FTC Busts Diet Companies for Fraud

Liar, Liar, Pants on fireThe Federal Trade Commission has just settled a lawsuit against four weight loss companies, forcing them to pay over 34 million dollars in restitution for lying to us.  The companies busted by  “Operation Failed Resolution” are:

Sensa: They claimed that sprinkling their powder on your food would help you “get a gym body without going to the gym.”

L’Occitane: Claimed using their cream would help people lose 1.3 inches in 4 weeks.

HCG Diet Direct: said you could lose 7 pounds in 7 day by consuming drops of a diluted hormone produced by the human placenta (oh, and also eating an extremely low calorie diet)

LeanSpa, LLC: Sold acai berry and colon cleanse products and supplements.

How did they lie to us?  Let me count the alleged ways according to the FTC press release:

  • Deceptively advertised that the powdered food additive Sensa enhances food’s smell and taste, making users feel full faster, so they eat less and lose weight, without dieting, and without changing their exercise regime.  The defendants did not have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support these claims
  • failed to disclose the fact that some consumers were compensated for their endorsements of Sensa.  In some instances, compensation included payments of $1,000 or $5,000, and trips to Los Angeles
  • Dr. Hirsch – who conducted two of the studies cited in the ads and wrote a promotional book about Sensa – gave expert endorsements that were not supported by scientific evidence, and provided the means for the other defendants to deceive consumers.  The defendants falsely cited Dr. Hirsch’s studies as clinical proof that consumers could lose substantial weight without dieting or exercise.  The defendants also allegedly misrepresented their role in a third study.

Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said “Resolutions to lose weight are easy to make but hard to keep.  And the chances of being successful just by sprinkling something on your food, rubbing cream on your thighs, or using a supplement are slim to none.  The science just isn’t there.”

The truth is that the science isn’t there for any method of weight loss.  “Eat less and exercise more” has no more scientific basis than sprinkling something on your food.  The chances of all diets working long-term are slim to none.  I’ve listed some research about this at the bottom of this post, but I encourage people to do the research for themselves.  That’s how I ended up practicing Health at Every Size, I had bought into the idea that weight loss was the only path to health and, having failed at so many diets regardless of how hard I tried, I started a massive literature review to find the “best” diet, the one that was successful the most.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there wasn’t a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people had succeeded at long term weight loss, and there was absolutely no study where even a tiny fraction of people had lost as much weight as I was told I needed to lose to be “healthy.”  But I did find good research that showed that, knowing that health is not entirely within our control and that there were no guarantees, behaviors are a much better predictor of future health than body size.

The FTC has developed guidelines for spotting fraudulent weight loss claims, but I think an easy test to know if diet companies are making fraudulent claims is to see if their lips are moving.  I hope that the FTC keeps going after diet companies, but my true hope is that the companies go out of business because people stop buying what they are selling and spend that sixty billion on something else.  In the meantime I’m happy about this step in the right direction.

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Should We Have Fat Barbie Dolls?

Fat BarbieThere has been all kinds of media hoopla about a Facebook community focused on plus-size modeling that put up this picture and asked if we should have a “plus-sized” Barbie. A number of blog readers have asked what I thought so here it is.

Let’s start with the most obvious.  The argument that I saw most against the doll was some form of the patently ridiculous notion that such a doll would promote obesity.  Put another way, this argument suggests that if fat kids ever see themselves represented as anything other than negative stereotypes, if they aren’t constantly given the message that there is one acceptable body and theirs isn’t it, if they aren’t ceaselessly bombarded with the message that they should hate and be ashamed of their bodies, then they’ll never hate themselves enough to make healthy choices and take care of their bodies. Seriously?

This idea, the myth of promoting obesity, has to die.  It’s dangerous and it is used to oppress people based on their physical appearance. It’s used as an excuse to keep fat people who don’t do what the oppressors want us to do (self-deprecate, self-hate, diet, and apologize for existing) hidden and beaten down by stigma.  And it self-perpetuates because people, including kids, don’t take care of things that they hate, and that includes their bodies.

If it wasn’t so sad I would be amused that so many of the people who are stricken at the idea that a fat Barbie may promote unhealthy behavior have absolutely no concern with a Barbie whose proportions are literally impossible for women to achieve.  If people are really worried about kids wanting to be like dolls, then they should be lobbying to take Barbie off the shelves.

Everybody deserves to see themselves represented in popular culture.  Fat people, people with disabilities, People of Color, everyone.  We should all be able to turn on the television, or go to the movies, or open a magazine and see someone who looks like us. Everyone deserves the chance to have and be a role model.  Every kid deserves the chance to have a doll that looks like them, so that they can put themselves into their play and dreams. Sure it’s profitable to the beauty and diet industries to start teaching kids, especially girls, as early as possible that their bodies are not, and never will be, good enough. But is that really ok with us?

Part of the reason that the impossible to achieve beauty ideal is so easily perpetuated is that so many adults buy into the system.  Spending time, money, and energy trying to get as close to Barbie as possible.  This system is set up so that we spend all of our energy trying to gain power within it and convincing our daughters to do the same (though it will only ever allow a tiny few to do so), that we don’t have time, money or energy to realize that we are powerful enough to dismantle the system.

The lack of representation doesn’t just hurt kids who never see a positive representation of themselves, it also reinforces the message to every other kid that bodies that don’t look like Barbie are wrong and bad.  Rhetoric like that I am seeing around this Barbie doll teaches kids that it’s ok to stereotype fat kids and that leads to bullying.

On the other side, many fat people objected to this Barbie’s look – that the way that she is fat isn’t the same way that they are fat.  There were a lot of what I found to be disturbing comments from people in the Plus Size Model focused Facebook community where this idea was first floated about how fat women are “supposed” to look  (less chins more “curves”  meaning – it seems – a hourglass shape with a “thin” face) and, perhaps most disturbingly about a “healthy sized” Barbie, based on the mistaken notion that body size and health are the same thing, a lot of it’s ok to be this fat but not that fat etc.

I’m personally sick of the only “good” fat body being represented as an hourglass figure with a thin face (even if it takes a highly skilled retouching artist to get it done) so I’m fine with this fat Barbie’s chins.  I think the big issue here is that currently we are discussing only two sizes of Barbie when the best possible thing, with Barbie, as with the media, television, movies etc. is to be as representative as possible instead of trying to justify a lack of representation.

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Then You Lose Weight

I had a conversation with a woman who said that she thinks that Weight Watchers is great and that I shouldn’t speak badly about them.  I asked her if she was familiar with WW’s success rates (or, you know, complete lack thereof).  She said that she wasn’t, but that the suggestions of the program were to eat healthy and exercise and that those are good things to do.  I agreed that those can be things that people choose to do, and that my problem is not the idea of “eat healthy and exercise” part, though it’s never an obligation, my issue is with the  “…then you lose weight” part, and the way that WW defines healthy eating and exercise.

I think that there are definitely weight loss programs that are just plain bad ideas (drink reconstituted soy protein shakes 5 times a day? Take a pill that gives you “uncontrolled anal seepage”?  Yikes.)  But, there are a some programs that have reasonable options for people who are interested in working on their health (knowing that health is not completely in our control, and is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness) if those companies would just drop the weight loss bit.

“Join the gym, become more active, get healthier!” There are no guarantees but this is ok advice if someone has access to and can afford a gym, if going to the gym sounds like something they want to do, and if they are interested in movement as a path to health.  “Join the gym, become more active, and then you lose weight”.   Horrible advice no matter what the circumstances-  there is no evidence to support that people will lose weight long term, in fact, there is a lot of evidence that increased activity increases health but does not lead to weight loss.  Sadly, since many gyms choose to grossly overstate what the evidence shows they can achieve, when people don’t lose weight, or when they lose it short term and then plateau and start gaining it back, they quit going to the gym (or whatever activity they picked to make them healthier) because they think it’s not “working” because they’ve been wrongly convinced by the gym that if they aren’t thinner then they aren’t healthier.

“Eat more whole foods, vegetables, and whole grains and you’ll get healthier.” It’s ok advice if someone has access and can afford those things, and if they are good for their bodies and circumstances.  “Eat more whole foods, vegetables, and whole grains…then you’ll lose weight.”  Horrible advice.  Again, if weight change happens to occur through a change in diet then the evidence suggests that it’s probably short term.

This is precisely why I think we should take weight loss out of the health discussion.  There is so much confusion about weight and health.  That causes people to confuse weight loss behaviors with healthy behaviors and that, in turn,  causes people to do unhealthy things under the false belief that they will be healthier when they get thinner no matter what they have to do to make it happen.  The next thing you know someone’s doctor has convinced them that the healthiest thing that they can do is have their stomach amputated.

People are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies, including having healthy organs amputated, but I’m not convinced that doctors are being honest about this surgery when death is a side effect, as are any number of problems (again with the uncontrolled anal seepage), there is a high rate of weight regain which leaves people as heavier or heavier than they were but less a large part of their digestive system, and doctors are recommending this surgery to people who are healthy because they believe, based on correlation and not causation, that people are better off thin, even if we have to amputate a perfectly healthy organ to  do it. Meanwhile the company that makes the lap band, an aid in another type of weight loss surgery, is lobbying Congress to be able to give that type of weight loss surgery to progressively lighter and younger patients.

This is what happens when we make the health discussion about weight loss, and make weight loss a for-profit product, this is what happens when any sentence that starts with health ends with “then you lose weight.”

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Would Life Be Easier Thin?

First they ignore youI see a lot of weight loss schemes sold based on the idea that life will be “easier” when you’re thin.  It’s a common question that I get asked when I’m talking about fat civil rights activism and demanding respect – “But wouldn’t your life be easier if you were thin?”

There are a lot of things that might make my life easier – if I were taller some things would be easier (reaching stuff) but some things would be more difficult (standing up on a plane).  There are plenty of ways that I could change in various situations that would make my life “easier” based on people’s social expectations, religious beliefs, stereotypes etc. but that doesn’t mean I should make those changes.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the answer is “yes” – that my life would be easier if I did not have to live under the constant stigma that comes from not conforming (or trying to conform) to the social stereotype of beauty.  This is still highly problematic:

First, even if being thin would make my life easier, nobody has any proven method to get it done.  Currently the best that science can offer me is a 5% chance for success and a 95% chance of failure including ending up heavier and less healthy than when I started.  I’m going to pass on that.

But it goes beyond that for me.  Even if it was proven possible, the cure for social stigma is NOT  for the stigmatized group to change (or attempt to change) in order to gain acceptance.  I do not believe that the solution to bullying is to give the bully my lunch money and hope they stop beating me up.  I think that the evidence is pretty clear that, in the absence of some pretty drastic circumstances, I’m not going to be thin.  I don’t think that’s a choice.

But that’s not what it’s about – it’s the decision to stop trying to be thin. That is a choice and a difficult one because it takes me out of the “Good Fatty” category (people who get some modicum of approval from the stigmatizing group because they are ‘trying” to do what the group says they should), and puts me firmly in the “Bad Fatty” category- someone who opts out of the diet culture and so is subjected to the full vitriol of the stigmatizing group.  (It’s important to understand that the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy is never the fault of the fat people involved – it’s a function of the people who stigmatize us and it needs to die. )

So, though my life might be easier if I were thin, or if I were at least seen as trying to be thin, I’m not interested.  Because where does it end?  If someone else gets to tell me what my body should look like, what else do they get to decide for me?  What other power do I have to give away?  I got a fortune cookie once that said “The person who trims themself to suit everyone soon whittles away to nothing.”  I think that if I want social change (and I do) then the first step is to stand up and say No.

No, I won’t do what  they want me to do just to gain begrudging, conditional respect and humane treatment that I will only enjoy until they want me to change myself again to suit them. I will demand my civil rights now, as I am, and I will fight for them if I have to. They need to back off my fat body, if they want a war on obesity, I will give them one.

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

The “Best” Diet Tips?

facepalm Every year around this time we are bombarded with articles of the Best Diet Tips EVER!!!  I thought I would take a stab at re-writing some of them to be a little more in touch with reality:

Tip:  Blog your goal, it’s hard to fail in front of an audience.

Blog your goal. Then if you are like the vast majority of people who attempt weight loss,  you can fail in front of an audience!

Tip:  After a sweet treat, eat half a slice of deli turkey to keep you from wanting more.

This tip brought to you by the deli turkey lobby. Seriously, that shit is specific. (Remember, only a half a slice!) Is there a reason that deli chicken or deli roast beef won’t work?  Didn’t they used to just tell us to brush our teeth?  When did lunch meat replace dental hygiene in the health world?

Tip:  Be specific about our weight loss goals

Because you don’t just want a vague sense of failure, you want fail specifically.

Tip:  Add a zero to your weight and use that to figure out how many calories you should eat.

This tip is especially useful for those who don’t have a set of darts or other mechanism to help them come up with a random number of calories upon which to base their food choices.

Tip:  Cravings usually only last for 10 minutes, distract yourself by having sex.

Who can resist the siren call of “Honey, come have sex with me so I don’t eat this cookie,” or, in the heat of the moment, hearing your partner moan “Oh baby do you still want the cookie or can we stop?”  People who follow this tip are heard to say “My partner has carpel tunnel and TMJ, but I’m 10 pounds lighter!”

Tip:  Buy an outfit in your healthiest size and hang it on the door for motivation.

It’s bad enough that magazines spread the myth that you have to be a certain weight to be healthy, but now we have to psychically know what size we’re going to be when we get there? The only reason this is better than just setting your money on fire is that you can always donate the outfit to Goodwill and go buy something that fits.

Tip:  Weigh yourself every day to stay on track.

This tip also appears on the “100 Best Ways to Trigger an Eating Disorder” list and the “100 Ways to Freak Yourself Out a Week Before Your Period” list.

Tip: Add cucumbers to water and drink it – it feels like a treat.

Cucumber water is fine, but let’s be honest that water with vegetables floating in it is not going to be mistaken for a “treat” unless the rest of the time you’re eating cardboard.

Tip:  Eat with chopsticks or your non-dominant hand to slow down.

Impress your coworkers at lunch by being the only person who can’t reliably get food into your mouth!  What date can resist the sexy “Bend and Snap” you do to pick up the sushi roll that is rolling away.  Plus nothing’s more sexy than having your date take your bra off after that sushi date and having a half cup of rice pour out!  Why not try other things with your non-dominant hand, maybe shaving your bikini area can be next?

Like  every article I see like this, these tips are old, tired, and have basically nothing to do with health. On the bright side, since these are supposedly the  Best Diet Tips EVER, maybe they won’t publish any more.  But if history is any judge, then sadly they probably will.

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Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Interviews with Amazing Activists!!  Help Activists tell our movement’s history in their own words.  Support In Our Own Words:  A Fat Activist History Project!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen