• Kelly Johnston

At What Cost?

Unless you’ve sworn off social media and don’t run in fitness circles, you’ve no doubt noticed a resurgence in weight management and energy drinks and supplements filling your feeds, along with enthusiastic invitations to join the ranks of those who are actively “verb-ing” (the verb varies and is specific to whatever product or product line is being promoted).  Your response, or even your gut reaction, to these testimonials will vary depending on your perspective.  Certainly the end goals of healthy body composition and energy to lend to a person’s productivity are worthy ones.  Any one of us can appreciate the hard work of shaping one’s metabolism through adopting a healthy lifestyle.  And because this hard work is somewhat daunting and takes time, many of us look for a short cut, a boost, a fast track to the end goals.  It’s human nature.  We want what we want, and we want it now.  As in every other venture of an examined life, though, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, “At what cost?”  Because whether we do or we don’t ask, there is most definitely a cost.  A trade-off.  Any time we want to jump ahead and skip over the hard work of doing anything the sustainable way, there is a cost.

In my estimation, there are some basic things we want to consider before deciding to enlist the aid of any supplement of this type:

1.  What is listed in the Nutrition Facts/Supplement Facts section of the label?  Generally, here you will find a list of vitamins and minerals, and proprietary blends where the amounts of single ingredients aren’t broken down.  You may also find enzymes, probiotics, amino acids, fiber, digestive aids, pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, weight loss aids (one of these making the rounds acts directly on the heart muscle and artery walls, acting as a vasodilator), diuretics, appetite suppressants, and stimulants.  

2.  Does this product contain stimulants?  Some of these products contain not just one, but multiple stimulants, from many forms of caffeine to substances molecularly similar to ephedrine.   I have seen ecstatic testimonials of users who say they’ve even been able to swear off of coffee.  This is no huge feat considering they’ve replaced their coffee with several other forms of caffeine and stimulants such as green tea extract, black tea extract, white tea extract, guarana, green coffee bean, PEA, theobromine, synephrine, and others. I have read in my research that in some cases these substances' names have been changed, presumably to keep the consumer from recognizing them as stimulants.  These do their magic by revving up the metabolism, which can lead to weight/fat loss, indeed, along with unintended consequences that result from a heavy dose of stimulant.  There are often other ingredients added into the formulation that are designed to boost the action of the stimulants even further.  If the product you are considering contains one or more stimulants, please check with your doctor or pharmacist first to make sure that it won’t interfere with your medications or worsen your health conditions.  This is especially important for people with heart disease, diabetes, or any other chronic illness. And remember that in years past, there have been many stimulating diet aids removed from the market at some point due to heart damage sustained by their users.  We don’t always know the far-reaching effects of these substances until they’ve been in circulation for some time.  

3.  What is listed in the “other ingredients” section of the nutrition label?  This section is usually under the Nutrition Facts/Supplement Facts.  Here you may find various forms of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and the ubiquitous term “natural flavors” (code for “stuff we’d rather you not know is in here” in most food labels). Sometimes there are potential allergens in these products, such as glucosamine, which is derived from shellfish.  These are just a few examples of the ingredients you may find here.

4.  Is “all natural” synonymous with “safe”?  Not necessarily.  There are many, many substances found in nature that are not safe for human consumption or carry with them substantial risk. Tobacco and opium are all natural, for instance, but we know that they can have profound deleterious effects on the body.  Whether a substance is natural or synthetic, look into its properties and find out why it is included in the formulation.  Just as the word “natural” doesn’t carry a lot of weight on our food labels, it doesn’t earn a product of this type a pass either.

5.  Is this product helping me lose weight and have energy in a way that is sustainable?  Artificially stimulating the body to drop pounds/fat and gain high levels of energy/mood is self-limiting at best.  The effects are dependent upon continuing to take the product.  This applies to weight loss/energy supplements the same way it applies to weight loss plans that implement special food items to be eaten in place of regular meals or snacks.  This is not sustainable.  Ask any one of the many people who have experienced substantial weight loss only to gain it all back and then some when going off plan.  In contrast, learning how to eat for nutrient-density while putting aside nutrient-depleted processed foods is a sustainable way to manage weight and have energy.  Learning how to navigate the farmers’ market and grocery store, and learning how to navigate menus when dining out are sustainable ways to manage a healthy weight and life.  Incorporating movement, relaxation, recreation, and restorative sleep into our daily lives is sustainable.  Addressing dysfunction in digestion, blood sugar regulation, and the body’s own detox mechanisms, and so on, are key ways to sustainably make gains in health and well-being.  Yes, these things take time and effort.  They don’t bring vitality in leaps and bounds overnight.  But step-by-step they build a lifetime of good habits to enrich our lives, without the risks inherent in the short cuts coming on the scene, many of which have entered the supplement arena with no clinical trials whatsoever. 

Please, friends.  Before you jump on a bandwagon that promises you’ll feel great and lose weight, do your research.  Your due diligence is not taking anyone’s word for it; it is becoming familiar with each ingredient and its potential effect on the body.  I have just skimmed the surface and there is so much more to learn.  Take the time to dig for honest reviews of any weight management or energy product; they ARE out there.  Hunt for studies, look for clinical trials.  Make an informed decision.  Look for the answer to the question, “At what cost?"  And for those who are actively promoting these new products:  please, be careful. Know your clientele.  Know their health issues and sensitivities/allergies.  Know what is in your product and its action on the body.  Do YOUR research.  Those of us working in whatever capacity in the field of health and wellness are well intentioned and we want to see our clients succeed.  Whether we are certified nutritional therapists, licensed health professionals, registered dietitians, health coaches, or just people with a passion for motivating others in their own health journeys, may we all understand our responsibility to take seriously how we lead others in our counsel and in our example. 

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