Online Diet Comes Under Scrutiny

Some dieters say the Kimkins diet resulted in drastic side effects.

ByABC News via via logo
February 09, 2009, 12:30 PM

Jan. 20, 2008 — -- An online dieting program which promises big weight loss results in record time has raised suspicions and resulted in a possible class action lawsuit.

Members of the suit want the Kimkins diet Web site taken down, but the page remains online.

"People want a miracle remedy, and unfortunately the Internet is an avenue where the worst people in our community can take advantage of the most vulnerable," said attorney John Tiedt, who filed the suit. "This is by far not the only fraudulent diet program in the United States -- there are many, many more."

The diet's promise of losing large amounts of weight proved too much to resist for one woman looking to slim down.

Christin Sherburne said she was 100 pounds overweight and was desperate to get healthy when she heard about Kimkins.

"I had yo-yo dieted my entire life. I've been overweight since I was a child," said Sherburne, who was looking for a permanent fix to her weight troubles. "The theme on the diet site was that there was no faster diet and so that was what caught my attention at first."

The diet provided stunning results and Sherburne lost 100 pounds in only five months. The Kimkins diet recipe for dropping pounds included replacing fiber with laxatives and severely limiting caloric intake. While the recommended daily number of calories for the average woman is 2,000 according to the Food and Drug Administration, the Kimkins diet called for only 500 calories daily.

"You can learn different tricks in [it like,] how to not be hungry, which are very similar to the tricks that anorexics use ... things like drinking chicken broth or [having] Crystal Light popsicles," Sherburne said.

She was so pleased with her results, Sherburne decided to go and work for the company. But like other alleged victims, she said began experiencing alarming side affects.

"I was taken to the emergency room for chest pains," she said. "I experienced hair loss. My menstrual cycle stopped."

After raising concerns about the diet's safety, Sherburne said she was fired. Skeptical members hired a private investigator to dig deeper into Kimkins and learned some of the Web site's testimonials were fake.

They also discovered that the Kimmer, the woman behind the site, actually was a woman named Heidi Diaz. And Diaz didn't resemble her super slender online picture, which actually was take from a Russian mail order bride Web site.

Diaz claimed to have lost 198 pounds in just five months.

"We don't tell people to starve. We encourage them to eat and there's going to be eating disorders in any situation when someone has an issue with food. But we try to prevent that from happening by giving people support," said Kimkins employee Delaney Deaver, who said she lost 100 pounds by following the plan.

Deaver also said side effects, like hair loss, are common after rapid weight loss.

"I needed to lose the weight or else I was going to have major health problems and losing a little hair is a small price to pay," she said.

One doctor disagreed.

"Hair loss is a sign of impairment to the basic balance of health," said Dr. David Katz. "[It's] a severe disruption of the body's hormonal balance."

As for Sherburne, she has moved on to a diet designed by her doctor and hopes her experience can be a wake up call for others.

"It breaks my heart to see these people hurting and nothing is being done to help them," she said.

Dieters can avoid trouble if they choose programs which don't cut out any particular food group and they should recognize that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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