There is only one way to lose weight -- burn more calories than you eat, forcing your body to burn fat in order to get the extra energy that it needs. The healthiest, most sustainable weight loss programs do this via a combination of diet and exercise. However, diet pills make the tempting promise of weight loss while practicing neither of those effort-heavy techniques.
Diet Pill Basics
Diet pills promise weight loss without dieting or exercise, and some deliver on that promise. This doesn't mean that their manufacturers have discovered a way to lose weight without reducing your caloric balance. Rather, the active ingredients in diet pills help you achieve a negative caloric imbalance without realizing it. Most pills do this by containing stimulants or absorption blockers. Another common effect of diet pills is stimulating the loss of water weight.
Many diet pills contain stimulants, ranging from caffeine to ginseng to dexadrine. Stimulants decrease your appetite while simultaneously making you more active. Eating less while moving more means that you burn more calories while simultaneously eating fewer -- the basic definition of weight loss. On the other hand, stimulants are also linked with mood disorders and sleep trouble, and can be habit forming.
Diuretics are a sneaky weight-loss pill trick. By containing herbs or compounds that stimulate urination, diet pills that contain diuretics make your body shed water weight. This can lead to an impressive -- and inspiring -- result the next time you check the bathroom scale. However, water weight loss isn't fat loss. Your body will return to its original weight as soon as you restore a healthy level of hydration. Weight loss teas are infamous for using these ingredients.
Some weight loss pills and supplements claim to promote weight loss by blocking your body's absorption of the calories in the foods you eat. Much like a bulemic throwing her food back up after eating it, your body simply won't digest all of the calories it takes in. MayoClinic.com reports that few of the products that are claimed to block absorption have been proven clinically to do so, and that many of these substances can cause damage to your digestive tract and liver. Several have been banned by the FDA.
Another problem of diet pills is that they don't address the root cause of overweight, but only the symptom. Health counselor Maya Paul points out that if you don't make changes to your eating and activity habits, you are likely to put weight back on as soon as you discontinue a weight loss protocol. A year of diet and exercise will build new habits that help you stay thinner, while a year of diet pills will leave your behaviors the same.