Is Detox a Cover for Fad Diets?

What cleanse dieters lack in food they often try to make up for with supplements, herbs, teas and other products in the hopes of maximizing their slim-down. According to Hollywood trainers and nutritionists, the most popular natural weight loss supplements include L-carnitine, an amino acid that allegedly speeds fat metabolism, and CM3 Alginate, a seaweed formulation manufactured in Europe that supposedly expands in the stomach to make you feel full and thus eat less.

And women throughout Los Angeles are stocking up on detox teas (mild herbal laxatives) and plant extracts like Hoodia (believed to be an appetite suppressant), whose benefits remain unproven -- but they're attracted to the word natural that's slapped on the package.

"In the past, people were looking for something that made them not eat at all, like fen-phen; now they're looking for something that naturally assists them in making dietary changes without the jitters of ephedra," says Valerie Waters, a personal trainer in L.A., who has worked with Jennifer Garner and Jessica Biel and endorses the CUUR Weight Loss System, a diet and exercise program that includes taking an herbal supplement that purportedly revs up metabolism.

Before you hightail it to your local supplement store for any slimming products, consider this fact: Many trainers and nutritionists who recommend supplements lack the R.D. or registered dietitian, after their name that qualifies them to do so, warns Dr. Arthur Frank, medical director of the George Washington University Weight Management Program in Washington, D.C.

"These supplements probably have no value -- the best you can hope for is that they won't harm you," he says. Alarmingly, the FDA recently discovered that dozens of common weight loss supplements are full of hidden prescription drugs that can have serious side effects. For instance, Pro-Slim Plus, Perfect Slim and 66 others were found to contain sibutramine, the appetite-suppressing ingredient in the perscription diet drug Meridia, which in high doses can raise blood pressure and cause heart palpitations and seizures. "Even if a supplement has some potentially useful botanical product in it, it has probably not been formally evaluated or undergone clinical trials, and no one knows about proper dosage or side effects," Frank explains. "The fact that it's natural doesn't mean it's useful or safe."

Dieting Now Has a Social Stigma

Safe or not, the healthy-skinny movement is fueled by women no longer feeling they have to tell their friends they're on a diet; instead, they're simply following a "health plan." This idea goes down particularly well in Hollywood, a town where celebrities profess their love for french fries while secretly purging to stay wafer-thin, where everyone pretends to be inherently slim -- and where half the women interviewed for this article begged to remain anonymous because they didn't want anyone to think they had weight issues. Admitting you're on a diet these days somehow means you're weak.

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