Weighing In: De-mystifying “Fat Burners”

Photo by Aly O'Donnell

Most of us know how difficult it is to lose weight, especially when you packed on the infamous freshman 15. And with such busy schedules, exams and jobs, it’s not always easy to find time to hit the gym.

This is why a lot of people, women and men alike, have turned to weight loss alternatives like “fat burners.” These fat burning pills claim to burn fat and promote quick and easy weight loss. But the truth is, these supplements actually aren’t directly burning fat.

So, if that’s true, how do these work? And if they don’t work, is there a better, healthier way to lose a few pounds? To find out, Valley spoke with Dr. Kris Clark, professor and director of sports nutrition in the College of Health and Human Development.

“Most companies who manufacture and sell products that they claim are fat burners, usually are using an ingredient that has been shown to have some stimulating effect,” Dr. Clark says. “Caffeine is a ‘drug’ that has fat burning claims associated with it, because it’s a central nervous stimulant.”

So essentially, the companies that make fat burners aren’t actually making a product that “burns fat,” but a product that stimulates the body in order to increase metabolism.

“As a professional nutritionist, and registered dietician with a P.h.D in Nutrition from Penn State, I’m going to say that ‘fat burners’ really don’t exist, in it of themselves,” Dr. Clark says. “99.9% of the time, these products do not do anything physiologically beneficial. But psychologically, they could assist a certain type of individual.”

The reason? “Because the individual believes that this product is going to cause them to burn fat and lose weight, they make other really beneficial changes, like decreasing calorie consumption, exercising more and cutting out late night snacks, she says.

Instead of using these products, Dr. Clark recommends reflecting on what you’re eating and the time of day you’re eating these foods. By eating less starchy carbohydrates, like bread, noodles, potatoes, pasta and rice at dinner, you have a greater opportunity to burn fat.

“Truly, changing when you eat these foods seems to influence fat burning. These foods create insulin and insulin decreases your body’s ability to burn fat. So when you have less insulin, you burn more fat,” Dr. Clark says.

Essentially, there are a number of strategies women and men can use to lose weight that don’t involve artificial “fat burners.” In the end, the most important things to consider are the foods you eat, the time of day you eat them and your activity level. Time to hit the gym, Penn State!

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