NBC’s Biggest Loser, which has helped 14 seasons of contestants lose enormous amounts of weight through intensive diet and exercise, will crown this season’s winner on Monday. But though the show itself advocates substance-free weight loss, its most prominent trainers are endorsing unproven — and potentially dangerous — weight-loss supplements.
Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, two of the three trainers on the show, each have their own line of diet pills, despite their firm public commitment to losing weight through diet and exercise alone. They promote and sell their supplements independently — they aren’t mentioned on NBC.com or sold in the Biggest Loser store or their own personal websites. Both trainers have created standalone sites — jillianweightloss.com and bobharpersupplements.com — to sell their supplements. By taking this under-the-radar path with their diet pills, the trainers are using the fame and trust they’ve gained from their time on the Biggest Loser to market weight loss supplements to a consumer base eager for a quick fix that “really works.”
There is little proof that either pill “really works” at all. Michaels has faced four different lawsuits from consumers claiming her supplements either didn’t work or were dangerous. All four suits were dismissed, and it wasn’t clear whether the ingredients singled out in one lawsuit — Chinese rhubarb, Irish moss powder and uva-ursi — posed a major risk to consumers. But Lynn Willis, professor emeritus of pharmacology at Indiana University, says that Michaels’ Total Body Detox and Cleanse supplement is ineffective:
“This product is an absurdity,” says Willis. “It’s completely bogus that this would detoxify the gut. Someone takes a laxative and they lose two pounds of water weight, but it will come right back.”
Adriane Fugh-Berman, associate professor at Georgetown University, agrees:
“Supplements like this are laxatives and diuretics, and they don’t have any place in a rational weight loss regimen because they can dehydrate people and leave them short of electrolytes,” [she] says. “And supplements have side effects.”