Losing weight is not an easy process by any means, even if some people make it look easy. It's long, it's time consuming, and it's tedious. It typically involves countless hours at the gym or working out, massive adjustments to diet and habits, and even then it might not be enough.
Diets alone are often not enough, simply because people treat diets as a one-time cure. A diet is not like a course of antibiotics, addressing a disease and curing it. A diet is a lifestyle change you have to stick with for life. If you go back to your old habits, you'll go back to gaining weight.
Fat burners, also known as thermogenics, are a class of drugs and drug-like supplements that are meant to help you lose weight. They have their pros, certainly, but they are not without their cons. Fat burners can be dangerous, and it's important to know what you're buying and the ingredients in them. With all that said, let's talk about the pros and cons of fat burning supplements.
Pro: Thermogenics Can Help You Lose Weight
To get the obvious question out of the way first, yes, fat burning supplements can help you lose weight. However, there are several caveats to this statement.
First of all, not all thermogenics are created equal. There are thousands of different fat burning products on the market. Some of them work very well, while others don't work well at all, and others just plain don't work. We'll discuss that more in the cons section.
Secondly, while fat burners work, they aren't a magic bullet. You can't simply take a fat burner supplement daily and watch pound after pound melt off. A fat burner is likely only going to burn at most around 50 calories per day, which means they are only going to be effective if you're changing your diet and exercising as well.
Third, fat burners tend to only work for a few months before they drop off. Some of the ingredients, like capsaicin and caffeine, build up in the body and reach a level of tolerance where they are no longer effective. Fat burners are meant to be a short-term aid to a long-term series of lifestyle changes. This isn't always the case, depending on your unique situation, but fat burners shouldn't be the only thing you are doing to improve your health and fitness.
Pro: Fat Burners Can Act as a Multiplier
Fat burners give you energy and help stimulate your metabolism into burning more fat as energy. On their own, they don't necessarily do much, as mentioned above. However, when used in conjunction with a diet and exercise plan, they can act as a kind of force multiplier.
What do we mean? Well, when diet and exercise help you lose weight, a fat burning supplement helps that same amount of effort and same amount of caloric intake lose more weight.
Fat burning supplements are best used when you're trying to kick-start your weight loss and drop weight quickly. We recommend using them for a few months, to drop to a specific goal weight, and then evaluate your performance and your health. If you feel you no longer need them, you can focus on a diet and exercise plan that maintains your weight, so you don't set unsustainable goals.
Pro: Fat Burners Can Help Manage Food Cravings
While fat burners themselves stimulate your metabolism, which can cause hunger, supplements often include additional ingredients like protein powder and fiber additives that help fill you up and suppress your appetite. These additional effects help make it easier to skip those occasional snacks that undo your progress.
Appetite suppressant effects are some of the most powerful when it comes to helping lose weight, but they only address one part of the equation. To successfully lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. A good mixture of fat burning supplements will provide you with ingredients that stimulate the burning of fat into energy, inhibit the storage of energy as more fat, and reduce appetite to help minimize more caloric intake. It's up to you to then capitalize on those effects to lose weight.
Pro: Thermogenic Supplements Can Increase Energy Levels
Fat burners typically use at least one ingredient that is classified as a stimulant or amphetamine, though a legal one. Caffeine is the most common of those ingredients. The same sort of energy boost you get from an energy drink or from a cup of coffee can be found in a weight loss supplement or fat burner. This energy helps you get up and go, spending that energy on exercise to help you burn calories.
The trick with thermogenic energy is that it is sporadic and difficult to control. This is why so many people who take fat burners end up experiencing restlessness, anxiety, or jitters. It's all a side effect of your body burning energy but you not taking advantage of that energy.
However, if you can make use of that energy, you can make great strides in weight loss with the power of a fat burner at your side. You just need to keep an eye on any of the more dangerous possible side effects.
Speaking of side effects, let's talk about the downsides to using a fat burner. We've mentioned a few in passing already, but let's go into them in more detail.
Con: The Weight Loss Supplement Market is Saturated with Fraud
Unfortunately, health supplements are an unregulated industry. In America, the FDA simply doesn't have the funding or the time to study every possible supplement that is hitting the market. It's trivially easy to take an existing supplement or mix up a mixture of your own, rebrand it, and sell it under your own name. People do this with everything from a single vitamin supplement to proprietary mixtures of a dozen different ingredients.
This means that what you see isn't always what you get. With thousands upon thousands of possible products out there, you never know how trustworthy any individual manufacturer is. The seller might legitimately believe they are selling what they claim, but they could be getting it from a tainted source. Or, they could be getting legitimate ingredients, and mixing them with something else to cut them before selling them.
It's worthwhile to take the time to research both the seller and the manufacturer of any supplements, for weight loss or for other forms of health, that you want to take. Look for warning signs of fraud, like a lack of disclosure of what's in a supplement.
If the product promises that you can lose immense amount of weight overnight and has lots of suspicious ingredients, it's probably best you avoid that product.
Con: Some Fat Burners Might Not Be Effective
Since the FDA does not study the ingredients in supplements, you never know if the claims being made about them are real. With actual medications and well-studied chemicals, regulations require disclosure of side effects and primary effects. If something is known to not work, it has to be disclosed.
With health supplements, one of the most common phrases you'll see is that "these statements are not approved by the FDA" or some variation. What this means is that, while the seller can be making claims about how effective the ingredients are, there's no scientific proof to back them up.
In fact, more and more science is coming out that indicates many common supplements don't actually have the health benefits we believe they do. Did you know that fish oil might not actually do anything? A few old studies draw a correlation between health and a given health habit, and decides to commodify that habit, and the snowball becomes too massive to stop.
Con: Thermogenics are Minimally Effective on Their Own
Most fat burners are themselves not going to be burning much in the way of calories without diet and exercise changes as well. Studies have shown that most fat burners only burn around 50 calories a day as a passive effect. That is, if you're not doing any exercise, just taking a supplement and going about your normal daily life, you will burn around 50 additional calories than what you normally would.
To put that into perspective, a single can – not bottle, can – of soda is around 150 calories, depending on the soda. To compare, 50 calories is not a lot – here's a list of snacks under 50 calories – and you're not going to be dropping pound after pound this way.
There is no single supplement you can take that will allow you to drop weight without putting in the effort of changing your diet and exercising. Weight loss, at the end of the day, requires you to burn more calories than you take in. You need to do something to tip that equation in your favor.
Want a little bit of worse news? Some fat burners include protein in their mixture, and protein is calories. In some cases, you're taking in as many calories as the supplement is burning on its own.
This is yet another example of why you want to do your research before buying.
Con: Some Thermogenic Ingredients Can Be Harmful
One of the most common ingredients in fat burners is caffeine. Caffeine has a whole range of side effects, from jitters to headaches to cardiovascular issues. Fat burners can also raise blood pressure, which can be dangerous for long-term use, and especially dangerous if you already have high blood pressure for other reasons.
Other ingredients can have other side effects. Many fat burners tend to have a mixture of ingredients that are all hard on the liver, which means without proper precautions, extended use can lead to liver damage or even liver failure.
There's also the case where some ingredients in fat burners may be more dangerous than previously known. Ephedrine was a common fat burning ingredient for years before it was linked to cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, leading to its eventual ban. You never know when more study into something like guarana or creatine will indicate some formerly unknown health issue.
Con: Some Fat Burner Ingredients are Addictive
Shoutout to caffeine, one of the worst ingredients we all love to hate to love. In addition to all of the other negative effects we've already mentioned, ingredients like caffeine are addictive. Since they make you feel good while you use them, and since you crash when you stop using them, they form an addictive loop that makes you want to keep taking them.
Worse, since you build up a tolerance to them over time, you end up needing to take more and more of the supplement just to feel the way you felt before. Does this sound familiar?
Fat burners also have the tendancy of helping you meet your goals, temporarily. They help you lose weight right away, and you may see an astonishing result in a matter of days or weeks. Then, as you build up tolerance and you reach plateaus, it will be harder and harder to lose weight. Many people who take them forget to take them and stop after a week or two, which, let's face it, makes them very difficult to continue to work properly.
This touches a bit on what we just spoke about; if you're going to be taking fat burners, make sure you're also making an attempt to eat better and exercise, and continue taking them daily as part of your daily supplements.
Con: The Selection Can Be Overwhelming
We would venture to say that there are hundreds of thousands of products on the market, with thousands of websites trying to sell their own blends, an Amazon category absolutely packed with choices, and hundreds of individual storefronts selling a variety of different options. What do you choose? Where do you want to get it? Just picking one to start is often a matter of looking on old web forums and blog comments, and hoping that the people recommending a product aren't doing it because they're selling it themselves.
It's a complicated world of unregulated supplements, and with potentially dangerous side effects looming, it's a choice you want to make carefully. The last thing you want to do is accidentally buy something with dangerous ingredients, or a product that doesn't have many (or any) fat burning properties at all.
Do your research, read reviews, and know the company you're buying from. If you're particularly sensitive to caffeine, you may want to start slow to assess your tolerence.
Do you have any experience with fat burners? Let us know in the comments below!