CBS Atlanta News explores potential dangers of rapid weight loss - CBS46 News

CBS Atlanta News explores potential dangers of rapid weight loss programs

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ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) -

When it comes to losing weight, everyone dreams of a quick fix. And that's usually what is promised when you sign up with a weight loss clinic.

For instance, Dramatic Weight Loss Center tells customers they can safely lose up to 15 pounds in 15 days.

Several months ago, Audrey (who asked us not to reveal her last name) turned to Dramatic Weight Loss with hopes of doing just that.

"Everything that was done on the front end was really about business. It was what they could do for you, how quickly it could be done, sign on the dotted line," she said.

The company's suggestion for losing that last bit of weight included six DWL protein shakes and 64 ounces of water per day, along with a prescription appetite suppressant and a laxative before bed.

Audrey paid nearly $200 to enroll in the "medically supervised" program and claims she followed the plan without any slip-ups.

"I was on day five when I became sick," Audrey said. 

On June 12, she was taken by ambulance to DeKalb Medical Center, where a doctor diagnosed her with severe dehydration.

According to Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist with Emory's Decatur Clinic, dehydration is a classic result of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet.

"When the body doesn't get adequate carbohydrates, what ends up happening is glycogen, which is a storage form of carbohydrates that is stored in the muscle and the liver, that amount goes down, and the immediate effect is dehydration," Bergquist explained.

Dramatic Weight Loss isn't alone in its quest to solve people's weight struggles by cutting carbs and calories and increasing protein.

There are dozens of companies that sell supplements, shakes and even injections to speed up the process.  Another program is designed to help clients shed up to 10 pounds in two weeks through a mostly liquid diet.

According to Bergquist, it's a formula that's bound to backfire.

"The appeal of these low carb diets and part of the reason they're so popular is that people lose weight very rapidly. But in reality, that weight is water weight and muscle loss, so they're not really losing fat, which is the goal of weight loss plans."

Perhaps most alarming to Bergquist is the use of appetite suppressants, especially when prescribed to patients such as Audrey, whose body mass index is only slightly above normal.

"Appetite suppressants are definitely not meant for everyone. These are for people who are overweight to the point where the benefit of these medications for weight loss can outweigh the potential harm that comes with all of these appetite suppressants," Bergquist said.

CBS Atlanta News interviewed the creator of Dramatic Weight Loss, Dr. Donald Mansfield, last year.  He said he wanted a program that had rapid results.  "It's the same principle for everybody, whether they have five, 10 or 100 pounds to lose," he said.

This time, when CBS Atlanta News tried to ask him the Tough Questions about Audrey's complaint, he denied our request.  However, Dramatic Weight Loss did issue this statement:

"The Dramatic Weight Loss team takes the safety of our clients seriously.  We are up front with our clients regarding risks and benefits of entering into any weight loss program, including ours. We discuss with them the potential side effects of changing their lifestyle."

(Click here to read DWL's response)

When asked if she felt like she knew the risks going in, Audrey said she did not.

"I don't feel like enough was really explained to me," she said. "And I take some responsibility for that. I probably should have made a different decision or done a little bit more research. But at the same time, when you go to a facility like this, you're really expecting them to be the professionals and to share information with you."

Despite the emergency room visit, and what Audrey described as a lack of compassion by Dramatic Weight Loss, she has chalked it up to a lesson learned.

"If there's something good that came out of this, I now have a new family doctor who said, 'You're just going to have to do it the old-fashioned way. You're going to join a gym, you're going to have to take your time,'" Audrey said.

Bergquist said that's sound advice for anyone who wants to lose weight.

"Anytime you're looking for a quick fix, you're going to be disappointed because physiologically, the body can't lose that amount of fat in that time frame," Bergquist said.

So what is a safe amount of weight to lose per week?  Bergquist said one to two pounds is a sustainable amount in that time frame, and that anyone losing five pounds or more per week should be under close medical supervision to monitor for complications.

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