I saw this question posted on a magazine the other day. I haven’t written on fitness in a while, so I’ll tackle this topic.

Before you read this, be sure that you understand that I am not a medical doctor. I’m just a guy with a computer.

Weight loss is fairly simple. Burn more calories than you consume and you’ll lose weight. For a pill to help, it somehow has to enhance this process.

Weight loss pills/products are basically divided into three categories.

Fat blockers: Some pills bind with fat in your digestive system and prevent it from being digested/absorbed into the intestines (Xenical fits into this category). This reduces the calories you consume. The problem is that the undigested fat does have to go somewhere. This may make for some urgent and uncomfortable comfort room visits, especially if you take these pills with a high fat meal.

Stimulants: Many “fat loss supplements” contain caffeine and other stimulants. Stimulants can promote weight loss in three ways. First and foremost, stimulants tend to decrease appetite (this is the primary way they assist in fat loss). Second, stimulants can give a slight increase to the metabolism (or offset the body’s tendency to slow down when calories are reduced). Third, stimulants can actually enhance the body’s ability to burn fat.

Before you get too excited, keep in mind that the humble cup of coffee does all of the above. Caffeine can help energize your workout and burn a little extra fat, but it’s not going to make that big of a difference in the big scheme of things.

There is a stimulant combination that reduces appetite and helps burn extra fat: the “ECA stack”. But I would not recommend using it here in the Philippines. The thermogenic (heat-creating) properties are too much of a heat stroke risk in my opinion. Ephedrine is also a banned substance here.

Diuretics: Many of the weight loss supplements contain diuretics. This may result in some temporary weight loss (which helps sell the product), but this is really useless in terms of any lasting results. In warm climates (such as here in the Philippines) there can be danger of dehydration when taking diuretics. Stimulants tend to have their own diuretic properties, so I really don’t like the idea of adding a diuretic to a product which already contains stimulants.

The Bottom Line:

Most of what you’ll find in supplement stores are worthless combinations of caffeine, diuretics, and other mild stimulants. They won’t do much except “slim down” your pocketbook. You’d do just as well to have a cup of coffee before you hit the gym.

The “fat blockers” can help artificially reduce your caloric intake, but with the risk of unpleasant (although not life-threatening) side effects.

None of these pills really help without lifestyle changes. There really is no “magic bullet” that can make effortless, lasting changes to your physique. Exercise (especially weight training) and healthy eating are the keys to improving your body composition. If you aren’t willing to make these changes, don’t bother buying weight loss pills—save your money.

Be sure to visit my fitness blog: Strong and Fit: Lose Fat, Build Muscle