When it comes to weight loss, everyone is looking for a short cut. It’s human nature to want to find the easiest and fastest way to your destination, especially when it comes to getting rid of body fat. Our impatience and laziness make us a great target for supplement companies selling products claiming to help you get faster results with less work. Duh! Who doesn’t want that? That is why fat burners have exploded on the market. Even the name in and of itself is attractive. I would love to set some of my own fat on fire right now and melt away my excess blubber, but I don’t think that is exactly how fat burners work.
How Fat Burners Work
Before I explain what a fat burner is, I should tell you what it is not. Fat burners are not diet pills. Most weight loss drugs are a prescription for people who have serious health risks and cannot control their weight with diet and exercise alone. There are some prescriptions that actually block fat from being absorbed and stored, but most old school diet pills contain a stimulant medication, like amphetamines, which are scheduled controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Today’s fat burners are typically classified as a thermogenic, which means to produce heat. While some thermogenics may have a mild appetite suppressant in them, they mostly increase body temperature through metabolic stimulation, enhance energy levels, and improve lipolysis (how you break down body fat for energy use). If you attempt to read the ingredients on the label, don’t expect the information to be very clear. Some of the ingredients can exceed 20 characters in length if you can even read the ridiculously small fine print to begin with. Pronouncing the words can be just as difficult as actually making any sense of the label at all. While there are some active ingredients you may recognize like caffeine anhydrous and green tea extract, the rest of the ingredients might as well be written in a different language. Common ingredients like hoodia gordonii, 7-ketodehydroepiandrosterone, garcinia cambogia (or hydrodroxycitric acid) and cissus quadrangularis require a translator and a scientist to fully explain. Basically, the idea behind a fat burner is not necessarily to burn fat by itself, but to support fat loss in various ways. Ingredients like caffeine and green tea help boost energy levels and mental alertness so you are more apt to stay moving and actually get your butt to the gym. Yohimbi, also known for possibly helping sexual dysfunction, increases blood flow. This increased blood flow supports fat loss by making the oxidation of fatty acids a little easier and may also help oxygen and nutrients get to working muscles. Hoodia gordonii and garcinia cambogia support fat loss by suppressing the appetite. None of these ingredients alone really claim to give miraculous results, but what seems to make one fat burner better than the next is how they combine the ingredients for maximal results.
Pros and Cons
Sadly, since most of the ingredients in fat burners escape the level of scrutiny the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) puts on prescription drugs and over the counter medications, there is not as much research and solid evidence to really go on. In addition, it makes exploring new products a little risky. Even though the FDA requires supplement companies register their facilities with the FDA, they are not required to get FDA approval before producing and selling supplements. This means you could be using a product that may eventually get pulled off shelves if they receive enough serious adverse event reports associated with that product (which they are required to report to the FDA). I don’t know about you, but that is pretty scary if you think about it. Basically, consumers are the lab rats for supplement companies—and only time will tell if a product is harmful or not. Another risk is the long list of possible side effects, even if a product is not supposed to be harmful. Fat burners can be dangerous for people with preexisting health issues like high blood pressure, heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia and mental disorders. Even healthy people may not be able to handle the side effects common with fat burners like the uncomfortable jitters and edginess that goes with taking stimulants. Then, there is always the chance of experiencing less dangerous side effects like stomach problems, headaches, hot flashes, irritability, irregularity and even addiction. The only real pro, in my opinion, is the boost in energy it can give you. Dieting can leave you feeling lethargic and fatigued, with little energy left for exercise. If energy is your main issue, fat burners can give you the edge you need to not only get to the gym but to get through your workout on those difficult low-calorie days.
Fit or Flop?
Although fat burners can be a good fit for healthy individuals who use fat burners responsibly to enhance their exercise and diet program, I would say fat burners are a flop for the majority of consumers who are looking for a short cut. Unfortunately, most people are not buying fat burners to work harder and be more disciplined. Most people are buying them as an alternative to exercise and diet because they lack discipline. Like most marketing campaigns, supplement companies often oversell their product and give you false hope or great expectations. These claims can set you up for failure if you don’t have a good understanding of what a fat burner really does. If you are willing to put the time in the gym and stick to a diet, you will likely find that a fat burner can help you reach your goals with a little more ease and speed. I actually use fat burners simultaneously with diet and exercise when I’m preparing for a competition or photo shoot to get maximal results. On the contrary, if you expect the weight to fall off without making any changes on your end, you might as well take the money you plan on spending on fat burners, put it in a barrel and set it on fire. At least, that way, you are just wasting your money without having to take all the risks.