The International Food Information Council (IFIC) reports that 40 percent of Americans regularly diet for weight management—but that at the same time, most people can’t identify nutritious foods. The findings of the IFIC’s 2021 survey reflect the biggest problem with weight loss: although many people have a desire to lose weight, they don’t know how best to achieve their goal.
For some, confusion over the approach to weight management leads to experimenting with weight loss remedies, pills and supplements, which often aren’t effective. Closely examining popular weight loss remedies can help you make an informed decision about your own weight loss plan.
Weight loss remedies are simple solutions for losing weight that have varying degrees of success. Here are some of the most well-known remedies for weight loss.
Cutting out added sugars
Natural sugars are those that occur naturally in foods, such as fruits. Added sugars are sugars and syrups found in processed foods or included in recipes. Foods that contain added sugars include cake, pies, soft drinks, energy drinks, candy, sugary breakfast cereals, and flavored yogurts.
Cutting out added sugars is one of the few simple remedies that can often support weight loss, especially if you combine it with regular exercise and healthy foods like whole grains, lean proteins and plenty of vegetables.
One gram of sugar has 4 calories, so foods that contain a large amount of added sugar are often high in calories but low in nutrients. As a result, choosing foods with no added sugar is a simple way to eat healthier and cut down on your number of empty calories.
Apple cider vinegar
Some people claim that drinking apple cider vinegar or taking capsules that contain it may curb appetite and boost metabolism. There is no evidence to support these claims. Apple cider vinegar is mildly acidic, and drinking it may cause throat irritation. There is also a risk of the supplements and straight vinegar interacting with medications like diuretics and insulin.
Drinking lemon water with honey
The idea behind drinking water with lemon and honey is that lemon detoxifies the digestive system, and honey boosts metabolism. Proponents of this remedy claim that it can reduce body fat in just a few weeks, but no scientific evidence suggests that this is the case. Weight gain doesn’t occur due to toxins—it occurs when you consume more unhealthy calories than your body can burn.
One study did find that honey may be beneficial for weight management, but the purpose of the study centered on the use of honey as a substitute for refined sugar—not to take it on its own as a weight loss cure.
Chewing garlic to lose weight is a folk remedy that goes back centuries. Scientific studies have found that garlic offers health benefits. Early findings suggest it may lower the likelihood of heart disease, improve blood sugar control, and combat some types of bacteria—but there’s no evidence that it helps you lose weight. However, adding garlic to your dishes is a tasty way to add beneficial nutrients to your diet.
Intermittent fasting has become a very popular weight loss remedy. Although there are many approaches to intermittent fasting, most involve eating only during certain hours and avoiding eating or drinking (anything other than water) for the remaining hours of the day. Those who sing the praises of fasting often claim that going without food increases your metabolic activity to help you lose weight more quickly.
A fasting plan with a very short window for eating is not sustainable for most people, and it may result in severe calorie restrictions that slow your metabolism or endanger your health. Fasting programs with longer eating windows, such as 10 hours, may help some people lose weight.
Weight loss associated with intermittent fasting usually isn’t due to an increase in metabolism due to not eating, but rather, it may prevent you from snacking, thereby lowering your daily calorie intake and supporting weight loss. You can likely achieve the same benefits of fasting by simply cutting out evening snacks or only eating healthy food when you get hungry at night.
Weight loss medications
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the following pills for weight loss.
Phentermine is a prescription drug sold under the brand names Adipex-P and Lomaira as well as in a combination medication with topiramate called Qysmia. Phentermine is an amphetamine-like medication that decreases appetite to support weight loss. In most cases, doctors only prescribe it for a short period of time as part of a weight loss program that includes a healthy diet and regular exercise. Phentermine is not approved for use in Europe nor Canada, but is approved in the U.S., Australia, Mexico and New Zealand.
Contrave is a prescription medication for people who are obese and for those who are overweight and have one weight-related medical condition, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. The drug is a combination of two medications: bupropion hydrochloride and naltrexone hydrochloride. Together, they act on two areas of the brain to reduce feelings of hunger and curb cravings for foods. Taking the medication can make it easier to transition to and stick with a healthy diet. Clinical research found that people taking Contrave lost two to four times more weight in one year than those who didn’t. It is approved for use in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia.
GLP-1 agonists are a class of medications prescribed to improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes and potentially help them lose weight. The drugs increase insulin production by mimicking the activities of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1. Most drugs that belong to this class are injectable medications administered daily or weekly and include:
- Dulaglutide (Trulicity)
- Exenatide (Byetta)
- Semaglutide (Ozempic)
- Liraglutide (Victoza and Saxenda)
- Lixisenatide (Adlyxin)
Sodium glucose cotransporter 2 or SGLT-2 inhibitors are also injectable drugs prescribed for people with type 2 diabetes. Like GLP-1 agonists, they assist with blood sugar control and may contribute to weight loss. These drugs work by increasing how much glucose you release through urination and include:
- Canagliflozin (Invokana)
- Ertugliflozin (Steglatro)
- Dapagliflozin (Farxiga)
- Empagliflozin (Jardiance)
Orlistat is available in the 120-mg, prescription-strength drug Xenical. It’s available over the counter in the 60-mg strength medication Alli. Orlistat works by preventing your intestines from absorbing some of the fat in the foods you eat. Normally, you take one capsule with each meal you eat that contains fat. These medications can cause unpleasant side effects that may interfere with your daily life, such as gas, bloating and anal leakage.
Normally, doctors prescribe Xenical for people whose body mass index (BMI) is 30 or more and for individuals who have health conditions like hypertension or diabetes and a BMI of 27 or higher. Both Alli and Xenical should be used in conjunction with a diet and exercise plan to support weight loss.
Weight loss supplements
Weight loss supplements include capsules, tablets, powders, and liquids that contain vitamins, minerals, herbal extracts, and other substances. There are hundreds of these products on the market. Some of the most well-known ones include:
- Psyllium, found in fiber supplements. It is one of the few weight loss supplements that has been shown to potentially support weight loss and to be generally safe for most people
- Garcinia cambogia, the extract of a green fruit that looks similar to a pumpkin; it purportedly keeps your body from producing a fat storage enzyme and cuts down on food cravings.
- Caffeine, a stimulant present in coffee, tea, and chocolate that increases activity in the immune system. Some people say it can increase metabolism rates to help you lose weight.
- Raspberry ketones, a naturally occurring chemical in raspberries said to help the body break down stored fat.
- Green coffee bean, the extract from raw coffee. Its supposed weight-loss benefits come from the presence of caffeine as well as chlorogenic acid, a substance that some claim decreases the rate at which your body breaks down carbohydrates during digestion.
- Green tea, the extract from tea leaves. In addition to caffeine, green tea contains a chemical called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which some people claim increases the body’s ability to burn fat.
- Glucomannan, a fiber found in the roots of the elephant yam or konjac plant. When you consume glucomannan, it creates a gel in your gut that may make you feel fuller during meals, so you eat less.
The truth about weight loss supplements
In the U.S., supplements do not go through an approval process the way that medications do. Manufacturers don’t have to conduct clinical trials to prove that their product’s work. This means you can’t automatically trust that a supplement that claims to “supports weight loss” really does or that the ingredients specified on the label are even what’s really inside the bottle. While you can find studies that show dietary supplements are beneficial for weight loss, the test groups are often small or the studies are of questionable origin. In other words, they may not be trustworthy or scientifically sound. As a result, medical experts generally recommend diet and exercise over supplements.
Some people may need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement while losing weight to avoid nutritional deficiencies, but a primary care physician should decide when this is necessary. If you’re still tempted to try a dietary supplement, you should discuss it with your doctor first, because certain dietary supplements can cause health complications, trigger allergic reactions and interact with medications.
What weight loss really requires
The desire to find a remedy, pill or supplement that causes weight loss with no other effort required is understandable, but unfortunately, no such miracle cures exist. Weight loss requires effort, including sustainable changes to your diet and an increase in physical activity. It also takes a personalized approach, as lifestyle, environment and family history mean each person has unique needs when it comes to weight loss.
The good news is that while losing weight isn’t easy, it doesn’t have to be complicated. A primary care physician knowledgeable in weight management can create a customized plan that is straightforward and simple, designed for your lifestyle, food preferences, and other factors.
The work that you ultimately put into weight loss can make a major impact on your overall health. Losing just 5 to 10% of your body mass index can lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
How Forward can help you lose weight without gimmicks
No single weight loss remedy, supplement or pill will lead to long-term weight management on its own. Achieving and maintaining your ideal weight requires realistic goal-setting, a healthy diet and fitness regimen, and ongoing support. Our 12-week, doctor-led, Weight Management Program provides all of this, along with a plan tailored to your lifestyle, culture, and goals. As your primary care provider, Forward’s weight loss program includes assessments and diagnostic tests that may uncover underlying causes of weight gain or identify medical conditions that could slow down your progress. Our program factors in your overall health to get you on the path to lasting weight-loss success.