Updated 7/31/23. Help! I'm gaining weight and looking for a supplement to help me lose weight. This was a question I received via my SupplementClarity.com website. I know this person's question echoes in many people, so I wanted to let you know how I replied to her in the hopes that others struggling with this same issue may be better prepared. Let me know if you would add anything to this also.
This is how I replied to the person:
Did your weight loss start fairly recently? Have you asked your doctor about it? I want to make sure you've talked to your doctor about your gaining weight. While most weight gain is due to eating too much food, in rare cases, sudden weight gain with no cause can be due to other things – even cancer! Let's assume you are healthy and proceed from there.
How Many Calories Do You Need
This link goes to a Calculator.net where you can enter your age, gender, and activity level. The calculator will then estimate how many calories you need to maintain your weight and lose weight.
What Burns The Most Calories?
There are three things that cause us to burn calories in a 24-hour period :
1. Resting metabolic rate – the energy needed to keep us alive.
2. The energy we use to digest food (Thermic Effect of Food).
3. Exercise and other daily activities.
Of those three factors, most of the calories (sometimes over 60%) burned in a day come from resting metabolic rate (RMR). So, we use most of our calories when we are not doing anything.
Only about 5% -10% comes from digesting food (thermic effect of food)
Exercise only contributes about 25% to 30% of daily energy use.
Remember, exercise burns many calories but not as much as what BMR uses – the calories you burn when you are not working out. That means that exercise alone probably will not help weight loss much – if that is all you do.
Exercise guidelines for weight loss call for doing 90 minutes per day, most days of the week. That's more than most people would want to do. Fortunately any exercise is better than no exercise. Dont start with that much. Do less such as 20 minutes. This will reduce injuries and muscle sorness too.
If you combine exercise with eating a few calories, that is when the magic happens. Exercise also helps you keep your muscle too, which is very important.
Weight Loss Supplements
It's possible you've found me through my other site SupplementClarity.com where I write research-based reviews of supplements. Having looked at thousands of products over the years, I can say that most weight loss supplements I have seen fall into these categories. They are either:
3. Laxatives (also called “cleanses”)
Some weight-loss products are also considered to be thyroid boosters and contain things like brown seaweed because it has iodine. One example of this is Sea moss. The idea is that iodine helps us increase the production of thyroid hormone. So, if we eat more iodine (so they say…) we make more thyroid hormone, which in turn, increases metabolism. I also consider these types of supplements a form of stimulant.
Most cases of hypothyroidism in the US are not due to a lack of iodine. As such, I doubt that seaweed/iodine can replace thyroid medications. Most cases of hypothyroidism are caused by an auto-immune condition where the body's immune system attacks the thyroid gland.
Good Thyroid Books:
For those with thyroid issues, two good books worth reading are:
Weight Loss Supplements With Proof
Of these three categories of weight loss supplements, I feel those that contain fiber are the safest. This is also a reason why most nutrition experts recommend eating more fiber-rich foods like fruits and veggies.
I'm not a fan of “fat burners” or those that contain lots of stimulants. I don't like them because:
1. nobody has proven to me that caffeine alone helps people lose weight
2. stimulants can cause problems in some people – especially those who are overweight
Weight Loss Supplements With Evidence
The following are weight loss supplements that I feel have some evidence that they might work. These are found in a variety of products you may have heard of and are stand-alone products as well. Because the individual ingredients usually cost less than products that contain them, I've linked to those ingredients so you can compare prices.
As a rule, when you try a weight loss supplement, it's wise to start with less than is recommended for the first week. Doing this will help minimize any side effects that might occur. Also, if you have any health issues, always show them to your doctor/pharmacist first, just to make sure they are ok for you to take.
Many supplements contain a fiber called glucomannan which has been shown in some research studies to help people lose weight. Other names for glucomannan include “PGX” and Konjac root. The fiber glucomannan swells in size when mixed with water. This makes people feel full so they eat less. Many weight loss supplements (esp those that compare their product to weight loss surgery) contain the glucomannan fiber.
Glucomannan Weight Loss Research
This is a special type of fiber that coats fat molecules, reducing their absorption. If we can't absorb the fat, we don't absorb the fat calories either. In this way, FBCX is said to help people lose weight. There is some research on FBCX which I covered in my review of FBCX which I linked to above. A supplement called Calorease has clinical evidence but any supplement containing FBCX should work the same.
Another fiber that weight loss supplements contain is Psyllium. Psyllium husk powder adds bulk to smoothies and in a similar way, makes people feel full longer. the longer they feel full, the less they are likely to eat.
This is a type of soluble fiber that is in some cereals and other foods you may already be eating. It's also called a “prebiotic” because probiotic bacteria eat it for food.
In one small study (involving 44 people) that lasted 4 months, people who slowly increased their intake to 30 grams of inulin per day (about an ounce) lost more weight than those who got a placebo (17 pounds vs. 11 pounds). The people slowly increased the amount of inulin to decrease bloating and gas that might accompany increased fiber intake.
Here are many inulin supplements to learn more about it.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been rumored to help weight loss for decades. And now there is evidence it really works. Research has shown can help people lose anywhere from 2- maybe 10 pounds after several months of use. It might also reduce appetite, lower bad triglycerides and even raise good HDL cholesterol. Apple cider vinegar is inexpensive and it doesn't take much for it to work.
Read the apple cider vinegar review for how much to use.
Apple Cider Vinegar Research
Saffron is a spice and some research suggests it can curb appetite in humans. The amount shown to help people reduce snacking is 176.5 to 353 mg per day. The type of saffron used has been a trademarked version called “Satiereal.” That said would regular saffron (the spice) work just as well? Maybe. More research is needed. If trying the supplement, start with the least amount first to see if it helps before increasing the dosage.
Here is Saffron on Amazon to compare products.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
This is a compound that helps us make energy. It's also an antioxidant. There are a few studies on alpha-lipoic acid and weight loss. What human research exists has used 1800 mg per day. This product has 600 mg per pill which is more than most other products I was able to find.
MeraTrim is a combination of two ingredients that 2 studies have noted helped people lose weight. After 8 weeks, people using MeraTrim, along with moderate exercise and eating fewer calories, lost more weight (8 pounds) than those getting a placebo. People started losing weight after only two weeks.
Here is the review of MeraTrim.
Psyllium is the soluble fiber in Metamucil and other products. When I reviewed MetaMucil, I found some studies that it can help people lose weight. I think psyllium works similarly as glucomannan fiber, by helping us feel full.
I personally like psyllium powder mixed in smoothies better than psyllium pills.
Spinach For Hunger Control?
Adding a little protein to the diet can also help make people feel full longer. A few reasons for this include:
- Protein slows digestion
- Protein doesn't have many calories
- It takes more energy to break down protein. In theory, this might bump up metabolism a little bit
- Protein also reduces body protein (including muscle tissue) from being broken down during dieting
What About Protein Powders
Here are two that I have used:
I like these brands of protein because they only contain about 100 calories per scoop and they provide 20-25 grams of protein per scoop, which some research notes can increase muscle protein synthesis in humans.
What Else Works?
Supplements alone are not the answer for weight loss but may help some people get to where they want to be. Because of this, here are some other things that can help people lose weight.
Best Weight Loss Supplements
Of all the supplements mentioned above, I feel the strongest evidence is for the fiber supplements:
The advantage of fiber is that it has few side effects, has no calories and it costs a LOT less than other supplements. In fact, some, over-priced supplements contain these as their main ingredient. There are also more weight loss studies on fiber supplements than most other products too.
Pro-tip. Always start with less than recommended for the first week. Give your body time to adjust. One possible side effect of adding fiber to the diet too quickly is diarrhea.
The National Weight Control Registry
The National Weight Control Registry has been tracking over 10,000 people who have been able to lose weight and keep it off for the long term. They list the things these successful weight loss losers did on their website.
Free Weight Loss Programs
Many hospitals have “wellness programs” that can help. A lot of these programs are low cost and some are even free! Many have registered dietitians who can analyze your eating and see how many calories you are eating now and help you eat less and better.
They also have fitness components to help you exercise the right way that's safe for you. YMCAs may have exercise and weight loss programs as well. The good thing about the YMCA is that, if you can't afford to pay for a membership, you may be eligible for a “scholarship.” This means that your membership can be reduced significantly – or even free! Call and ask YMCAs about the possibility of this. Local churches might also have weight loss classes and support groups also.
Weight Loss Ideas
Here are some general ideas that various research studies have shown do work for some people:
1. Eat food from smaller bowls and plates. drink from taller glasses
2. Weigh yourself every day
3. Drink a glass of water before eating
4. Chew your food 20 or more times before swallowing it
5. When working out periodically, change what you do first – cardio or strength training
6. Put salad dressings on the side and not directly on the salad
7. Eat something before food shopping – prevents buying stuff you should stay away from
8. Look at the website of the restaurant before going to it. Decide what you want to eat before you get there.
9. Tell the waitress not to add any butter or salt to your food at a restaurant
10. Include a little protein in each meal to stabilize blood sugar and curb appetite
11. Track not only calories but also exercise. Here is a gizmo that tracks steps taken and flights of steps taken too.
12. Intermittent fasting. Some evidence suggests fasting 1 or 2 times per week can help weight loss. This is because it reduces the number of calories you eat per week.