I’ve been seeing a lot of ads featuring the new FDA-approved weight loss aid alli (http://myalli.com) in the Sunday paper lately. I’ve also seen quite a few questions about it on various fitness, weight loss, and nutrition forums. It’s being sold over the counter without a prescription at Target, Wal-Mart, and every drugstore in the nation, it seems, and people are willing to risk the pretty significant (in my view at least) side effect of pooping their pants in order to gain an advantage in their weight loss efforts.
I decided to visit the pill’s information website this morning to see what nuggets of empirical fact I could find to help me calculate just how effective the pill was from a mathematical standpoint.
The actual number of calories you are spared from absorbing by taking alli is so negligible that if you are exercising regularly (resistance training AND cardio for just 30-45 minutes/3-6x week) and eating a balanced, lower fat diet already, there is absolutely no need to waste your money on this drug. Let’s take a logical, objective view of their literature.
From the Myalli.com website:
How alli capsules work
First, letâ€™s talk about the capsule. alli prevents your body from absorbing about a quarter of the fat you eat. Fat is more calorie-dense than carbs or protein. Just one gram of fat has more than double the calories of the same amount of protein or carbs. So if you eat a reduced-calorie, low-fat diet and use alli capsules, you can make a real difference in your weight as you limit the total number of calories that enter your system.
Here they are saying that you should be eating a reduced-calorie, low fat diet while using the capsules. This means that you are going to be at a caloric deficit anyway, which for most women will be a diet between 1200-1500 calories per day. Low fat (let’s say this is less than 20% of your total calories coming from fat) on that number of calories is only 240-300 calories per day anyhow.
Furthermore, the above states that alli only prevents the absorption of one-quarter or 25% of the fat you consume, which would mean a daily calorie savings of only 60-75 calories!
Even if you are eating at maintenance level (~1800 calories/day for a sedentary woman), your normal fat intake would be just 360 calories per day on a low fat diet, and taking alli would only spare you 90 calories a day.
Does this seem like a good deal to you for how much the pill costs? You can BURN off 90 calories for free by walking for 15-20 minutes or cut out over 100 calories by simply having water or a diet soda or drink instead of a regular Coke, and all without the risk of alli’s “treatment effects.” (This seems to be the marketing department’s flowery euphemism for “crapping one’s pants”.)
Speaking of treatment effects…
Treatment effects are especially likely if you eat a meal with more than 15 grams of fat. On other weight loss programs, you may “save up” your fat allowances for the day and then splurge on a high-fat meal or dessert. alli is different.
If you don’t stay within your fat-gram target when you take alli capsules, you may experience treatment effects. So make sure to distribute your fat grams evenly across your meals for the day. That means you’ll limit yourself to an average of 15 grams of fat for each meal, depending on your own fat intake goal.
If you do have treatment effects, you may see them up to 48 hours after taking an alli capsule and eating a meal with too much high-fat food. You can help prevent future treatment effects by finding the cause and avoiding that food. Write it down in your journal, located in the alli starter pack.
The first few weeks with alli
In the first week or two of the alli program, be prepared for possible treatment effects.
Although many users will experience these effects, in most cases, the effects are mild and typically subside within a week or two, as you adjust to your new diet. Most users who experience some initial treatment effects find them manageable and stay with the program.
Reducing the likelihood of treatment effects
For best results, take alli capsules exactly as directed, and stick with a reduced-calorie, low-fat diet. You may have treatment effects again if you slip and allow your meal to include more than 15 grams of fat.
If you don’t experience any effects, don’t be concerned and think that the alli program is not working for you. It’s likely you’re doing a great job following the plan.
And remember, if you cannot commit to following a reduced-calorie, low-fat diet, you may experience treatment effects. So be sure you are ready for alli.
Okay then…so now you are also limited to meals with less than 15 grams of fat per serving, or you risk “treatment effects” for up to TWO DAYS afterwards. (Two days of carrying extra pants and baby wipes or wearing Depends–fun!)
Most people who would use this pill only eat 3 meals a day, so that would be a max of 45 g of fat per day or 405 calories worth of fat. Multiply that by 25% and you get a paltry calorie savings of 101.25 calories per day.
So in order to have a substantial effect on the number of calories a user takes in per day, the user would have to eat a lot more fat than is recommended by the pill’s instructions (which suggest no more than 42 g of fat per day, distributed so that no more than 15 g are taken in per feeding). And in doing so, the user pretty much guarantees that he/she will experience “treatment effects.”
I’m going to hazard a guess that the diet plan that the alli website generates for customers will look very similar to what you would see from Weight Watchers, Body for Life, the lower fat eDiets programs, or any low-fat diet out there: lean proteins, lots of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, low sugar.
There is NOTHING that this pill actually offers to someone who is already eating right and exercising besides inconvenience, a lot of extra laundry, and an empty wallet.
Save your money and just add in 10 minutes of cardio a day to get the same caloric deficit minus those wonderful “treatment effects,” because if you are banking on just taking this pill to help you lose 10 pounds without exercise or changing your current level of intake, it is still going to take you 346 days to get there:
- 1 lb of fat = 3500 calories
- 10 lbs of fat = 3500 x 10 = 35,000 calories
- Maximum calorie savings from alli based on 45 g/fat per day = 101 calories
- 35,000 / 101 = 346 days
Compare that to the usual 5-10 weeks (35-70 days) it would take an individual who was willing to put in 30 minutes a day, six days a week of combined resistance and cardio exercise while eating a reduced calorie. low fat diet similar to what is required by alli anyway, and make your own decision.