Slimming tablets and a tape measure

Non-prescription weight loss

There are hundreds and hundreds of other weight loss treatments on the market, from pills to drinks to creams. Unfortunately, most of them don't actually work and may even be dangerous. The main thing to bear in mind is beware of anyone offering you a miracle - any weight loss treatment will only work in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise.

Still, here are some of the most popular:

Hoodia Gordonii

There are lots of products that contain Hoodia, a plant extract derived from a South African cactus plant. Most of them are dietary supplements that you take everyday with water. It is said to contain a molecule, P57, that sends a signal to the brain telling it that the stomach is full.

There have been clinical trials done on rats by researchers at Brown University, and on very small groups of humans. The early results seem to suggest that Hoodia can be helpful in controlling hunger pangs and there is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence supporting this. However, until a large-scale clinical trial is done it is not known for sure how effective the supplement is. It is also unknown whether it has short or long-term side effects.

Diet patches

Diet patches are becoming increasingly popular and are often touted by manufacturers as a 'magic solution'. There have been no clinical trials of them done and there is no evidence that they work.

They claim to deliver herbal fat-fighting ingredients directly through the skin. Common ingredients include guarana-guarana, a Brazilian nerve stimulator and bladder wrack, a type of seaweed claimed to burn fat due to its high iodine content.

Recently, you may have seen a flood of advertisements online for the 'Pink Patch'. It claims fat will just “disappear“, but you only need to look at their marketing strategies - targeting teenage girls on social networking sites, promising that you will be blissfully happy with a flat tummy - to see how unethical and dubious companies like this are.

Glucommanan

Glucomannan is a fibre derived from the Asian plant elephant yam. It is a soluble fibre that can absorb up to 200 times its weight in water and so can make you feel more full. Soluble fibres stay in the stomach longer and are thought to slow the absorption of sugar and lower cholesterol levels. There have been some small clinical trials of its effectiveness, but it does not seem to be that effective in promoting weight loss.

Fiber-based products

Like Glucomman, there are lots of fibre-based products that claim to promote weight-loss, filling up the stomach and making you feel more full. Fibre, both soluble and insoluble, is found in fruit and vegetables and helps food pass through the gut and colon. High-fibre diets help with constipation, food absorption and possibly lower your chances of developing colon cancer and high cholesterol. There is little proof they help with weight loss.

However, you should be able to get enough fibre from your diet naturally. You are unlikely to lose weight ,whatever you take, if you are not eating fruit and vegetables anyway. If you are having troubles with your bowel movements, then fibre-based supplements might be useful, though probably eating five prunes each day would be just as good.

Spirulina

This a supplement derived from blue-green algae. It is very high in vitamins, such as B-vitamins, and minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. There have been safety concerns regarding this supplement as algae can contain toxins and absorb high levels of metals.

Various companies claim that it can aid weight-loss by reducing appetite. There has been one clinical trial done and it showed no difference between those taking spirulina and those taking a placebo.

Electrical muscle stimulators

These are battery or electricity operated machines that you attach to various parts of the body. They then send electrical impulses to the nerves, causing the muscles to contract (as when you take exercise).

They were originally developed to stop the muscles of comatose, paralysed or disabled patients atrophying.

Manufacturers say that whatever you are doing - watching telly, doing the ironing - you can just put them on, lose weight and shape up. Unfortunately, this is probably not true. In the U.S the regulators have banned these companies from advertising their products as having any effect whatsoever on muscle tone or appearance.

Detox programs and celebrity diets

Gossip magazines are always telling you about new and exciting ways celebrities are dropping the pounds. They are usually fairly drastic and definitely odd. Beyonce apparently will drink nothing but hot water with chilli and rare honey for three days when she needs to lose weight. Jennifer Aniston went through a phase when she was 'eating according to her blood group'. The South Beach diet. The raw foods diet. Macrobiotic food. You name it, celebrities have tried it and we have read about it and many of us have aped them.

Detox is not a way to lose weight safely or for the long-term. If you need to shed a few pound for that party, maybe. If you need to lose a lot of weight, living on honey and cabbage soup will just make you miserable, not to mention extremely flatulent.

Every week, there is a new 'hot' diet. Ignore them, they are fads and go in and out of fashion. Try to stick to a program that is realistic and reflects the kind of life you lead. If you are going on a diet, go for one that doesn't require you to source esoteric ingredients and does require you to eat balanced meals.

Weight loss clubs

There are lots of organisations who have programs designed to help you lose weight., such as Weight Watchers. They usually offer weekly meetings, weight-loss strategies, recipe tips and low-fat ready meals and snacks. Usually, you will pay a fee each week, be weighed then the group leader will give you tips on how to reach your target weight.

The basic premise is a good one - when you are supported and have a sense of camaraderie, it is easier to do something difficult. For some people they work brilliantly, others find they will reach their target weight, stop going and the pounds will pile back on.

One thing to be careful of - they often make a lot of money from flogging you extras, from low-fat chip sticks to own-brand weighing scales. You probably don't need all this extra stuff, so just think before you buy!

Weight loss foods

There are quite a few 'weight-loss' foods, like Slimfast, where you eat or drink a product with added nutrients but reduced calories, like a milkshake, for breakfast and lunch and then have a full dinner.

These may help you lose a certain amount of weight in the short term, however, if you are looking to lose a significant amount of weight over a longer period, they will not help you. If you are significantly overweight, it is likely that what you need is to totally change your eating habits. Living off milkshakes, even if they do have added nutrients, would be enough to put anyone off dieting for life. Not even the most iron-willed person could spend the rest of their life following such a program.

Further info

Reductil

Reductil (Sibutramine) is a weight loss drug that affects your appetite. Get more info

Xenical

Xenical is a prescription-only medication designed to help obese patients lose weight. Get more info


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