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Don’t fall for scams posing as miracle diets

Fitness column

In the past, the phrase “no pain, no gain” has probably scared more individuals away from exercise than any other. Exercise gadget infomercials and fad diet books have made billions of dollars capitalizing on our quest for finding the “easy” no pain or sacrifice way to a sexy body, six-pack abs and an energetic, youthful appearance. These plans told us we could accomplish all this while going through no strenuous exercise, lounging on the couch with a vibrating belt, and eating anything we desire.

Fortunately, there now seems to be a complete mindset and reversal of thinking. The most popular workout infomercials now promote more extreme ways to torture us with workouts from “Boot Camp to P90X” (X meaning extreme). If you don’t think these programs are intensely crazy enough, you also have the program “Insanity.”

Although I don’t think these are appropriate programs for everyone, I do think they promote a lot more positive and credible message than the bogus gadget and diet infomercials that promise something for no effort. At least the hardcore workout programs will have results if you like that style of program and are able to do it without harming yourself.

I have gotten several questions from clients recently on a program that I do have serious problems with. The HCG diet is never appropriate for anyone and is potentially dangerous. Even though they do not work as claimed, at least the standard bogus exercise gadgets and fad diets are usually only harmful to your wallet. Generally, the HCG diet is based on two principles: (1) A 500-calorie-per-day diet (2) injections of a drug called Human Chorionic Gonadatropin, or HCG for short. As weird as it sounds, the drug really is extracted from the urine of pregnant women. There is a homeopathic (non-drug, pill form) version which is no better.

People do lose a lot of weight on the HCG diet. But the explanation for the weight loss is simple. The injections come with a 500-calorie-per-day diet. Just do the math for what kind of weight loss you’d expect from a 500-calorie-per-day diet. That’s exactly what the HCG program is. It’s a starvation diet; nothing more, nothing less. Starvation crash diets don’t keep the weight off in the long term and they can be dangerous and unhealthy. Plus, the weight loss is mostly lean weight (water and muscle) not fat.

The HCG diet is not really new. HCG has been around since the 1950s when Dr. Simeon first suggested its use for weight reduction. One of the advantages to being in the fitness business for 35 years is that I have witnessed literally hundreds of fads come and go. I remember doctors prescribing injections to their obese patients with a “wonder drug” in the ‘70s before negative studies and government action virtually eliminated this practice until recently. In 2007, a book by Kevin Trudeau was released touting the benefits of HCG. That same year, the FTC charged Trudeau with fraud and filed suit against him for misrepresenting the contents of his book.

Studies have been conducted by many credible medical journals disputing claims made by HCG diet marketers. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported: “There was no statistically significant difference between those receiving HCG vs. placebo.” All other pertinent studies about HCG came to the same conclusion.

It’s mindboggling that so many people still want to take this expensive stuff when there’s so much evidence proving that it’s a waste of money, and the most public promoter of HCG diets has been charged with fraud by the FTC. I don’t know, but one major reason for this may be because some medical doctors are promoting it. We naturally tend to trust medical doctors. We are skeptical of fitness professionals promoting supplements and fad programs, as we should be, but when recommended by medical professionals, we often don’t do our due diligence.

Most doctors that I know are completely trustworthy and will give you only relevant, credible advice. This, however, is an example that we all need to be accountable for our own health and well being. Your fitness success can be as simple as staying active, eating nutritiously and not falling for scams.

Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine and has been in the fitness industry for over 30 years.