I have always believed in healthy eating, along with a lifetime of consistent exercise activity to maintain my weight. What are your thoughts on this new weight loss pill "Alli" which hit the shelves this summer. Are those not dangerous for your body’s system? Can something like that which was actually approved be successful for weight loss, without risky side affects?

I am the dietitian in a cancer center setting. The majority of my patients are trying to gain weight and not lose it. So, to my knowledge, I have not yet had a patient take this medication. I did a bit of research on it though and will give you my thoughts. Alli is essentially a weaker form of the prescription drug Xenical. It is taken in a capsule form and it prevents your body from absorbing about a quarter of the fat that you eat. This basically just lets fat pass through your digestive system without getting absorbed or digested. Since fat contains 9 calories per gram (as opposed to carbohydrates and protein which are 4 calories a gram), by not absorbing some of the fat that you eat, you may create a negative calorie balance that can help you lose weight. In addition to the capsules, by purchasing the Alli program you will get a personal “plan” which includes tips to help manage hunger, reduce calories, make lifestyle changes, etc.

Alli has been approved by the Food and Drug Association (FDA). This means that the FDA finds this medication to be “safe and effective”. However, it should be known that Alli is recommended for short-term use only. It has long been known that when people go on short- term diets they generally regain the weight back once the diet is stopped. For example, some may lose weight while taking Alli but when this drug is stopped some experts think that this weight will be regained given that Alli is not there to do the work. There can be side effects associated with taking Alli. Eating more than 15 grams of fat at a time can lead to uncomfortable gas with oily discharge, frequent, loose stools, and a sometimes urgent need to use the bathroom. Also, Alli can interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins so a daily multi vitamin would be required. Finally, Alli does not know the differences between “good fats” and “bad fats”. For example, eating a fatty fish (salmon filet) provides your body with the heart healthy benefits of omega-three fatty acids. Alli does not know that this fat is good for you and will block some of the absorption of it.

Overall I feel that people looking to healthfully lose weight and improve their diet should meet with a registered dietitian. They can receive a personalized meal plan that includes foods from all of the food groups. By monitoring portion sizes, eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, and increasing physical activity, one can lose weight and keep it off! Again, from a professional standpoint I have not worked with Alli so these are just some of my thoughts. I suspect that as time goes on we will have more research on the pros and cons of Alli.

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