen again.
This is an edited extract from Fake Medicine by Dr Brad McKay (Hachette Australia), RRP $32.99
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