Scam versus truth: Do quick weightloss programmes work?

Some of the trending weightloss supplements (Capsule & Green tea) PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE

What you need to know:

  • From slimming teas to body wraps, Florence Bett examines different weightloss programmes to determine the real from the fake.

When 27 year old Wanja* wanted to lose weight a year ago, she bought herbal tea for Sh2, 000 from a salesman who promised her ‘immediate results’ plus a money-back guarantee in case she didn’t get the results he promised. Wanja says she experienced two episodes of loose bowels in the first week of taking the tea, but there were no other ill side-effects afterward.

She continued to take the tea dutifully two times a day: first thing when she woke in the morning and before going to bed at night. She didn’t change her diet and neither did she exercise.


After six months of taking the tea, Wanja says she lost 20 kilos. “I now maintain my weight at between 54 and 50 kilos through a diet of plenty of greens, fruits and water combined with walking and swimming,” she says. She now sells the teas herself.

These slimming teas, coffees and tablets, says Thomas* – a nutritionist who imports the products from Malaysia and China to sell here in Kenya – have gained immense popularity amongst men and women searching for a lose-weight-easy solution.

Apart from increasing your metabolism rate, Thomas says, these products put you in the state of mind to lose weight. “You are alert to the type of food you are consuming, and at what time. It contributes to the success of the programme,” he says.

Is this slimming tea a scam? Nutritionist Nduta Wambura, whose opinion we sought on the subject, says that while the weight-loss result is evident, the question that needs to be asked is how this regime works. “Women on these programmes do lose weight,” she says. “The question we need to ask is how healthy (the slimming teas) are, and how sustainable they are for our lifestyle.” In her opinion, losing weight through accelerating the natural metabolism is dangerous.

“It’s unhealthy and not sustainable in the long term. Accelerating your natural metabolism rate can cause a hormonal imbalance which could cause you to add weight instead of losing it.” In addition, any programme that does not take food and physical activity into account is also not sustainable. “A weight loss programme is as basic as (exercise and diet),” she says.


Prexidis Kaseme is a network marketer with an American-based company which sells dietary supplements. Kaseme, 49, used the weight loss and management programme herself and lost 50 kilos in a span of three months.

According to this plan, dieters are not allowed to consume anything but supplements in the first two days of starting the programme – only water and dietary supplements, punctuated with 20 minutes of exercise every morning. But isn’t that equal to starving your body? No, says Kaseme. “The supplements make you feel full and give your body the nutrients it needs.”

In these two days of no food, the programme warns you will feel ‘lethargic and light-headed’.

Nine days into it, ‘your body has been cleaned of preservatives and other harmful chemicals’. You are now ready to start the weight maintenance programme.

This maintenance programme guides it users on the portions of food to consume based on their daily activity levels. Exercising to tone your body and taking dietary supplements continues throughout the weight maintenance programme and beyond. “These supplements give us the nutrients we can no longer find in the over-processed foods we eat,” says Kaseme.

But Nduta disagrees. “No medical doctor or nutritionist will recommend supplements instead of the real thing. Your body will become too dependent on them, and you will reject the foods that give you these nutrients.”


Detoxification programmes have become quite popular recently, with claims that they ‘cleanse’ your system and shed off a few excess kilos in the process. Most detox programmes involve the consumption of herbs, teas, juices and smoothies, herbal supplements, laxatives and so on.

The aim of these detox programmes is to increase your intake of raw vegetables and unprocessed foods while reducing your intake of caffeine, alcohol, fried foods and sugar. And they work – not because you are eliminating the ‘toxins’ from your body, but because you have removed the ‘rubbish’ from your diet and are now focusing on eating healthy foods.

“The lifestyle advice included in detox programmes is valid and useful. But the premise that our bodies need to be “cleansed” of toxins built up from our lifestyle is not supported by medical science”, Tim Crowe, associate professor in nutrition at Dearth University, says.

“As long as your liver, kidney and gut are functioning properly, they are able to remove or neutralise harmful chemicals found in foods minutes within you eating them.” What’s most important, he says, is that the nutritionists who recommend these programmes cannot tell you exactly which toxins have left your body.

Another detox programme is the aquatic ionic bath; this involves being connected to a machine and placing your feet in a tub of warm, salty water. The water changes colour as the machine pulls the excess fats from your body and heals your system. Studies show that there is no evidence to support such ‘detoxing’.

The safest way to lose weight is the healthy way, says Nduta. “Eat smaller portions of your balanced diet daily. Exercise every day, increasing the intensity as you go along.”


People often mistake the loss of water weight for the loss of weight. This is not true. Our total weight is 70 per cent body water. Two kilos of this body water are lost daily through sweating, breathing and urinating, but they are regained when you drink your recommended eight glasses of water.

Programmes such as the body wrap/slimming suit (which involves wrapping your body tightly in linen sheets and steaming you up) or the bubbling bath treatment (which involves sitting in a tub of bubbling hot water for 20-minute intervals that sweat you out) get you to lose additional water through sweating.

Weighing yourself before and after such a programme confirms that you have, indeed, shed some numbers off on the weighing scale. But the truth is, this ‘weight’ you have lost through heating up and sweating is a percentage off your body water lost through dehydration. Taking water afterwards to rehydrate means you will regain the weight you apparently lost in the duration of the programme.

In addition, says Nduta, “Question any programme that promises you will lose more than two kilos in less than two weeks. It’s unhealthy.”


Our bodies naturally produce a hormone called leptin. Leptin is important for weight matters; it regulates our appetite and our body’s metabolism rate. A high level of leptin lowers your appetite and increases your metabolism.

Leptin imbalances come about when you skip from one weightloss programme to another: your body doesn’t know if it is being deprived of food to lose weight or if it is because there is real starvation. To defend itself, your body lowers the production of leptin, lowering your metabolism in the process. A slower metabolism means you will pile on the kilos instead of losing them, says the research. The genetics of some overweight people also causes this imbalance in leptin levels.

Leptin also explains why some women who spoke to the Saturday magazine say they lose weight when they go on an all-protein or high-fibre, or salads-only or fruits-only diet: Such diets make you feel full without piling on the kilos (low calorific count). Feeling full stimulates leptin, thus keeping the weight off.

Leptin is the same hormone found in slimming teas, coffees and capsules. Taking them daily introduces leptin to your system in high dosages. Health experts say too much leptin in your body is not dangerous, just uncomfortable because of the related symptoms of increased heart rate, bloatedness and dehydration.

So, if you have been trying to lose weight for a long time with limited success, get your ‘weight’ hormones checked first for abnormality and imbalance.


  • Avoid shopping for a weight loss programme from a non-registered practitioner: getting your programmes off of social media, supermarket shelves, a travelling salesman or a friend who has used it with success, is a no-no. Your weight adviser should be at a registered office with a license to practice.
  • Be wary of programmes which promise you instant results without having to change, at the very least, your diet and your exercise regimen. Changing these elements is basic to a good weight loss programme.
  • Consider your medical history before settling on a weight loss programme: these advise your nutritionist in selecting one which will not be harmful to your health.
  • Don’t switch between weight loss programmes in a span of less than one month. Hopping from one to another confuses your ‘weight’ hormones, causing you to add weight instead of losing it.

Remember that each complete weight-related programme should have two separate plans, one for weight loss and another for weight maintenance.