We all know that if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Diet pills, in most cases, are no different; if you think that you can eat anything you want, do no physical activity and then just pop a pill to get skinny with no consequences, you probably need to think again.
There is no getting around the fact that healthy and sustainable weight-loss requires an active lifestyle and making healthy food choices. That being said, if you do decide that you would like to try diet pills, it is important to know that not all diet pills are made the same. Some diet pills can be very detrimental to your health and it is important to do your research before you take any of them, no matter how “safe” their labels say they are.
THE SKINNY: Created originally as the prescription drug Xenical, orlistat is now available in a lower-dose, over-the-counter version called Alli. The drug, which you take up to three times a day with meals, prevents you from digesting 25 percent of the fat you consume (by attaching to some of the enzymes responsible for breaking down fat from food). The amount of fat calories blocked will depend on how much fat you eat, but most patients block 100 to 200 calories per day.
So, how does that play out in pounds? Subjects who took Alli for six months lost 50 percent more weight — say, 15 pounds versus 10 — than those who only dieted, according to a study done by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare, the drug’s manufacturer. It also appeared to inspire positive lifestyle changes: “We found that 80 percent of Alli-takers really stuck to a reduced-fat diet, and 50 percent started exercising for longer periods of time,” says Vidhu Bansal, director of Medical Affairs at GSK Consumer Healthcare. A starter pack of Alli — which includes a month’s supply of pills, a dietary guidelines guide, a calorie and fat counter, and a food journal — costs about $54.
THE RISKS: If you eat too much fat (more than 30 percent of your calories, or roughly 15 grams of fat per meal), you’ll likely experience loose, oily stools, since the excess fat that is blocked from absorption is quickly excreted. “My patients on Xenical often find that when they eat a high-fat meal, several hours later they may have diarrhea or loose stools. In extreme cases, they can’t control their bowels — they’ll leak all over their pants,” says Caroline Cederquist, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP). (People who took Alli were less likely to experience these side effects.) Taking either drug may also put you at risk for vitamin loss. “You need enough fat in your diet to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D,” adds Loren Wissner Greene, M.D., an obesity specialist at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City.