It is no secret that we live in a ‘microwave society’. We’re growing ever more impatient. Instant gratification is king. Get-rich-quick schemes are popular and profitable. We launch businesses expecting to become millionaires within a fraction of the time that it took industry leaders to achieve the same, decades ago.


Quick Fix

We also, literally and figuratively, want to have our cake and eat it. We want to eat whatever we want but remain slim, sexy and healthy. There is no shortage of unscrupulous companies who know this all too well and are happy to peddle their next ‘revolutionary’ weight loss product. We know that these products probably won’t work, but we buy them anyway. Why? Because our desire for a quick fix is intense.

We hop from ‘breakthrough’ to ‘breakthrough’, hoping to find this elusive quick fix.

We are also bombarded with images of young, lean, fit people. The desire for this ‘ideal’ can be overwhelming. At the same time, we are surrounded by delicious, highly processed foods that feed into this daily battle of willpower. We want to do the right thing, but our food environment is discordant with our desires.


Not a Silver Bullet

Orlistat, sold under the brand name Xenical or Alli, is a popular weight-loss drug that is licensed for the treatment of obesity. It works by preventing around 30% of the fat you eat from being absorbed. The unabsorbed fat is passed through your system and excreted in stool.

Allow me to explain why this pill is not a silver bullet. For starters, it’s not that effective for weight loss. Worse still, the weight comes back on once it’s discontinued. In one-year clinical trials, about one-third to one-half of people achieved a 5% or greater decrease in body mass, although not all of this mass was necessarily fat. After Alli was stopped, a significant number of subjects gained weight, with some regaining up to 35% of the weight they had lost.

It took much more than a few days to put the weight on, you must accept that it will take some time to get the weight off again.

There’s a pill for virtually any ailment known to man. There’s a time and place for medicines, no doubt. The problem with fat loss pills is that they do not square with the ethos of teaching and encouraging a healthy diet and lifestyle. Most people will take the path of least resistance – in this case taking the Alli, with little or no change towards a healthier lifestyle. This is not how we should be promoting health.

Dietary diseases should have dietary solutions.

Vitamins A, D, E and K are incredibly important fat-soluble vitamins. This means that they can only be absorbed in sufficient quantities from our food, in the presence of fat. Many people are already deficient in these vitamins due to a nutritionally-poor diet and lack of adequate sun exposure. These pills will only make things worse. In fact, users are encouraged to take a multivitamin supplement when on Alli. Ergo, you end up paying twice, once for removal and once for replacement of the vitamins. Not the smartest move, in my book.


Understanding Weight Gain

There’s a lot more to weight gain than fat or calories. Weight gain is a problem of hormonal imbalance. Hormones determine where and how much weight we gain or lose. It is true that gram for gram, fat contains more calories than carbohydrates. But what is less well understood is that highly processed carbohydrates and sugar are uniquely fattening, due to their impact on weight-regulating hormones such as insulin.

And then there are the side-effects. Many people taking Alli experience cramping abdominal pain, oily leakage, faecal incontinence, faecal urgency, and flatulence. This is a consequence of having too much fat in the stool. In summary, these drugs are largely ineffective and expensive, with unpleasant side effects.

My advice would be to avoid all weight loss pills, supplements or ’miracle’ products. Many are not regulated and could, potentially, be dangerous. And the ones that are regulated are not nearly as effective as one would hope. Please don’t be tempted. Focus on addressing your lifestyle and the real causes of your weight gain – what, and how often are you eating? Do you prioritise sleep? Are you addressing your stress levels? Do you engage in regular physical activity?


There are no pills out there that will make you thin overnight. It took much more than a few days to put the weight on, you must accept that it will take some time to get the weight off again.


This article was published in The Star Kenya in print and online on 2nd December 2019. 


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