We’ve all seen the ads for programs telling us they’ve found the “secret” to losing weight, but here’s the thing… few of these approaches work over the long-run. We talked with Toronto-based weight management expert and endocrinologist Dr. Megha Poddar about what EVERYONE should know before signing up and spending our hard-earned money for the latest product / program / coaching plan promising fast weight loss. Here are the six things she identified as “red flags” that indicate we should be wary:
Red Flag #1: One-size-fits-all, non-personalized programs
“What I’ve learned from seeing many different patients over the years is that everyone truly does need something different,” says Dr. Poddar. That’s why she says making sure the program or approach is tailored to your specific needs and individualizes the treatment plan for you is super-important. Weight management is complex and “programs that are truly effective tend to be the ones that are flexible and can be tailored to your needs”. So if a program is advocating a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits all approach, that’s something to be cautious about.
Red Flag #2: Lack of follow-up or ongoing support
Programs without long term support should be reconsidered, according to Dr. Poddar. Since obesity is a chronic disease, a fundamental component of a weight management program should be access to long term maintenance or follow-up. Maintaining weight loss will be a lifelong journey. Any viable program should have a clear outline of the support that will be available to help you sustain your success.
Red Flag #3: Required purchases like supplements/shakes
Dr. Poddar says that “if a program is asking you to purchase anything like supplements or protein shakes (especially those that will be needed indefinitely) this may be another red flag.” She suggests thinking through the profit motive that would bias a company to recommend products that may or may not be helpful. It’s also important to remember that there is no clear data that most supplements or vitamins are effective for weight loss or improving overall health. The claims made by the billion dollar diet industry and supplement manufacturers about their products are often unregulated and therefore it’s wise to be very cautious.
Red Flag #4: Programs that target specific parts of your body
“Watch your tummy fat burn away” or “Get a six pack in only 7 days” are promises that some programs make, but Dr. Poddar encourages you to stay clear of programs that focus on a specific area of your body. She suggests that those kind of claims are “playing on our vulnerabilities and focus on body image instead of health.” Successful weight management should not be tied to the look of one area of your body, but rather involves a holistic approach that improves your quality of life.
Red Flag #5: Programs that don’t provide information about long-term results
Before committing to anything, “ask the program to [provide] information on how many people stick with this program after one year and how they measure success” suggests Dr. Poddar. In today’s world, it’s easy to make bold claims about the success of a given product or program, but it’s critical to dig deeper into the headlines. If programs do not have any statistics on member success and what the programs goals are, this should be considered a red flag.
Red Flag #6: High pressure sales tactics / no easy way to exit the program
Dr. Poddar suggests asking, “if I am not finding this effective after X number of months, am I able to leave and get some money back?” She explains that this is so important because there’s no one program that will work for EVERYONE. “The reality is that programs are offering what they’re offering and patients need what they need. And if those two things don’t align, there has to be an easy way for you to exit that program and find a different program that works for you.” (It’s also worth noting that if a program is using high-pressure sales tactics, pushing you to make a decision by a certain amount of time, for example– that’s a red flag to be aware of too.)
Dr. Poddar says her number one suggestion is to “identify your own goals and objectives for your weight management journey and make sure the program that you are part of helps you to achieve them.” Hopefully, these red flags have given you a place to start asking questions…
For many people, talking to a medical professional is an important first step on the journey to reach a healthier weight in a sustainable way. To find a weight management physician near you, click here.