Are diet pills the healthiest way to lose weight?

23 January 2012

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This article was previously published on January 23, 2012 and was reviewed and updated by the CurioCity team in September 2017.

Do you know anyone trying to maintain a healthy weight? How are they trying to do this? Are they exercising more? Changing the food they eat? Or are they taking diet pills?

That third option might sound like a quick fix. All you have to do is pop a pill, and the weight will come off - right? Well, like most quick fixes, there can be consequences.

Types of diet pills

Different diet pills work in different ways. For example, over-the-counter laxatives make you have bowel movements more often. That’s because they cause your stool (poo) to retain water. This not only prevents you from absorbing food, it also inhibits your body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals that you need to grow and develop normally.

Other over-the-counter weight loss drugs work by preventing your body from absorbing fat. There are some pretty uncomfortable and embarrassing side effects associated with fat malabsorption, like gas with oily spotting, loose stools and anal leakage.

Other over-the-counter weight loss pills can cause more serious health concerns. These include irregular heartbeat, insomnia (sleeplessness), high blood pressure and depression. These risks have been associated with both natural and over-the-counter weight loss pills.

Is it worth it? Hardly. Scientific studies have not shown that these types of pills result in long-term weight loss. More often than not, once they’ve lost the weight they wanted to lose, people eventually return to their previous eating and exercise habits. The result? Weight regain!

Do you really need to lose the weight?

The honest truth is, many teens who think they are overweight are actually not! Comparing yourself to people you see in magazines or TV is unrealistic. Studies in both the US and Canada investigated how teens felt about their weight. More than 50% of teens who participated had misconceptions about their weight. So if you have concerns about your weight, don’t jump to heavy conclusions - speak to a health professional first.

In the meantime, below are some points to keep you at a healthy weight (whether you need to lose any or not!)

Little steps go a long way.

Overall, the total energy you use through physical activity can be divided into two parts:

  1. the energy you use doing sports and fitness activities
  2. the energy you spend doing everyday things (non-exercise).

You may already know that sports and fitness activities, especially aerobic activities, help you build muscle and burn fat. As a result, your body becomes more toned and looks leaner.

Often, people don’t realize that increasing your non-exercise activity also helps maintain a healthy weight. In fact, even if you overeat, increasing your amount of non-exercise activity goes a long way in keeping you at a healthy weight.

Did You Know? You don’t necessarily have to exercise more to maintain or lose weight. Sometimes, all you need to do is move around more during your everyday activities. For example, walking to the store instead of taking the bus counts as activity!

Good “dieting”

Rather than taking diet pills, try making changes to your diet itself. Good choices won’t just help your weight - they’ll also affect your mood, appearance and concentration.

When choosing what to eat, the key questions are“What?” and “How much?”

For example, watch out for add-ons or foods that may have hidden fats, such as mayonnaise and salad dressings. Watch out also for food that provide “empty calories” - that is, very few nutrients for energy.

Did You Know? Eat your veggies! Fruits and vegetables are not only high in vitamins, they are low in calories. Just loading up half your plate with fruits and veggies will help to cut down on the amount of empty calories you eat.

As for the how much, don’t be misled by the restaurants and fast food places. A lot of them serve large portion sizes. If it’s too much, don’t try to cram it all in, take the rest home!


Aerobic activities: also known as cardio activities, refer to exercise that relies on the aerobic energy generation - that is, exercise that requires oxygen. This type of exercise is low to moderate intensity and can be performed for longer periods of time.

Laxatives: cause bowel movements and can be used for short-term weight loss.

This content is based on a January 23, 2012 article researched and written by Sylvia Santosa. Sylvia is a Registered Dietitian and completed a Doctorate in Nutritional Sciences at McGill University in Montreal. She was also a Research Fellow at the Mayo Clinic in the US doing research in obesity and fat metabolism.


This is content has that been provided for use on the CurioCity website.

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