What about "fat-blocking" or "fat-bypassing" supplements?

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Dear Ms. Landis,

Do you have any feelings on this relatively new product called chitosan? It's natural fiber made from the exoskeletons of shellfish. It's supposed to block the absorption of fat and trim you up. -W.R., Seattle, WA (WON A BOOK FOR HIS SUBMISSION!)

Dear W.R.,

Thank you for your question.
Here's a good opportunity to demonstrate how I systematically, analytically break down these sorts of claims, piece by piece, picking out words and phrases that are vague, meaningless, or incorrect; and asking "why?" and ""what for" and "so what?" I hope others can learn to do the same--examine diet product claims with a critical, objective eye; and zero in on the weak, flimsy, and thoughtless parts.

(NOTE: The writer of this question later amended his words to be more precise and specific. However, I find the original phrasing valuable to underscore my point about diet thinking; this reflects how most "diet" questions first get asked, and it's important to be exact in our language--and demand the same from others, especially diet advertising!)

In this case:

1. Fat doesn't "absorb." It is metabolized for use as fuel, OR it is stored for later use.

2. Even if something DID "block the [STORAGE] of fat" that doesn't mean you'd automatically "trim up."

a. "Trim" is a meaningless word (it doesn't ensure "lean" or "healthy"). Being "trim" is relatively useless. Even small, "thin" people can be overfat.

b. As I explain in BodyFueling, fat consumption is not the only element in being lean and healthy. Controlling fat storage/usage is just one of many One Thing "answers" I de-bunk. This particular product suggests that ONE vaguely implied, sloppily described thing (fat "absorption") will accomplish everything for you. Nothing works that way. No ONE thing "does it" for you.

3. I take a pretty hard line against all products of this kind. Ask yourself: What is their point? Why even consider them? Because you don't trust eating and exercise alone to do the job? or because they don't do it fast enough? Is the assumption that you *can't* really get lean and healthy just by eating and exercising appropriately? Or that you can't get there *tomorrow* by doing so?

I believe you don't need to "wonder" if these "weight loss" products are all hype. I'd BET on it. Look the other way. Take the high road--the forever road. Eat well (a wide and enjoyable variety of healthy foods) and live an active life. Ask yourself how many out-of-shape, unhealthy, overfat people you know who are active (sports/exercise) and *truly* eat a consistently terrific healthy diet? Perhaps it's a coincidence, but I've been teaching and consulting for 10 years and I've yet to meet one.

(By the way, W.R., I'm not speaking to you personally so much when I say this as I am to the culture at large. I know you asked this question not so much for yourself--since you indicated to me in a followup letter that you yourself do fine with healthy eating and exercise--but you were curious for those people who may be unwilling to exercise or eat differently. You cited many cultural influences, such as fast food, which make it difficult for people to make changes. However, my stance remains pretty firm on this; I guess I'm a purist in this regard. I don't ever want to encourage people to take pills--or whatever--because it's "too hard" to eat well and exercise. I'd rather work on dispelling myths about just what it means to eat healthily--I believe a lot of the "too hard" is pure misconception--and teaching people how to really make wholistic, lifelong changes that are truly effective and rewarding. Taking ANY kind of supplement is never going to resolve the information and attitude deficits that underlie American dietary problems, and I choose not to encourage that approach--even temporarily, because it just postpones the fundamental changes that are really needed. Others may disagree, but I choose to champion this particular cause. :) )

~ Robyn Landis


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