WE’RE rapidly running out of chocolates in the Advent calendar. The big day is looming, when we look forward to a morning of wrapping paper chaos followed by an afternoon of wine, turkey, Brussels sprouts, and boozy pud. 
Already, some people are starting to worry about how big their gut will be after the seasonal gluttony and Lifestyle magazines and glossy newspaper pull-outs are offering ‘Christmas diet’ tips but, as with all things that demand willpower, a ‘quick-fix’ is only a mouse-click away. 
A little over a week ago, a nationwide survey of 1,800 slimmers revealed that an astonishing one in three have bought weight-loss pills online. Promising an effort-free way to shed the pounds, people who buy these miracle medicines are quite possibly biting off more than they can chew.
There is no trickery: Losing weight is a simple maths. Eat more food than your body needs and you will put on fat; eat fewer calories than your body burns and you will shed weight. Depending on how much you exercise, women generally use about 2,000 calories a day and men around 2,500 calories. If ‘slimming pills’ are to help you lose weight then they must: increase your metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn in a day), lower your appetite, or stop your intestines from absorbing food normally. 
I did an online search to find out how easy it is to buy weight-loss pills. By far the most popular type of slimming pill sold online are ‘fat burners’, which claim to fire up your body’s metabolism. Nearly all are completely untested and slip under the radar of the law because they call themselves ‘supplements’. 
In reality, they range from doing next-to-nothing, to causing headaches, palpitations, diarrhoea, to mental health issues, to poisoning your internal organs. 
‘All-natural’ or ‘herbal’ is reassuring, but does not mean ‘safe’, and might even disguise a pill that contains frighteningly high doses of caffeine or one of many chemicals that can do serious damage. 
There is a raft of herbal remedies that can affect you like amphetamines (‘speed’). It really is no wonder that hundreds of people end up in hospital every year after gulping down such unregulated ‘slimming aids’. 
I was horrified to discover just how simple it was to buy weight-loss medicines. Not only is there nothing to stop children buying them, but many pills and potions don’t even list their ingredients. Very few websites gave any warnings about side-effects or dangers. If these pills really do anything at all, then they will have potential side-effects and risks and so must carry warnings. 
The MHRA (Medicines and Health Regulatory Agency), whose job it is to monitor medicines in the UK, is now spearheading a crackdown on these dodgy drugs and has launched its #fakemeds campaign. 
The government body has already shut down thousands of websites and seized crate-loads of suspect slimming pills. Among its haul are 28,000 ‘natural’ ‘Aduki Diet’ pills from a retailer in Manchester, which they discovered were laced with a banned appetite-lowering drug called sibutramine. Each capsule was a lethal cocktail, and taking one would be playing Russian Roulette with sudden death. 
To help us out, the MHRA website gives useful advice before buying online (search for ‘fakemeds’). Their online portal lets you search to check whether an online retailer is legitimate and gives you option to report side-effects or suspect tablets. 
There are currently no licensed ‘slimming pills’ in the UK, but there are medicines that a doctor can prescribe to help if you are clinically overweight or obese. 
Speak to your doctor before dabbling in slimming pills – they won’t think you foolish. They can offer advice, reduced fee gym memberships and, if you really are overweight or obese, have the option to prescribe tablets that are proven to be safe. 
These drugs reduce how much fat your body can absorb from food and may work when taken alongside a sensible diet and regular exercise. 
Never trust the ‘guaranteed weight loss’ hype or listen to ‘Becky’ who says: “I lost 7lbs in just 12 days”. 
If it sounds too good to be true, then it almost certainly is. There is no such thing as a free lunch.