CrossFit: An Independent Unbiased Review

CrossFit: An Independent Unbiased Review

CrossFit exploded onto the scene about a decade ago and since then has amassed a huge following – and a lot of criticism. But is this criticism fair and warranted? CrossFit helps a lot of people, so how can it be bad?

In this guest post by professional strength and conditioning coach Dan Jolley, MSc, he takes a step back and provides a level-headed and balanced rundown on CrossFit, the pros and cons, and those who might benefit most from it.

Over to you Dan!  -Bill


There has been a massive change in gyms and group exercise over the last few years. At the forefront of this has been one of the most polarising exercise modalities of recent years – CrossFit.

While nothing in a CrossFit workout is actually new (they use bars, weights, and equipment that has been around for decades), their workouts are put together in a novel – and in some circles, controversial – way.

Plenty has been written about CrossFit, most of it very polarising. Therefore, the aim of this article is to take the view of an impartial observer. I’ll assess the pros and cons of this form of exercise and examine what the evidence says about its claims.

Principles of CrossFit

To define CrossFit, it is useful to go to the source. According to the CrossFit website:

CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more.

While this isn’t necessarily a novel approach, there are a couple of things worth noting. One is the use of the word “functional.”

What Does “Functional” Actually Mean?

“Functional” is a buzzword bandied about by the fitness industry in recent years and tends to be attached to the use of free weights, body weight exercises, and exercises that challenge stability. None of these are bad things.

In fact, as a strength & conditioning coach, these are all options I use daily. You will always see plenty of free weights in a CrossFit gym, and this has influenced the broader fitness industry to provide this equipment too.

But when deciding whether or not a movement is functional, it’s worth considering whether that “function” is relevant to the person doing the training.

Personal trainers are generally taught to select exercises (and other variables) to suit the needs of the client. This is good practice regardless of whether or not you consider your exercise “functional”.

There isn’t necessarily an agreed-upon industry standard definition of this term as it relates to exercise. The key phrase from the Wikipedia definition, “movements based on real-world situational biomechanics” is a good place to start.

CrossFit has a slightly different take:

We scale load and intensity; we don’t change the program. The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind.

What this suggests is that everyone walking into a CrossFit gym will do the same workout, in the same order, though the resistance applied will vary.

Exercise selection is generally seen as a fundamental part of exercise prescription that can be varied to suit the individual (a good summary of the research on resistance training prescription can be found here).

CrossFit suggests that everyone can benefit from the same program.

To a point this is true: beginners, especially, will benefit from any increase in exercise levels, regardless of the choice of movement. This becomes less true with more training experience since the athlete is closer to his/her own physiological ceiling, but more on that later.

CrossFit and Exercise Intensity

The other variable that may be manipulated in a CrossFit workout is intensity:

The more work you do in less time, or the higher the power output, the more intense the effort. By employing a constantly varied approach to training, functional movements and intensity lead to dramatic gains in fitness.

In this case, the concept of power (i.e. a faster workout) is used synonymously with intensity. But in other modes of exercise, intensity can be changed in other ways.

In resistance training, for example, intensity is often measured as a proportion of the maximal weight a person can lift (i.e. their one repetition maximum, or 1RM) that is used for an exercise.

When running, intensity could be the proportion of maximal speed or heart rate, depending on what can be measured at the time.

Further, if we look at intensity subjectively, a more intense effort could be anything that the exerciser thinks is harder (the concept of RPE – rate of perceived exertion). This can be influenced not only by the difficulty of the workout, but other social and psychological factors, and their recovery from their previous workout.

We can also vary difficulty of a workout by using methods such as repetitions which are slower, or over a longer range of motion, or more repetitions at a lighter weight. The speed of the movement is just one variable that a good trainer can manipulate.

In CrossFit however, the emphasis is on completing workouts faster. Speed is characteristic of these workouts, rather than a variable to adjust.

How Can You Tell Which is a CrossFit Gym?

This can be harder than you think. CrossFit gyms are independently owned, not franchised. As such, there is no common image or corporate branding. And while there are similarities in the types of equipment you will find, the size and layout of gyms will vary significantly.

Similarly, they tend to be operated by the owners, and there can be significant differences in the approach of the owners and the instructors they employ.

They have a few things in common though. The word “CrossFit” will probably be in the title. When you go into a CrossFit gym you know what you are going to get in terms of exercise. You will lift weights. The exercises will generally be big, compound (multiple joint, multiple muscle group) lifts. You will be challenged to lift heavy. There will be an element of cardiovascular fitness in the workout. And you will race against a clock, with your time being written up on a board.

Each gym will have their “workout of the day” or WOD. In keeping with the principles of CrossFit, most people who attend the gym that day will complete this session. Depending on the gym they may have other classes or sessions for different levels of ability. The workout may take around 45 minutes, so fits pretty comfortably into a working day.

One of the major characteristics of CrossFit is the atmosphere of the gym. Though (as mentioned earlier) there is significant variation in gyms, there is an element of teamwork and camaraderie that is missing from most commercial gyms.

You don’t see many people training on their own in a corner wearing headphones. This is either a positive or a negative – depending on how you like to train – but it is obvious! There is a genuine social element to attending one of these gyms.

Who Are CrossFit Coaches?

Again, this is a tough one to answer, as the coaches I’ve met come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have come from a traditional gym or personal training background, some have sport science degrees, and others have come from sporting or Olympic weightlifting backgrounds. And some have known nothing but CrossFit in their fitness careers.

Qualifications

CrossFit qualifications have been a point of discussion in the fitness industry for some time. The basic qualification for a new instructor is a two-day course, which includes theory, practical components, and an assessment. There are other courses an instructor can do to update their knowledge after that but these are not compulsory.

While this is better than nothing, it compares poorly to the rest of the industry. In Australia, the Certificate III and IV qualifications for personal trainers, for example, have recently become much more demanding and can take up to 12 months to complete full time.

University qualified personal trainers and accredited exercise physiologists have 3 to 4 years of education. And to work in sport in a professional or semi-professional capacity as a strength and conditioning coach, it’s pretty hard to even get a foot in the door without a Master’s degree or PhD, as well as practical coaching qualifications.

While not everyone needs such a highly qualified coach, it is clear that, in terms of education and depth of scientific understanding, basic CrossFit certifications compare poorly to the industry at large. It’s always useful for the client to know what qualifications their trainer holds and whether they are up to date with ongoing education.

Is CrossFit Effective?

The short answer is: it depends on the individual and level of exercise experience.

One of the key tenets of CrossFit – the high effort the workouts consistently call for – means that even someone with a decent exercise history can stand to benefit from the increased effort. All of us have been guilty of coasting in our workouts from time to time, so getting pushed harder can lead to real improvement.

The workouts are also conducted in group settings, against the clock, with the encouragement of trainers. The psychological benefits of this environment are huge; most of us will work harder in these conditions. If you have fairly general fitness needs, this could be a great environment for you.

For those with more specific needs, CrossFit might not be their best option. Earlier in this article, I discussed the need for specificity when designing training programs. For those with a long training history, or those who compete at higher levels of sport, generic programs are comparatively less effective.

For example, in my time as a strength and conditioning coach, I have worked at high levels within Australian Football and American Football (gridiron). Both groups of athletes need a degree of aerobic fitness and repeat sprint ability. CrossFit would improve both groups of athletes if they were relatively untrained.

But the Australian Football players may need to run hard over relatively long distances with short rest between efforts. The American Football athletes, on the other hand, need to be able to perform high intensity sprints, but get much longer recovery between efforts and cover much shorter distances.

I spend much more time developing the aerobic capacity of Australian Football players, whereas the gridiron guys have much more of a repeat sprint focus. With CrossFit’s focus on generic programming and timed workouts, and speed as their major marker of intensity, the specific requirements of each sport may not be met.

Additionally, differences in the distances covered, types of change of direction and physical contact, and the different body positions in the sports mean the training programs of these players end up looking quite different.

And lastly, the needs of an individual may change over the course of a season. Meeting these needs often involves an element of foresight and planning (called “periodisation”). The WOD on any given day may not match these needs.

How Safe Is CrossFit

The answer to this is, it depends who you are (do you sense a trend here?). It is hard to label CrossFit as “safe” or “unsafe” due to the massive variation in gyms and clientele. But regardless of the gym you are joining or the exercise program you are beginning, there are a few things that should be standard:

  • Did the gym you joined ask you to complete a form outlining your medical and injury history?
  • Did they ask follow up questions based on the answers you provided?
  • If they identified you as a high risk client, did they request a medical clearance?

If they didn’t do any of these things, they are breaching their duty of care. There is now an industry standard form and process endorsed by both Fitness Australia (which regulates personal trainers), and Exercise & Sports Science Australia (which regulates exercise physiologists). This level of detail is a good start and clearly a step in the right direction.

  • Did the trainers at this gym assess your ability to perform the exercises required? A movement screening of some sort (for example, the Functional Movement Screening), a fitness test, or a strength test, would provide relevant information here. If everyone is doing the same program, it’s worth making sure everyone is capable!
  • Do they offer introductory courses? Despite the marketing, I know from firsthand experience that not everyone can do the same movements. In particular, CrossFit WODs may involves parts of (or even full) Olympic lifts, which are technically quite challenging. If they run beginner’s classes, sessions where they teach these lifts, or individually adjust the exercises to suit the individual participant’s ability, you can have some confidence that they are looking after their members.

There is an inherent risk to performing any exercise under high levels of fatigue, such as CrossFit may encourage. As a general rule, injury rates in CrossFit are comparable to other sports. A 2014 study of CrossFit participants found the injury rate to be 20%, though those with more trainer supervision had lower injury rates. This may be a level of risk that someone wishing to compete in CrossFit may be willing to take on, but the recreational exerciser with general goals should make an informed decision about whether this exercise intensity (and risk) is appropriate for them.

CrossFit-induced Rhabdomyolysis?

One of the most well-publicised risks of participating in CrossFit is rhabdomyolysis (or “rhabdo”). While this condition is not unique to CrossFit, there has been an upsurge in rhabdo cases with the increasing popularity of this type of exercise. The CrossFit brand is also not helped by the casual way that rhabdo is treated by some of its proponents.

CrossFit Rhabdomyolysis clown

“Uncle Rhabdo,” one of the unofficial mascots of CrossFit. From www.nypost.com.

In an exercise setting, rhabdomyolysis occurs when skeletal muscle breaks down rapidly. While some muscle damage is an essential part of our adaptation to exercise, a very high volume of demanding resistance exercise using large muscle groups (i.e. squats), can cause an extreme amount of muscle damage. As a result, byproducts of muscle breakdown enter the bloodstream. Very dark urine, and unusual swelling in the muscles are obvious signs.

Previously this was seen in athlete populations such as triathletes and ultramarathon runners, but those who are relatively untrained and doing CrossFit workouts have a higher risk than other modes of exercise. The incidence of rhabdo in CrossFit is not well documented and the scientific literature to date mostly deals in case studies, so it’s hard to draw conclusion from such a small sample of cases. On top of that, a competent and well-qualified trainer should be able to manage the progression of the client at a safe rate (as discussed above), rather than throwing them off the deep end straight into the full workout.

My Experience?

The aim of this article was to remain impartial and present the risks and benefits of CrossFit to someone without a pre-existing opinion, or a lot of exercise knowledge. My own personal experience with CrossFit has been fairly limited, but unusual for someone writing an article about this mode of exercise, I am neither an advocate or a hater.

I have used CrossFit gyms for testing and training sessions when coaching teams which didn’t have access to gym facilities. This is because they have the weights, lifting platforms, and other equipment we need that not all gyms have. The trainers I’ve met as a result and been welcoming and helpful.

When holidaying in the US a couple of years ago, I was staying with some friends in Denver who train at a CrossFit gym. I went along for a workout with them one morning and found it to be a reasonably enjoyable experience.

While it was not a session I would normally select for myself, I was happy to join in. The instructors were degree qualified, did a movement screening with me before the session, and made sure I warmed up properly. And I got a decent workout (I didn’t perform at my best though – I blame the altitude!). Overall, it was a professionally run operation.

I’m aware of other CrossFit trainers who are highly experienced and possess good qualifications beyond their CrossFit certifications. Unfortunately, I am also aware of trainers who cut a lot of corners and operate outside their scope of practice (by purporting to be able to treat injuries or prescribe diet plans).

I’m also personally aware of one case of exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis from a CrossFit workout here in Perth. This person was the typical higher risk candidate for the condition (having a poor training history to that point), but was put straight into the main workout by her trainer and ended up hospitalised.

Take Home Message on CrossFit

Like all exercise modalities, this CrossFit is not for everyone. If you want a challenge, have a moderate level of fitness, and have lifted weights in the past, go for it. If you want to compete in the sport of CrossFit, by all means go for it.

If you have a history of injuries or medical conditions that may affect your ability to exercise, then a group setting, or high intensity exercise, may not be the best choice for you. CrossFit is both of these!

If you have very specific needs (such as sports performance), then CrossFit may give you a bit of a boost to your training in the short term, but a more structured long term approach will provide a better benefit.

HCG Diet Review | Does It Work For Weight Loss?

HCG Diet Review | Does It Work For Weight Loss?

The ugly truth about the HCG diet in 2018

The HCG diet has been around for decades, but does it work and is it safe?

I’m not going to mince words: I’m calling the HCG diet yet another gimmicky, too-good-to-be-true, quick-fix diet which will leave you lighter in the wallet and less healthy in the long run.

The diet regained popularity between 2010 and 2013 but has since lost momentum as we come into 2018. Nevertheless, it is still being sold on the internet despite the preponderance of scientific evidence showing that it has no effect on fat loss beyond that which can be accomplished by a healthy lifestyle.


Also check out my related articles on SkinnyMint Teatox and Skinny Teatox products.

What is the HCG diet?

HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin and is the hormone produced by women during pregnancy.

In the 1950s, British physician Dr. Albert T. Simeons used HCG injections for the treatment of obesity.

He suggested that the addition of HCG to a reduced-calorie diet might help dieters stay on track (adherence), reduce hunger cravings during food restriction, and promote fat loss.

The Simeons HCG protocol entailed daily injections of 125 international units (IU) six times per week for a total of 40 injections.  The diet component consisted of 500 calories per day broken up into two daily meals.

HCG advertising

You can easily buy HCG online in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

The internet is littered with commercial websites promoting HCG as a weight loss panacea.

The sites are egregiously biased to sell product and do a masterful job of overcoming objections and giving visitors that sliver of hope that it “might” work (even though the boloney detector says no).

Unfortunately, these websites also crowd out reliable unbiased sites that aim to protect consumers.

Even more reputable sites like Amazon let a lot of “woo” slip through the cracks.  Check out Amazon and you can see for yourself how outlandish and misleading the claims are (i.e., “Lose a pound a day.” Yep, maybe a pound of muscle, carbohydrate, and body water, but it certainly won’t be a pound of fat).


False and misleading HCG claims

In the image below, you can see the types of deceptive tactics used by HCG sellers. I note that this advert refers to the HCG drops and not the injections which would need to be administered by a medical professional.

hcg diet review

  • “No prescription required” capitalises on the notion that it’s not a “poisonous pharmaceutical”
  • The claim of “natural weight loss” doesn’t really mean much but it plays on consumer fears of “chemicals”
  • The claim you can lose 1-2 pounds (~0.5 to 1 kg) per day is deceptive and misleading. It is not physiologically possible to lose this much fat in 24 hours. Crash diets are unhealthy and can set you back in the long-term.
  • The claim that homeopathic HCG is safe is likely due to the fact that it has no effect in the body, but the claim that it’s effective is false.
  • “Same results as in an HCG clinic” is competition bashing meant to lower your guard and make you think it’s easy to lose weight without the hassle of going to a clinic.
  • “Proven to increase your energy levels” is a false claim. No scientific evidence supports this.
  • “HCG converts fat into nutrients without loss of muscle” is a false claim. Converts fat into what nutrients?

Legal action against HCG marketers

In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) came down on several HCG marketers for making false claims exactly like those in the above image. Even more disturbing is that they sold their products through major retail outlets like GNC, Rite Aid, and Walgreens. This is particularly concerning since consumers might assume the products are safe and effective since they are sold in reputable pharmacies.

The FTC maintains that Kevin Write and his companies, HCG Platinum and Right Way Nutrition, LLC, promise consumers that HCG Platinum liquid drops will cause fast and significant weight loss similar to that of the endorsers in their advertisements.


Dr Oz HCG diet stamp of approval

The HCG diet even made the rounds on the Dr Oz show. This might sound like the stamp of approval you’re looking for, but before you get too excited, let’s not forget Dr Oz has copped a lot of heat in recent years for peddling bogus weight loss remedies. Many high ranking doctors and academics have even called for his resignation from Columbia University for his promotion of quackery.

In one of his segments, he gave airtime to a woman who is pushing her own rebranded version of the HCG diet.  She claims to have conducted “research” but, in fact, this was nothing more than an impromptu “study” she pulled together that was not reviewed by other scientists (called “peer-review”). The only “evidence” she has for her diet is that she was on the Dr Oz show, and that’s no evidence at all.

HCG diet research

In the early to mid 1970s, HCG diet studies started surfacing in peer-reviewed medical journals. A 1973 study by Asher and Harper showed positive results but was later slammed for poor methodology, with subsequent studies consistently debunking its use as ineffective for weight loss.

1983 HCG review article

A 1983 report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reviewed all evidence up to that point and concluded that:

  • “HCG has no known effect on fat mobilization, appetite, or sense of hunger, or body fat distribution.
  • HCG has not been demonstrated to be effective adjunctive therapy for obesity.
  • There is no evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction.
  • There is no evidence that it causes a more attractive or “normal” distribution of fat.
  • There is no evidence that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie-restricted diets.
  • Adverse effects may include headache, irritability, restlessness, depression, fatigue, edema, precocious puberty, gynecomastia, pain at injection site.

1995 HCG meta-analysis

A 1995 meta-analysis (a combined statistical analysis) published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology evaluated 8 uncontrolled and 16 controlled research reports. The authors concluded:

  • Most studies were of poor methodological quality (scores ranged from 16 to 73 points baed on a 100 point scale. Higher points meant better quality)
  • Of the 12 studies that scored 50 or more points, only one reported that HCG was useful
  • There is no scientific evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity
  • HCG does not bring about weight loss or fat redistribution
  • HCG does not reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being

For a more detailed breakdown of the evidence, you can read Joe Cannon’s HCG research review here.

HCG injections vs. sublingual HCG drops

One of the most blatantly obvious holes in the HCG diet marketing armor is the fact that they trump up the outdated claims by Dr. Simeons and conveniently neglect to mention that all early research was based upon HCG injections.

As of this writing, there is absolutely no credible evidence to suggest that sublingual HCG (under the tongue) has any effect on fat loss and preservation of muscle.

In the image below, the advertiser falsely claims that HCG drops are “clinically proven” (which means nothing) and are effective for inducing ridiculously large amounts of daily weight loss (not fat loss). They also take liberties by making it look like it has been approved by the FDA.

hcg diet drops

Deceptive HCG drops advertisement. Click to enlarge.

A promotional website for oral HCG has links for additional “research and information” but when I visited the page and examined the references, it was obvious that nearly all the studies were just general obesity papers that had little or no bearing whatsoever on the usefulness of sublingual HCG drops.

500 calorie HCG diet

Though HCG diet advertisers spout off the benefits of their sublingual drops, they neglect to mention that this is simply a very low 500 calorie diet. There is no question that weight loss will occur on such an irresponsibly low and unsupervised regimen, but I would question the extent to which HCG diet drops play a role in this weight loss.

This tactic is nothing new. Other questionable products such as Calorad have banked on this technique by duping consumers into eating a low-calorie diet and then hoodwinking them into thinking the weight loss was a result of the product.

Is the HCG diet easy?

At 500 calories per day, the HCG diet is anything but easy. At such a low energy intake, you are likely to find it difficult to comply with the diet. You are also unlikely to meet your basic nutrition needs (i.e., carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals) unless you’re supplementing.

There are, however, extreme cases where a doctor might put a morbidly obese person on a strictly-supervised very low calorie diet (VLCD). But these are extreme cases where the goal is to shed weight as quickly as possible to reduce disease risk.


How much does the HCG diet cost?

The HCG diet isn’t cheap. Because it’s not covered by insurance, you’d be personally liable for all doctor’s visits and injections. In initial consultation could set you back between $100 and $200, plus another $10 to $15 for each HCG injection. Depending on how much weight you lose (or don’t lose), you may incur additional costs for ongoing office visits and injections.

HCG diet limitations and warnings

1) Muscle loss

A VERY important drawback to low-calorie regimens like the HCG diet is the fact that not only will you lose fat, but your body will break down valuable muscle necessary to stoke the flames of your metabolism.

Such a low calorie regimen cannot be realistically maintained for an extended period of time and, when you go back to eating normally, your reduced muscle mass (lower metabolism) will leave you more susceptible to weight regain (yo-yo dieting).

2) Safety

A 500 calorie diet is very low energy and ideally should be supervised by a responsible bariatric physician or university-qualified dietitian (not a self-styled “nutritionist”). Generally speaking, a diet of less than 1200 calories is likely to be nutritionally deficient in terms of the main macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat) and vitamins and minerals.

I see that the HCG promoters include a B-complex vitamin, but this is like brining a band-aid to a train crash. This should not lull you into a false sense of safety. If you have underlying health issues such as poorly controlled diabetes or other metabolic conditions, you should first visit your doctor for guidance.

3) Unrealistic weight loss

Promotional materials for the HCG diet tout that you can expect to lose 1-2 pounds (1/2 to 1 kg) per day. Responsible health practitioners recommend a safe and healthy weight loss of approximately 1-2 pounds per week, NOT per day.

Any rapid weight loss, particularly that induced by such a drastically low-calorie regimen, will activate the body’s famine response which will reduce your metabolism and make your body more resistant to giving up its fat stores.

4) Hallmark signs of quackery

One website promotes “the HCG diet is considered one of the fastest and safest ways to lose weight and keep it off.”

There is no legitimate, independent scientific evidence to corroborate this claim. There is no such thing as both “fast” and “safe” weight loss. As I stated above, healthy weight loss should fall in the range of 1-2 pounds (1/2 to 1 kg) of fat per week. See my article on 13 ways to keep fat off for life.

The claim that HCG will help you “keep it off” is completely misguided. After coming off a 500 calorie diet, you’re likely to not only gain back the lost weight, but will probably end up fatter than before you started the diet.

5) Doctor recommended

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to selling hokey diets and nostrums.  The world loves to slam doctors for knowing nothing about nutrition, yet the minute a doctor puts out a diet book or hawks a miracle weight loss product, everyone jumps on the bandwagon to shell out their hard earned cash.

So what’s it going to be?  You can’t have both.

In the case of the HCG diet, as I said, this is a very low calorie regimen and really SHOULD be supervised by a responsible physician.   But save your money on the HCG portion, as its use is not supported by the preponderance of peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

6) Homeopathic HCG diet

It was only a matter of time until the homeopathy camp jumped on the bandwagon to get their share of the pie.  As with sublingual HCG drops, there is no objective evidence that a homeopathic version would have any impact on weight loss.  In fact, because it is diluted to the point that the original active ingredient no longer exists, it is unlikely to exert any effect in the body.

Have a read of Joe Cannon’s unbiased homeopathic HCG drops review for more information.


Does the HCG diet work?

I wish there was such thing as magic weight loss drops, but unfortunately the HCG diet is unlikely to result in any lasting weight loss  (losing weight is easy, keeping it off is difficult).

Bear in mind these final take home points:

  • The scientific evidence strongly refutes popular marketing claims and any weight loss experienced is  attributable to the extreme reduction in caloric intake.
  • Outdated “evidence” used to promote the product has since been discredited by the mainstream scientific community.
  • HCG marketing is egregiously false and deceptive and does more to confuse consumers than genuinely inform. Federal action has been taken against HCG sellers for such false claims.

I recommend avoiding HCG diet, as it is yet another unsubstantiated quick-fix diet which is unlikely to result in long-term weight loss and weight loss maintenance.

References

  1. Asher WL, Harper HW.
    Am J Clin Nutr. 1973 Feb;26(2):211-8.
    Effect of human chorionic gonadotrophin on weight loss, hunger, and feeling of well-being.
  2. Ballin JC, White PL.
    JAMA. 1974 Nov 4;230(5):693-4.
    Fallacy and hazard. Human chorionic gonadotropin-500-calorie diet and weight reduction.
  3. Young RL, Fuchs RJ, Woltjen MJ.
    JAMA. 1976 Nov 29;236(22):2495-7.
    Chorionic gonadotropin in weight control. A double-blind crossover study.
  4. Birmingham CL, Smith KC.
    Can Med Assoc J. 1983 May 15;128(10):1156-7.
    Human chorionic gonadotropin is of no value in the management of obesity.
  5. G K Lijesen, I Theeuwen, W J Assendelft, and G Van Der Wal
    Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1995 September; 40(3): 237–243.
    The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis.
  6. Harvard Womens Health Watch
    What Do You Know About the HCG Diet?
Skinny Teatox Review 2018 | Does It Work?

Skinny Teatox Review 2018 | Does It Work?

Skinny Teatox claims their teas will “detox” and “cleanse” your body.

As of 2018, they boast that they are the “number one teatox in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Singapore, Netherlands, and France” and highlight that their products are “made with 100% natural ingredients that promote good health and weight loss.”

They also claim their teas can “burn calories, suppress appetite, and boost metabolism and energy levels.”

Sounds great, but is it all just marketing hot air and hype? Is there really any evidence that you can “detox” yourself plus all these other benefits just by drinking a tea?  Are there any potential health risks? Or is this just yet another golden unicorn to piss away your money?

In this review, I will put Skinny Teatox under the microscope and evaluate their marketing claims, break down the ingredients, and weigh out the potential risk for side effects.


Note: you can read my SkinnyMint Teatox review here.

What does “detox” actually mean anyway?

Before we get into Skinny Teatox’s specific marketing claims, it’s important to look at the marketing juggernaut that is the word “detox.”

What is “detox” and why is it plastered all over different products these days?

skinny teatox

Popularised by questionable internet personalities such as self-styled toxin-hunter Vani Hari (aka Food Babe), the term “detox” has been recklessly bandied around with little consideration for accuracy of use – and frankly, it’s terrifying consumers. But if you buy into the hype, then you are fat, tired, and unhealthy because “dangerous toxins” have accumulated in your body.

Scary stuff. If only it were true.

Scott Gavura eloquently provides a real definition for detox in a recent article on Science-Based Medicine:

“Detox” is a legitimate medical term that has been co-opted to sell useless products and services. It is a fake treatment for a fake condition. Real detoxification isn’t ordered from a menu at a juice bar, or assembled from supplies in your pantry. Real detoxification is provided in hospitals under life-threatening circumstances — usually when there are dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, or other poisons in the body. Drugs used for real detoxification are not ingredients in a smoothie.

Categorical review of Skinny Teatox marketing claims

skinny teatox purported benefits

Skinny Teatox makes explicit claims on its website that the product can not only “detoxify” and “cleanse” you but will also cause you to “lose weight, burn calories, increase your energy levels, and keep your appetite in check.”

But are these claims truthful and can the product actually deliver?

Claim 1: “Detoxify”

“Detox” is the primary marketing claim found across the Skinny Teatox website. But nowhere on the website did I find any mention of specifically WHICH “toxins” the tea actually “detoxifies.” This is a critical piece of information. Are we talking about hexavalent chromium? Lead? Mercury? What’s the story?

How can you KNOW if the tea is actually working?  If you don’t know specifically which toxins were talking about, how much or how many are in your body before you start drinking the tea, and you don’t have a measure after you’ve drunk the tea, then how do you know it’s “detoxifying” you?

Claim 2: “Cleanse”

Following on from “detox” above, Skinny Teatox claims their teas will “cleanse” you too. To me, this sounds like similar marketing jargon that goes hand in hand with “detox.” Remember there is no legal or standardised definition for “detox” or “cleanse” in a marketing context, so they can be used any which way a company pleases.

And for all this “detox” talk out there, remember your body has its own built-in filters your, liver, lungs, spleen, and kidneys. But wait, don’t my body’s filters get gunked up with “toxins” and need a good “cleansing?”  Unless you’re eating a steady diet of heavy metals and other known pollutants, probably not.  You can learn more about this here.

It’s also important to note that many of the ingredients in Skinny Teatox teas are both laxatives and diuretics. If your body’s bowel and bladder movements are normal, then you are naturally “detoxing” and “cleansing” yourself without the need of teas.


Claim 3: “Lose weight”

I believe this claim is truthful, but it deviates from what consumers expectations might actually be. I don’t think there is any question that you will “lose weight” if you are drinking teas loaded with laxatives and diuretics.

However, for many people that want to “lose weight,” their expectation is that they would like to reduce body fat from those trouble spots like the hips, thighs, belly, and arms. And one of the quickest methods to check for “weight loss” is the woefully misleading bathroom scale. Unfortunately, the bathroom scale gives you absolutely no indication if you’re losing fat, muscle, water, or anything else for that matter.

Bottom line: Can Skinny Teatox cause you to “lose weight?”  Yes.  Mainly in the form of water and feces.

Can Skinny Teatox cause you to “lose fat?” Unlikely. You might lose fat if you’re eating a healthier diet and exercising whilst drinking the teas, but the results would mostly be due to your change in lifestyle over the teas.

For more information on this, please read my articles on healthy body fat and permanent fat loss.

Claim 4: “Burn calories, boost metabolism, increase energy levels”

There are countless products on the market that claim they can help you “burn calories, boost metabolism, and increase energy levels.” Sounds great, but is it true? Yes, no, and kinda maybe based on your expectations.

Yes, it is true that Skinny Teatox products contain caffeine in the form of tea leaves and this may cause a small increase in how many calories you burn. It might also make you feel more alert much like you would after drinking a regular cup of tea or coffee.

But now we have to look at these claims in a practical context rather than a technicality.

“Boost metabolism?” Translated to plain English, a “boost” in metabolism means that a person’s calorie burn should increase and remain elevated after drinking the tea. But exactly how many calories are we talking about? And how long is this elevation in metabolism? What evidence is this based on? Not much.

I performed a search of the medical journal databases and was unable to find a single study on Skinny Teatox that related to its effects on metabolism and calorie burning.

I did, however, find an article in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism which found that 12 healthy young male volunteers who consumed 200 mg of caffeine increased their metabolism by approximately 7% (or 13 calories in absolute terms).

Bottom line: “technically” yes, caffeine will bump up your metabolism, but unlikely in any noticeable or meaningful way that it will cause you to shed copious amounts of fat. And since we do not know the actual amount of caffeine in Skinny Teatox, there is no way to know to what extent these findings apply, if at all.

Claim 5: “Suppress appetite”

This claim is true. Skinny Teatox contains caffeine, along with ginseng, dandelion, liquorice, green tea, cinnamon, and cloves, all of which may exert an appetite suppressant effect in the body. This is desirable for people trying to lose weight.


Skinny Teatox ingredients list

Skinny Teatox claims their ingredients are “100% natural with no chemicals or preservatives.” I was unable to find a complete ingredients list for each of the listed teas, but was able to scrape together this comprehensive list from their website and also by sending the company an email request for ingredients.

Tea leaves

Standard tea leaves contain caffeine which might make you feel more alert and suppress appetite.

Green tea

Green tea contains a small amount of caffeine which might give you a feeling of pep in your step and help suppress appetite.

Senna leaf 

Senna‘s active constituents are called sennosides which stimulate the bowel and causes a laxative effect.

Ginseng

It is not clear which type of ginseng is used in Skinny Teatox products, but the effects can vary from one species of ginseng to another.

Licorice

Licorice may help people with irritable bowel syndrome by soothing inflamed tissue, helping to relax muscles, and exerting a mild laxative effect on the bowels.

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum tea has been shown to exert anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects in clinical trials (here and here).

Cinnamon bark

Cinnamon bark may be helpful for soothing irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhoea, and bloating. There is inconclusive evidence on its effects on appetite, with some research showing it can increase appetite and other reports showing the opposite.

Cloves

Cloves are used for upset stomach and may relieve intestinal gas, nausea, and diarrhoea.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb exerts a laxative effect for the relief of constipation but care must be taken, as a high enough dose can induce diarrhoea as a side effect. Rhubarb may also be helpful for a number of other gastrointestinal disturbances like heart burn, stomach discomfort, a

Ginger

Ginger may exert a laxative effect on the body by stimulating the bowels and may be useful for upset stomach, gas, and diarrhoea. It may also promote fluid loss as a diuretic. Ginger might also stimulate appetite which may counter other ingredients in the teas that decrease appetite.

Buckthorn bark

Buckthorn bark contains chemicals which have a laxative effect for constipation relief.

Dandelion leaves

Dandelion leaves may exert a diuretic (makes you pee) and laxative effect to increase bowel movements. It may also increase appetite.

Lemongrass 

Lemongrass may help improve digestive tract spasms and relieve stomach aches.

Burdock root

Burdock root has a diuretic effect on the body which will promote weight loss (not fat loss).

Peppermint leaves

Peppermint leaves may be helpful for digestive problems such as heartburn, nausea, and irritable bowel syndrome. Depending on the dose, it could have a laxative effect on the body.

Rosehips

The fruit acids and pectin in rosehips may exert a mild diuretic and laxative effect. Rosehips might also help settle your stomach from irritation.

Safflower

Safflower may help improve blood lipid profiles and may possibly exert a laxative effect.

Cornflower

Cornflower may exert a diuretic and laxative effect to reduce water retention and relieve constipation, respectively.

Turmeric 

Turmeric may be helpful for irritable bowel syndrome, stomach discomfort, and diarrhoea.

Natural lemon flavouring

I don’t have any other information from the company as to exactly what this means.

How Does Skinny Teatox Work?

According to the Skinny Teatox website, the morning tea is a “stimulant and gives you a steady and constant supply of energy throughout the day, increases your metabolism, and aids with appetite suppression.”

The evening tea purportedly “cleanses and detoxifies your body” and cleanses the colon to “flush out your digestive tract of toxins and unwanted excess which could be making it more difficult for you to lose weight.”

Given the number of diuretic and laxative ingredients, Skinny Teatox works by making you pee and poo a heck of a lot more than usual. This would explain the “weight loss” (notice I did not say fat loss).

If you define “detox” and “cleanse” as running to the toilet more frequently, then yes, maybe it’s “working” but it’s unlikely to be detoxifying you in any clinically meaningful definition of the word.

Any increase in metabolism or calorie burn is questionable and will likely be dose-dependent. You might burn an extra 15 calories but in practical terms it will have no significant effect on your body fat levels.


Are there any side effects?

Skinny Teatox and other similar products on the market are unlikely to cause harm when used as directed (and for the short term). But there is always a potential for side effects.

Dehydration

First, senna leaves and a number of other ingredients in the tea exert a laxative effect on the body that could lead to diarrhoea and possibly dehydration, particularly if you are consuming a lot of the tea and leaving the bag in the water for longer than recommended.

Electrolyte imbalances and nutrient deficiencies

Second, the combined diuretic effect of many of the ingredients could further promote dehydration. If you have diarrhoea, then it could further hasten dehydration and contribute to a dangerous electrolyte imbalance and nutrient deficiencies.

Low blood pressure

Third, if you have cardiovascular disease and are taking medications that promote fluid loss, then the tea could have a compounding effect which might further lower your blood pressure and make you susceptible to dizziness and fainting.

Reduction in birth control effectiveness

Fourth, by Skinny Teatox’s own admission, the teas “can potentially reduce the effectiveness of birth control if you take your pill within 4-5 hours of the laxative effect.”

Reduction in bowel movements

Fifth, the tea should be used for the short term. Long term use could result in your body habituating to the laxative which may lead to a reduction in bowel motility (leading to intestinal paralysis, lazy gut, and IBS) and make you dependent on the tea for normal bowel movements. If you’re having problems with your bowel movements after using the tea, you should consult your doctor for further evaluation.

Weight loss abuse

Sixth, because the teas promote “weight loss” through increased urine and feces loss, consumers obsessed with quick-fix weight loss products may be at higher risk for abuse. If you’re the parent of a teen with body image issues, you should pay particular attention to their use of the products.

The fine print: Skinny Teatox “results not typical”

Skinny Teatox is quick put the brakes on too much enthusiasm. On their website they state:

Testimonials, reviews and images found at Skinny-Teatox.com and/or from Skinny Teatox are unverified results that have been forwarded to us by users of our products; may not reflect the typical user experience; may not apply to the average person; and are not intended to represent or guarantee that anyone will achieve the same or similar results. You should always perform your own research and not take such results at face value. It is possible that even with perfect use of our products, you will not achieve the results described or shown. They are meant to be a showcase of the best results our products have produced, and should not be taken as the results a typical user will get.

In my opinion, if “results are not typical” then it’s misleading to only highlight the small proportion of anomalous testimonials that had great “results.”

It’s these types of disclaimers that make me think what we really need is a “detox” from advertising bullish*t. International laws should “cleanse” marketing claims to better protect consumers from being misled by myth, innuendo, and half-truths.

Does Skinny Teatox work? The verdict

Whether or not Skinny Teatox actually “works” depends on your individual definition of the words “detox” and “cleanse.” If you consider urine and feces to be “toxins” then, sure, diuretics and laxatives will do the trick. But it’s unlikely to fix that little mercury poisoning thing you’ve been dealing with.

You’re going to get real cozy with your toilet while using the product and you probably will “lose weight.”  But if your expectation is that you’re going to lose stored body fat, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. It won’t turn your metabolism into a raging inferno, nor will it send your energy levels spiking through the roof.


You’re free to spend your money on whatever you please, but remember that no teatox on the market is a substitute for a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a nutrient-rich diet, doing regular physical activity, getting adequate sleep, and reducing stress.

In closing, my final recommendation actually comes directly from Skinny Teatox website:

Skinny Teatox should not replace a healthy diet or exercise! Use your head, and continue to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, eat the recommended amount of calories per day, and be happy with who you are.

I couldn’t agree more.

Slendertone Review: Slimming Your Waist Or Wallet?

Slendertone Review: Slimming Your Waist Or Wallet?

The Slendertone ab toner belt plopped onto my radar when a reader of my popular Ab Wave review left a comment asking me if I’d ever heard of it.

I hadn’t heard of this specific brand, but I was well aware of the different types of electrostim products. I did a bit of digging and found the company website company website and a listing on Amazon with numerous consumer reviews.


In a promotional video for the product, the announcer asks, “Do you want firmer, toned abs in just weeks? Then you need the button, the Slendertone button.”

Then the ad goes straight into a parade of hot-bodied goddesses and adonises which gives viewers the misleading impression they can put on the belt, push a button, and get the same svelte bodies as the models.

I’ll be honest. I think the advertising for this product is complete rubbish and it sends the wrong message to consumers.

slendertone review

There are already so many ab gadgets and gimmicks out there that my knee jerk reaction was to throw the baby out with the bathwater and give Slendertone a good smack across the face with a frozen Atlantic salmon.

The company claims it’s “clinically proven,” which is often a red flag for snake oil.

Surprisingly, the company actually cites a single peer-reviewed journal article as evidence of product efficacy. Sounds great, but in my opinion, I think they took some liberties with lifting their advertising claims out of context.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to:

  1. Provide an independent review of Slendertone marketing claims; and
  2. Compare them to the original research

Related Articles You Might Enjoy
►”It Works” Body Wraps Review
►Skinny Teatox Independent Review

What is the Slendertone Flex Pro?

Before we dismantle and evaluate the evidence, what exactly is the Slendertone Flex?

Made by Bio-Medical Research Ltd and headquartered in Galway, Ireland, the product line encompasses electrical muscle stimulation pads which are applied to the skin and ‘zap’ your muscles to contract.

Electrostimulation has therapeutic use in a clinical environment (hospital or clinic) for rehabilitation purposes, but this technology is now being applied to consumer health, fitness, and beauty goods (such as Slendertone).


Does it really work?

The short answer is yes, no, and it depends. You need to define “work” and what it means to you.

This question begets two more questions which are necessary to consider in answering the overall question:

  1. Is there any objective, scientific, peer-reviewed evidence to support marketing claims? and;
  2. What are your individual expectations from the product?

Question 1: Are claims supported by science?

A single study is listed on the company’s website.  Porcari and colleagues (2005) compared a group of men and women receiving 8 weeks of abdominal electrostimulation to a non-electrostim control group.  At follow up, they noted the following results:

  • 58% increase in strength
  • 100% abdominal endurance, but 28% increase in control group due to learning effect.  Therefore they subtracted the 28% from 100% for a 72% change.
  • 2.6 cm decrease in abdominal circumference
  • 3.6 cm decrease in waist circumference
  • 1.4 cm decrease in front to back diameter
  • No change in abdominal or suprailiac skinfold thickness

Research analysis

I compared the marketing claims against the original research article and I can verify that the numbers are “technically” truthful, BUT…

There are a number of limitations you must consider:

Limitation 1

Strictly using the machine, the increases in strength and endurance would be isolated to the specific targeted areas.

For any kind of functional/translational benefit to real world sports or activities, you would actually need to do full body compound movements which fire the abdominal musculature within the context of the entire kinematic chain (using all the body’s muscles together the way they were designed).

For example, if you are a baseball pitcher, you would need well-conditioned core musculature to link your lower and upper body during a pitch. This would best be trained by both sport-specific exercise (pitching a baseball) or simulated whole body movements which mimic pitching technique (cables).

Bottom line: the machine is highly unlikely to give you a body that looks anything like the hired models in their advertisements.

Limitation 2

There were improvements in circumference measures but in discussing the limitations of the study, the authors openly acknowledge:

An increase in the strength of the abdominal muscles could theoretically reduce the circumference of the mid-section. Since, one of the roles of the abdominal musculature is to support the abdominal contents, it follows that strengthening the abdominal muscles could in effect “pull in” the abdomen, much like a girdle. This effect would decrease both the circumference and front-to-back diameter of the waist.”

Plain English translation: the numbers reported are “truthful” but there may be other reasons to explain the results that have nothing to do with changes in body fat.


Limitation 3

The results also indicated no change in abdominal and suprailiac (just above your hipbone) skinfold thicknesses, body weight, or body mass index.

My interpretation is that, whilst there were changes in the tape measure readings, when put into context with these other factors, we really don’t have a physiologically confirmed reason WHY the circumference measures decreased.

Limitation 4

There was no direct measure of visceral (around the organs) or subcutaneous (superficial fat you can pinch) fat changes.

Circumference readings and skinfold calipers can be useful field measures and give suggestive evidence, but are not the gold standard of body composition – not even close. I would like to see a more thorough investigation using sensitive body composition assessment measures such as CT scans, MRIs, or DEXA to assess body composition.

Limitation 5

The study’s authors also state:

In support of the decrease in waist circumference was the fact that 13 out of 24 (54%) subjects in the stimulation group felt that their cloths fit better around the mid-section at the conclusion of the study. None of the control group subjects reported any change in how their clothes fit.

The issue with the above statement is that how one’s clothes fit cannot be reliably or objectively measured. So whilst this might be suggestive, it does not necessarily indicate a reduction in fat localised to the belly.

Limitation 6

Taken as a whole, the results from this study demonstrate that localised electrostimulation causes small increases in isolated strength and endurance in a clinical setting.

However, from a practical real-world standpoint, I would not recommend Slendertone as a solution for reducing body fat or body weight.

You can do all the crunches or electrostimulation you want, but your abs will NOT become visible until you lose the fat between your skin and muscles.  Less doughnuts and hamburgers and more fruits and veggies!

Limitation 7

An earlier electrostimulation study by Porcari and colleagues (2002) found no significant improvements in  measurements of body weight, body fat (via skinfolds), girth, isometric and isokinetic strength (biceps, triceps, quadriceps, hamstrings), and appearance (via photographs from the front, side, and back). However, I believe this study used a different electrostimulation unit and the subjects used the machine only three times per week.


Question 2: What are your expectations?

Whether the Slendertone belt “works” or not depends on your individual expectations.

Will it make your abdominal muscles stronger? Technically yes. It could plausibly increase localised muscular strength and endurance around your mid-section, but it’s not any kind of relevant functional training that will translate to making you a pro athlete. It will not translate to any sport-specific adaptations.  For that, you’ll need to get out and actually do sport and exercise (the real stuff!).

Will it help you strip away that loaf of fat around your belly? Highly unlikely.

As I previously mentioned, if you think this product is going to strip away the fat while you kick back on the couch downing chips and beer, then you’re in for a surprise. The evidence does not support this.

The fine print – always read the fine print

As with all exercise products and supplements which give the impression you can get in shape while you lounge around the house, you must ALWAYS read the fine print (the one with the pesky *asterisk*).

The company discloses on their website:

“ *Slendertone ab belts must be used as per the guidelines stated in the instruction manual.  For best results, we recommend that you use your Slendertone belt in conjunction with a normal, healthy diet and exercise.”

I interpret this to mean that the Slendertone belt itself probably won’t do much to reduce body fat unless you help it along with some veggies, tofu, hitting the gym, plus some regular walks around the neighbourhood.


How much does it cost?

Slendertone can range from $80 to $180 USD depending on the model and whether or not it’s new or used. Depending on your individual budget, that’s a fair bit of cash to spend on something backed by a single study loaded with limitations.

Where is it available?

The company website lists distributors in numerous countries including the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, even Russia.   On the top right hand side of the websites, you’ll see a drop-down menu for a number of countries.

Risks or side effects

In my experience with electrostim in general and in my investigation of this particular product, I did not come across any documented risks or dangers associated with using the Slendertone as instructed.

However, one unlucky woman did file a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration when her Slendertone unit exploded.

Closing thoughts

I’m renowned for pissing on the parade with my scathing reviews, but compared to other ab gadgets on the market, I found the Slendertone marketing claims to be comparatively tame (as I did with It Works body wraps).

Bio-Medical Research Ltd has not made any overtly false claims in their promotional materials, but with lots of sleek bodies and testimonials plastered all over the website, I think you need to be aware of how you personally react to and interpret these messages.

Be careful not to mislead yourself into thinking the product will burn fat off your abs with no effort. That’s highly unlikely to happen.

At a cost of a couple hundred bucks, I suggest that you determine what you want to get out of this product, look at the existing evidence and its limitations, and then make an informed decision about whether or not it’s right for you.

It Works Body Wraps Review 2018

It Works Body Wraps Review 2018


It Works body wraps repeatedly popped up on my radar over the past year after receiving emails from readers of my blog and from colleagues asking what I thought of the product.

In my research, I found a disproportionately high number of spammy sales sites which were clearly biased to sell the product and comparatively few reliable reviews.

Some high-ranking reviews try to look reputable, but their sole purpose is to get you to click on affiliate links for some other miracle supplement or potion (here are two spammy review examples here and here).

In light of all the rubbish information out there, I decided to take the time to write an independent and unbiased It Works review current as of April 2017.  Disclosure: there are NO spammy affiliate links in this article, but there are Google Adsense blocks over which I have no control.

The company website makes claims that their wraps can “tighten, tone, and firm” your body by minimising the appearance of cellulite and improving skin texture and tightness, all in a space of 45 minutes.

This sounds like great marketing, but is there any evidence that the product can live up to the hype? Will these wraps give you the body of your dreams?  Will they cause weight loss?

When it comes to “results,” you have to consider your own personal expectations against what the product ingredients are actually able to do.

In this independent no-conflict-of-interest review, I will critically evaluate the company’s marketing claims and provide my no-hype conclusion at the end.

What are they?

It Works is a multi-level marketing company that sells its body wraps (and Fat Fighter supplements) by independent “Wrapreneurs” (entrepreneurs that sell body wraps).

Like most MLM products, the idea is simple enough: sell wraps, get your friends to join as wrapreneurs, and make money from ongoing downline sales.

It Works is comprised of a suite of three products:

  • The Ultimate Body Applicator
  • Fab Wrap
  • Defining Gel (the gel has most of the same ingredients as in the wraps but is used without the wrap like a thigh cream)
It Works Wraps Applicator

Click image for larger view.

Product literature advises users to apply the Ultimate Body Applicator to different parts of the body (see image) and then wrap with “Fab Wrap” to hold the applicator in place for the 45 minute duration.

Users are instructed to reapply the product after three days (72 hours). There are four applicators in a pack so you have about 12 days worth of product if you were looking to use them consecutively.

Product marketing claims

As stated above, the company makes a number of marketing claims mostly centered about potential changes you might experience in your physical appearance, stating that you can “expect ultimate results” (whatever that means).

Specifically, the company states their body wraps can:

  • Tighten, tone, & firm
  • Minimize cellulite appearance
  • Improve skin texture & tightness
  • Show results in 45 minutes
  • Give progressive results over 72 hours

Ingredients

There are 40 ingredients listed for the wraps (see image). Unless you’re a qualified botanist or organic chemist, you’re probably going to have a pretty rough time trying to pronounce the names (i.e., Aesculus hippocastanum, Equisetum arvense, and methylsilanol mannuronate).

It Works Body Wraps Ingredients

Click image for larger view.

But what are these ingredients and what the heck do they actually do?

I sat down and looked up each of these ingredients and, when taken as a whole, they will exert a number of effects on the body that will cause temporary cosmetic skin tightening, moisturisation, and a bit of sweating (helped along by the physical presence of a barrier between your skin and the atmosphere.

If this sounds familiar to those thigh creams from several years ago, you’d be right. They also use similar ingredients with similar effects but, as is the case with It Works, they are only able to induce a temporary cosmetic change in the skin, not cause fat or weight loss.

All natural ingredients?

It Works advertising emphasises that its products contain all “natural ingredients.”  This is true, some of the ingredients are as natural, as if they came out of the ground or of the tree.

But there are other ingredients such as PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate which, according to Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website, is a synthetic polymer derived from coconut oil.  It is used as a skin conditioning agent, emollient, and surfactant/emulsifying agent (helping ingredients mix together).  They also add that “due to the presence of PEG, this ingredient may contain potentially toxic manufacturing impurities such as 1,4-dioxane” (sorry to all my tree-hugging hippie friends for ruining all the fun!).

Having said that, I have studied organic chemistry and I know that many of these chemical-ish sounding names are not as scary as they look. Plus the relatively small amounts found in the wraps probably won’t do much harm (see my discussion below on adverse reactions).

Also, if you’re tempted by “all natural detox teas,” don’t touch them until you’ve read my SkinnyMint Teatox and Skinny Teatox articles first.


Is there any scientific research?

I have not seen any peer-reviewed scientific studies on It Works, but would be happy to consider them for this review if they do exist.

While the company doesn’t claim there are any studies, they seem to be more fixated on highlighting testimonials.

The only thing about testimonials is that “results” can mean virtually anything to anyone, and there is no way to determine if “results” were due to the product or the person dieting and exercising.

Carefully controlled studies would define an outcome to be measured and then use experiments to determine if any results were due to the product or other factors.

For the interested reader, I discuss research factors in greater detail in my Athlete Recovery Sleepwear article

Evaluation of product claims

Do It Works wraps really work?

As I stated in a previous article on body wraps, whether or not It Works wraps actually “work” depends on your individual expectations and definition of “works.”

There are numerous mixed reviews across the internet, with some users saying the product did nothing for them and others shouting from the roof tops that the wraps are the best thing since sliced gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free, organic paleo bread. Also beware of sham reviews which are just trying to leverage off of It Works’ popularity so they can sell you more rubbish you don’t need (examples here and here).

As a word of caution, the product is wrapped around a multi-level marketing business model.  There are a large number of distributor promotional “review” sites, videos, and social media pages, so you must be careful when taking on board their testimonials given their vested financial interest in selling the product. This is not to say they don’t believe what they’re saying, but it is something to keep in mind.

Expectations: Weight / fat loss vs. skin tightening

In looking at numerous user reviews across different websites, there are a lot of people who bought the product in hopes of losing weight.

Ok, right.  Good luck with that.

Now here’s the part where I smack you in the face with a wet fish of reality.  When it comes to body wraps, you need to check your expectations at the door.

Body wraps DO NOT BURN FAT.  They will not cause you burn fat, lose fat, strip fat, shred fat, singe fat, fry fat, trim fat, contour or sculpt away fat (or any other fat-burning marketing descriptor du jour).

Still with me?

Most slimming product companies have smart enough lawyers that keep them from making overtly false claims.  In this case, they have NOT overstepped the bounds of legality and nowhere did they specifically state that their wraps will cause “weight loss” or “fat loss.”

If you believe it’s a fat or weight loss product, then you have only misled yourself and might find yourself disappointed.

The ingredients in the wraps might cause a temporary localised tightening and moisturising effect on the skin where you applied the applicator, but you should not confuse this with long-term and lasting weight/fat loss results that can be accomplished by healthy lifestyle changes alone (without the assistance of any wraps and creams).

In fact, the company even states in its literature that if you’re overdosing on a daily ration of cheeseburgers and butt-on-the-couch TV shows, then you’re probably not going to get the “results” you’re shooting for.

They state:

While results from the Ultimate Body Applicator are lasting, you can counteract the results from the Ultimate Body Applicator by eating poorly and not regularly exercising (as is true with any weight loss or body contouring results).

The bottom line: It Works and other similar thigh slimming creams do not cause, or claim to cause, fat or weight loss.

Does it reduce cellulite?

Following on from above, there is no evidence that It Works wraps can reduce cellulite (i.e., burn fat or cause weight loss in the form of fat).

Because the product exerts a temporary cosmetic skin tightening effect, it could plausibly reduce the appearance of cellulite, but this is not the same effect as doing exercise and eating healthier to lose stored body fat.

How long do the results last?

The company states that it gives “results that last” but this is also a bit nebulous and may be subjectively defined by your individual perceptions. Questions I’d like answered would be:

  • Exactly how long do the results last?
  • Is it always 72 hours as stated on the website?
  • Is this number based on research or anecdotal experience?
  • Is this consistent for most people?

User reviews and testimonials

User ratings and testimonials can be found on the Amazon and RealSelf websites.

Reviews on RealSelf.com

It Works Reviews RealSelf

It Works reviews on RealSelf.com. Click to enlarge.

On the RealSelf website, the user rating was 48% based on 136 reviews.

Reviews on Amazon.com

It Works Wraps Review 2016

It Works reviews on Amazon.com. December 2016. Click to enlarge.

On Amazon, there are 1455 customer reviews and an overall satisfaction rating of 2.4 out of 5 which is consistent with the 48% found on the RealSelf site. However, it is interesting to note that a whopping 46% of respondents gave the product a 1-star rating and the other 54% are spread out over 2 – 5 stars.

As I said above, when looking at these review sites, you need to be aware of the possibility that distributors might be skewing these results by leaving positive reviews.

Are they safe?

In all fairness, there does not appear to be anything in the product that will do any overt harm to you. But given the massive ingredient list (40 different plant extracts, oils, alcohols, and chemicals), there is always the risk of an allergic reaction.  There have been reports of allergic reactions on review sites, but no stack of dead bodies from what I could find.

If you have sensitive skin and find you’re generally susceptible to cosmetics, then you should consult with your doctor first to see if this product is right for you.

Where are they sold?

It Works wraps are mainly sold in the United States, but it also appears to be popular in the United Kingdom, Europe, and Australasia.


How much do they cost?

I’ve seen a large range of prices across the internet for the wraps.  This is because some people pay more just for the wraps and don’t want anything to do with the multi-level marketing distributor side of things.  Others join as “wrapreneurs” and get it as a discounted rate.

According to the RealSelf website, the average price spent for the body wraps was around $100 USD which includes all the various distribution outlets (i.e., from the company, a distributor, online marketplace, etc).

Autoship vs. one-off purchase (Caution)

There have been a number of online consumer complaints on the Better Business Bureau website about products being auto-shipped against the customers’ wishes.  Looking at It Works’ responses to these complaints, it appears people did not read the fine print and found themselves on the short end of the stick.

There are two different ways to become a Loyal Customer:

  1. You can make a three consecutive month minimum commitment to a monthly auto-shipment order.
  2. You can enroll by making a $50 Membership Fee payment and placing a single order for product.

It works has a B+ rating with the Better Business Bureau which, all up, is really not too bad.  As of this writing (April 2017), there have been over 300 complaints addressed by the Bureau over the past three years.

Is there a money-back guarantee?

In a single word:  no.  The company makes no guarantees that the wraps work.  This basically means that once you try the product and it doesn’t work for you (or at least not to your expectations), then it’s sorry Charlie, no refund, better luck next time. Here is the passage from the company’s program rules:

  • It Works! products produce different results for different people and It Works! does not guarantee specific results nor offer a money back guarantee. Customers should follow the directions with each product received.

Can you get a refund?

It Works does allow for a refund ONLY IF the product is unopened and unused. So to leave this in no uncertain terms, there is no product guarantee and you cannot get your money back if you’ve opened your product, tried it, and didn’t experience the desired results (a bit of a catch 22).  According to the company’s program rules:

  • To receive a refund, all products must be post-marked within thirty (30) days of the ship date and all items must be in an unopened, “new” condition. The customer is responsible for all return shipping costs.

If you’re an It Works distributor and you want to terminate your relationship with the company, then you can return any unused / unopened products for a refund.


Company address and contact details

If you are scouring various sites trying to get a hold of the company, I managed to do most of the leg work for you.  You can try some of the following addresses and phone numbers below.

It Works Corporate Office Address
5325 State Road 64 East
Bradenton, FL 34208

It Works! Customer Service Team
908 Riverside Drive
Palmetto, FL 34221

US/Canada Customer Service Hours:
Monday – Friday 6:30 a.m. ET – 8:00 p.m. CT (GMT-6:00)
Saturday – Sunday 8:30 a.m. ET – 5:00 p.m. CT (GMT-6:00)

US/Canada Customer Service Numbers:
US Loyal Customers: 1-(800) 537-2395 or 952-540-5699
US Distributors: 952-540-5700 Canada: 1-855-560-1020

International Customer Service Hours:
Monday – Friday 6:30 a.m. ET – 11: 00 p.m. CT (GMT-6:00)
Saturday – Sunday 8:30 a.m. ET – 5:00 p.m. ET (GMT-6:00)

International Customer Service Numbers:
Australia: 1-(800) 750-398
United Kingdom: 0-(800) 098-8925
Belgium: +32-78480292
Canada: 1-855-560-1020
Ireland: 1-800-948-639
Netherlands: +31-858880101
Sweden: +46-770791808

Want to become an It Works distributor?

If you’re more interested in selling the wraps, be sure to do your homework. A number of distributors have posted warnings to would-be sellers to be prepared for auto-shipments of at least $75/month, a $20/month charge to use the website (which apparently you can’t get a commission without it), a $50/year renewal fee, etc.

Ultimately, you will be participating in a multilevel marketing scheme (aka network marketing), even though they often try to distance themselves from the name. You will be your own boss running your own business and, as is the case in running a business, there are risks involved. If you’re down to your last $500 dollars and wondering how to pay the mortgage, then starting out as an independent distributor has much higher stakes. Tread carefully, get all the facts, and be prepared to accept the risks.

Take home message

There are a few key points about the wraps I’d like consumers to bear in mind.

First, whether or not the product “works,” depends on your own expectations. Online reviews are divided down the middle with slightly more negative reviews than positive ones.

Second, to be fair to It Works, I’d say the company is reasonably subdued in its marketing claims and has done a pretty good job with keeping it above board (i.e., not making any overtly deceptive or false claims).

Third, I note that some consumers think this is a weight loss product (their expectations based on their interpretation of advertising).  I would therefore like for the company to be a bit more deliberate and transparent by explicitly telling their customers (or potential customers) that the products are not intended for fat or weight loss (i.e., skin tightening and localised dehydration are not the same as fat reduction).

Fourth, the product ingredient list is very long, but taken as a whole, it is probably safe for most people, spare the potential for a few localised allergic skin reactions.

Fifth, consumers should be aware there is no product guarantee and refunds will not be issued for used products (only unused, unopened products).

Sixth, if you don’t want your credit card to be automatically charged for autoshipped products, you need to be deliberate in following the company’s terms and conditions to the letter.  Legally they have a leg to stand on, but you probably won’t have them on your Christmas card list!

In closing, I’d simply suggest that consumers fully educate themselves on the pros and cons of this product to ensure they make an educated decision in their purchase.