I worked in a lab that specialized in performance-enhancing substances. We gave drugs to soldiers in an effort to make them run faster, jump higher and lift more.
For a time, I was an authority on drugs and foods that improved performance. You can therefore imagine my fascination with athletes – most recently, Lance Armstrong, who confessed to doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey – who choose to take an illegal short cut to win.
While I absolutely condemn the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional athletics, I also acknowledge that this "cheat to win" mentality is not too different from shortcuts many people use to improve their bodies.
Weight-loss pills, diuretics, laxatives, anorectics and colonics are common techniques used and abused in the name of trying to cheat our bodies to shed weight faster. No, these aren't illegal, but they are unhealthy and in some cases, dangerous. Moreover, almost everybody who tries to "cheat" their body into dropping weight faster has yet to fully exhaust the proper healthy ways to lose weight (like eating well, exercising, drinking less alcohol, sleeping well, etc.). None of these quick fixes offers sustainable results.
Here are some of the most commonly used diet cheats and why you should avoid them – and please always consult your physician before taking any medications or undertaking a new fitness or diet plan.
While there has been a broad effort by the FDA to restrict over-the-counter sales of amphetamines, they remain the most problematic of the stimulant category. Amphetamines are used for their energy-increasing and appetite suppression qualities and often help users drop a couple pounds. But the side effects can range from insomnia and hallucinations to heart attacks and nerve damage.
Appetite Suppressants (Anorectics)
From using nicotine patches to caffeine pills to migraine meds, many are abusing medications in an effort to reduce their appetite. This is not good. Prescription medication should only be used under the supervision of a physician and only for a specific health condition. Many of these powerful drugs have potent side effects and, if taken incorrectly or in combination with other medications, can actually be fatal.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the popular new category of appetite suppressants based on your sense of smell. Products that claim the aroma of their products decrease your appetite, resulting in weight loss. There are no studies that show these products lead to long-term weight loss, and frankly, who wants to be seen smelling a pile of chemicals before their meal when they're out with friends?
Our body is actually 70 percent water. Diuretics or "water pills" cause us to urinate more, thereby expelling some of the water from our body, which can technically cause short-term weight loss. The problem is, we're not losing fat or burning calories; we're losing water – which we need! Diuretics cause dehydration, which in a mild condition can cause headaches, dizziness and muscle cramping, but in a more serious case can cause dangerously low blood pressure and irregular heartbeats.
When taken with meals, fat blockers decrease the absorption of fat by the intestines, which reduces calories absorbed, thereby causing weight loss. While some have been labeled as miracle drugs, fat blockers have also received some notoriety due to their infamously unpleasant potential side effects (Anal leakage? No, thank you!).
The prominence of laxative abuse is truly upsetting. Not only is it dangerous, but it's also based on poor logic. Laxatives are used stimulate the bowel to empty, which only occurs after food (and its calories) have been absorbed. So in no way are we burning or decreasing calorie intake. The only thing you're losing when you abuse laxatives are vital bodily fluids and essential nutrients. Long-term use of laxatives can cause serious organ damage and major digestive problems.
Proponents of colonics think that sticking a hose up your backside and filling your colon with large amounts of liquid (usually water) will make you lose weight by "detoxifying" your body. Not only is this completely gross, but also completely unnecessary (and can be dangerous). Our bodies expel the toxins in our bowels on our own and have since the dawn of man. We completely replace our intestinal lining every 30 days. There has not been any scientific evidence to show that colonics have any benefit at all. Not only that, but (surprise!) there's a good chance that they can actually hurt you.
None of these cheats are effective or healthy. But it's not too late to avoid these weight loss cheats and choose the best (and only real) way to a fitter physique: Move more, and eat smart.
If you've ever had a bad experience with any of the above, please tweet me @harleypasternak and let me know all about it.