Diet Fraud: Sensa/HCG Fined $34 Million for Fraudulent Health Claims

Oh happy day! Finally the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hammering down on companies with misleading claims about their products body-slimming capabilities. Four companies, L’Occitane, Sensa, LeanSpa LLC and HCG Diet Direct, will all receive hefty fines for using deceptive language and fraudulent claims marketed towards diet-driven consumers. I was thrilled to appear on FOX News Your World with Neil Cavuto yesterday to discuss this issue.

Will an additive found in candy really make you less hungry? 

Not only are these companies claiming unrealistic weight loss results but they are also making false claims about their product ingredients.  Products like Sensa which claim to reduce hunger and melt away the pounds when sprinkled on foods primarily contain maltodextrin, a starch-based food additive commonly used for the production of soda and candy. HCG (made from human placenta) is supposed to be taken with a very-low calorie diet of less than 800 calories per day. Maybe that should be front and center on the label, instead of just in the fine print.

Will a slap on the wrist make them change their tune?

While these companies have agreed to refund many of these mislead consumers, $34 million in fines is a drop in the bucket for the $60 billion plus diet industry. Sensa and L’Occitane will continue to stand by their products and bogus health claims, selling desperate consumers hopeless creams and powders that will result in nothing more than a slimmer pocket book.

Click below to see my appearance on FOX News defending consumers’ rights in the need for government involvement in this matter.

Here are a few highlights from my segment :

  • People argue that consumers’ own common sense should be the judge versus the Federal Government in this dieting matter.
  • As a Registered Dietitian I believe that every consumer deserves to have accurate information about the products they purchase.
  • Consumers are desperate for quick weight loss fixes, but the truth is diets don’t work.  95% of all diets fail and most dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years.
  • FAT CHANCE: There is no magic powder, cream, or pill that is going to make you skinny, yet consumers continue to buy into the multi billion dollar diet industry each year.
  • It’s about lifestyle choices. Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day.

The Hard Facts About Dieting:

  • 35% of “occasional dieters” progress into disordered eating and as many as 25% advance to full-blown eating disorders.
  • Dieters typically make four to five attempts per year.
  • Only 5% of women naturally have the body type advertisements portray as real.
  • 90% of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet
  • 75% of American women surveyed endorsed unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies.

Eating Disorders Coalition Hill Briefing: “Fear of Fat and Weight Stigma: The Intersection of Obesity and Eating Disorders”


Last week the Eating Disorders Coalition held a briefing on Capital Hill that addressed issues around the negative health outcomes that can result from weight-based stigma and discrimination. They also discussed how important it is to take the focus off of obesity and size, and instead shift the focus to healthy behaviors. The panel of speakers included:photo 1

Below is a summary of their presentations:

Health Consequences of Weight Stigmatization and the Contribution to Obesity and Eating Disorders (Rebecca Puhl, PhD)photo 3    

Rebecca talked about what weight stigma actually is — people being treated negatively based on their weight. At one time or another, we’ve probably all witnessed some kind of negative images and words associated with people of larger size. It’s become a pervasive problem in our society. They’re often categorized as lazy, sloppy, and lacking the self control to just be a smaller size. It can happen at any age, whether it’s a child being picked on at school, or an adult being denied adequate health care at work. For women especially, it’s one of the most reported forms of discrimination, along with gender, race and age.

People who are victims of weight bias become more vulnerable for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image, and are even more likely to commit suicide. In addition to the psychological trauma, they also experience poorer academic performance, inequitable hiring practices, and lower wages.

What many people don’t realize is that many people of larger size who are criticized for their weight, may actually be suffering from an undiagnosed eating disorder, like binge eating disorder, (BED) the most common eating disorder.

Many times the stigmatization isn’t  intentional. It’s coming from a place of wanting to guide a person towards health, but they don’t realize the negative implications that shaming a person to lose weight can have. Especially on children. She shared a number of examples of these misguided campaigns, for example:

georgiafatShe mentioned that research has actually found that ads like these that stigmatize larger-size people are less motivating and make them feel less confident about improving their health.

Campaigns were seen as the most motivating focused on healthy behavior changes instead of body weight and obesity.

She listed a number of other diseases/conditions that also had a stigma attached to them, for example leprosy, drug addiction and mental illness. However for these conditions (and many others) it’s been acknowledged that the stigma was a barrier to a person’s treatment, and as a result more research and funding was given to reducing that stigma.

The same needs to happen for obesity and eating disorders, so that proper treatment can be provided to the millions of people that need it. The key will be finding a way to shift our society’s focus to health as the ultimate goal, and not a specific body weight.

Binge Eating Disorder and DSM-5 (B. Timothy Walsh, MD)photo 4

As of May of this year, binge eating disorder is included as its own diagnosis code in the DSM-5. Dr. Walsh was able to share with us a little history behind how it came to be it’s own code, instead of continuing to fall under the umbrella of “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” (EDNOS).

Until this year, binge eating disorder was categorized under EDNOS, along with purging disorder and night eating syndrome. Binge eating disorder is defined as recurrent episodes of binging (without compensatory measures like purging), at least once per week for a period of 3 months. A binge episode is associated with at least 3 of the following: eating faster than normal, eating until uncomfortably full, eating large amounts even when not hungry, eating alone, or feeling guilt afterwards.

He shared the overwhelming evidence that supported BED as its own diagnosis, including, not limited to the over 1000 scientific articles published since the DSM-4, the lab testing that’s been done showing that binge eating behavior is abnormal, and the fact that people with BED don’t respond to routine weight loss treatments. This last piece being extremely important, as I’ve seen in my own counseling practice, because focusing on weight loss (for those with BED) actually can drive them deeper into their eating disorder.

Since it has become its own diagnosis in the DSM-5, one study that he shared shows the frequency of EDNOS has decreased from around 40% to around 15%, with BED coming in around 20%.

Why We Must Address the Intersection of Obesity and Eating Disorders (Chevese Turner)

photo 5Chevese started by pointing out that it’s first important to recognize that eating disorders are not rare. They affect around 20 million women, and 10 million men at some point in their lives, falling at different points in the “spectrum”. The perception that eating disorders can be seen as “rare”, yet obesity is an “epidemic” is just not true. In fact this “battle” that is going on against obesity, is actually happening at the expense of people’s lives (those people dying due to complications from eating disorders). She explained why it’s so dangerous to perceive eating disorders are so rare — that it’s due to the health complications that result from them going untreated, like:

  • abnormal heart rate
  • electrolyte imbalances
  • decreased bone density
  • muscle loss
  • tooth decay
  • high blood pressure and cholesterol
  • type 2 diabetes
  • depression
  • death

Around 70% of people with BED are considered overweight or obese, while 30% are considered a “normal” weight. Many people who struggle with it have suffered through countless weight loss treatments that not only didn’t work, but they actually exacerbate their disorder.

She called for people to have the courage to stop and look at programs that target people based on their size (whether it’s intentional or unintentional) like school BMI report cards or work wellness programs. The unintentional side effects are too damaging to ignore. 50% of kids who are overweight go onto have eating disorders later in life.

NIH spent $843 million on research related to obesity vs. $34 million on research related to eating disorders. In a perfect world she’d like those budgets to match, dollar for dollar, but that just isn’t the reality right now. The best thing we can do now, is to try and stop the stigma, so we can stop the shame, and the eating disorder cycle that can result from it.

The Invisible Eating Disorder (April Winslow, MS, RD)

April shared her very touching story about her struggle with and recovery from bulimia and binge eating disorder. Her binging started when she was younger, and then dieting/weight cycling as she got older. She was ridiculed at school, and pressured to lose weight by her family. During her constant losing and gaining, she talked about the fact that non one ever approached her about an eating disorder. The conversation was either “you’re too big, you need to lose weight”, or “you lose so much weight you look amazing” and then felt the pressure to maintain that new size. The latter was what led to the purging.

She recalled a doctor’s appointment while in the midst of her purging, when she was commended for her weight loss, and when she sought treatment and help, was turned away. It wasn’t until a close friend called her out on her purging that she began to acknowledge it, and then eventually could comes to terms with it to stop it. She changed her attitude about herself, and her behaviors. She started small, just walking a few minutes each night, and she started journaling to help work through her emotions.

Now, she’s a psychiatric dietitian, and celebrates food, friends and all life has to offer. Her story was so inspirational, and yet spoke so well to the need for changes about how we think about a person’s size and their health.

#MushroomHealth Summit Day 1 Recap: Research, Culinary Trends & History

Mushroom Health Summit logo

I’m spending two days at the Mushrooms and Health Summit in Washington, D.C. (the first meeting of it’s kind). Today and tomorrow, I’m schmoozing with the world’s top scientists, researchers, and nutrition experts to learn about the last decade of research supporting mushrooms’ role in delivering a combination of nutrients and health benefits.

The best part is I’ll be taking all the info and summarizing it for you in blog posts, tweets, instagrams, and pins. I want to help take the mushroom from “humble” to “mighty” busting myths, delighting you with fun facts, and of course giving you ideas to include them in your day-to-day meals. (hint: it’s the trend to blend)

Disclosure: I’m working with the Mushroom Council to share information from the summit.

Opening Session: Exploring the Evidence

Johanna Dwyer, DSc., RD, Professor at Tufts University

Dr. Dwyer opened the event and gave us an overview of the meeting. I got all excited when she shared that we have a mushroom “growing room” here at the event. I stopped by during the break to take a peek. I loved how they broke it down to help us understand the basic steps of growing mushrooms. Enjoy it in these short videos below.

Catherine Woteki, PhD, Under Secretary for USDA Research, Education, and Economics

Dr. Woteki spoke about the value of nutrition research in dealing with global issues from climate change to emerging diseases in crops and livestock, and ensuring greater worldwide food security (and nutrition security). She shared USDA’s commitment to open science through collaboration, coordination and shared resources. a new portal for helping researchers and the public access datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.

Joe Caldwell, Vice President, Monterey Mushrooms, Inc.

Mr. Caldwell referred to mushrooms as “the lovely fungus” so you know where his heart is. He introduced us to the Mushroom Council and provided a bit of a history of the need for nutrition research with mushrooms. Historically, mushrooms were discussed based on what they didn’t have – low in calories, fat, sodium, etc. etc. but that is not nearly as interesting as what they DO have.

  • Vitamin D, the only produce in your supermarket with natural vitamin D source. You can also find mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light to really bump up the vitamin D levels.
  • B12 – Typically vitamin B12 is found in animal meats, but the B12 in mushrooms is bioavailable (we can use it)
  • Antioxidants, which are being studied for their role in cancer prevention, including breast cancer (more details in session 2 recap)

Session 1: Mushrooms, A Unique Kingdom

Lisa Castlebury, PhD, USDA ARS

Dr. Castlebury gave us a wonderful overview of mushrooms, diversity of mushroom species, and explained how they are grown for consumer consumption. “What’s with the white color?” (Have you ever wondered if mushroom have anything good for you?) Dr. Castlebury explained they lack chloroplasts so mushrooms are actually NOT plants. They’re fungi.

Don’t get duped by the color thing. Just because they aren’t green, doesn’t mean they lack nutrients. In addition to what I mentioned above, I also love that mushrooms contain glutamate, which gives them their umami (savory, meat-like flavor) and can help you use less sodium in your cooking.

Suzanne Thornsbury, PhD, Agriculture Economist at USDA Economic Research Service (ERS)

Dr. Thornsbury gave an interesting market analysis of mushrooms, including trade and field data; volume sales and growth; and usage data.

Since 2000, mushroom and truffle growth has been increasing (and at an increasing rate compared to previous decades).  About 21% of the U.S. mushroom farms are in Pennsylvania and there are mushroom farms in nearly every state, including Hawaii. The U.S. import fresh mushrooms, mostly coming from our neighbors to the north – Canada. Organic mushrooms, both white button (most common) and portobello mushrooms, account for 23% of the mushroom market and they command a bit of a higher price.  It makes sense to me as organic crops are harder to grow.

If you’re as curious as me about why there are so many mushroom farms in Pennsylvania. Check out this NPR story I found online.

Greg Drescher, Vice President Strategic Initiatives and Industry Leadership, Culinary Institute of America

I loved Greg’s presentation. He discussed mushrooms’ unique flavor attributes and studies on the link between mushrooms’ taste (umami) and health benefits, such as satiation, sodium and calorie reduction.

Greg introduced a key culinary opportunity for mushrooms with “blendability”. Essentially, the idea is to finely chop mushrooms and use them with meat dishes to reduce the meat. He gave an example of a “mushroom meatball” with a 50/50 mushroom meat blend. Rather than the steak with a few mushrooms on top or the mushroom veggie burger, there is a culinary opportunity to meet in the middle and blend in more finely chopped mushrooms. I can’t wait to try this at home. In the meantime, you can find some blendability “pinspiration” on Mushroom Channel’s Pinterest page.

Session 2: Mushrooms and Health: The Journey Begins

Shu-Ting Chang, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Biology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Dr. Chang talked about mushrooms as both a health food and nutriceutical. He walked us through several mushroom species uses in folk medicine in everything from stomach ailments to liver and heart problems. He noted that even in western medicine various species have been used to stop bleeding an as anti-inflammatory agents. He estimates the current value of “medicinal mushrooms” around $16 billion! That’s a lot of ‘shrooms!

Manny Noakes, Dip Nut & Diet PhD, Research Program Leader, Nutrition and Health Sciences, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia

Dr. Noakes pointed out that while “technically” mushrooms aren’t considered a vegetable, they are commonly referred to as one. (I get it. Can you imagine saying, eat your fruits, veggies, and fungi?) She discussed the nutrients found in mushrooms, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, and fiber content. She reviewed how the biosynthesis of vitamin D levels from ergosterols in mushrooms can be significantly enhanced by exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light post-harvest (e.g. during drying). She reviewed why this is important. Vitamin D is an important factor for immune function and many people do not get the sun exposure needed to make their own vitamin D.

Livestream Tuesday September 10, 2013

All in all, it was a whirlwind of a day! We got to do some networking and chatting about mushrooms at the reception that followed the event.

If you have some time Tuesday, you can watch the sessions live at the Mushroom Health Summit website.

March 13th is RD Day — Now RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) Credential Approved



Wednesday, March 13, is Registered Dietitian Day, celebrating the contributions and expertise of RDs as the nation’s food and nutrition experts.

CHICAGO– All registered dietitians are nutritionists – but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. It’s an important distinction that can matter a great deal to your health.

To mark Registered Dietitian Day 2013 and to strengthen the link between the science of dietetics and the overall wellness aspects of nutrition, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Commission on Dietetic Registration have approved the optional use of the credential “registered dietitian nutritionist” by all registered dietitians.

“Registered Dietitian Day takes place each March – during National Nutrition Month – to recognize the unequalled contributions of RDs in improving the public’s health through food and nutrition,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics President Ethan Bergman.

The opportunity to use the RDN credential is offered to RDs who want to directly convey the nutrition aspects of their training and expertise. “This option reflects who registered dietitians are and what we do,” Bergman says.

“Just as our organization included ‘nutrition’ in our new name in 2012, the option of using ‘nutritionist’ in an individual RD’s credential can communicate the broad concept of wellness, including prevention of health conditions, as well as the treatment of conditions that are part of virtually every RD’s practice,” Bergman says.

“The message for the public is: Look for the RD – and now, the RDN – credential when determining who is the best source of safe and accurate nutrition information,” Bergman says. “All registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. So when you’re looking for qualified food and nutrition experts, look for the RD or RDN credential.”

Registered dietitians and registered dietitian nutritionists must meet stringent academic and professional requirements, including earning at least a bachelor’s degree, completing a supervised practice program and passing a registration examination. RDs and RDNs must also complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration. More than half of all RD and RDNs have also earned master’s degrees or higher.

“RDs and RDNs translate nutrition science into practical and applicable ways for people to bring nutritious foods into their daily lives. It is our role to discern between fact and fiction and give people the tools to make realistic eating behavior changes,” Bergman says.

The majority of registered dietitians work in the treatment and prevention of disease, often in hospitals, HMOs, private practice or other health care facilities. In addition, RDs and RDNs work in community and public health settings and academia and research. RDs and RDNs work with food and nutrition industry and business, journalism, sports nutrition, corporate wellness programs and other work settings.

“Registered dietitians’ expertise in nutrition and health is more extensive than any other health profession and has been recognized as such by Congress as well as federal health agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” Bergman says.

“Numerous scientific studies over many years, including studies mandated by Congress, have shown that medical nutrition therapy provided by a registered dietitian can lower health costs, decrease hospital stays and improve people’s health,” Bergman says. “Besides being the designated providers under federal law of medical nutrition therapy for Medicare beneficiaries, registered dietitians are the preferred providers of nutrition care and services in many private-sector insurance plans.”

Learn more about what RDs and RDNs can do for you and find a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist in your area at For more information about the RDN credential, visit

Celebrated each March, National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to focus attention on the importance of making informed food and nutrition choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.


The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at

We Need Wellness Policies to Create Healthy Communities

By: Hannah Barker, Dietetic Intern, with assistance from Rebecca

This week I participated in a webinar called, “Looking Upstream: How Income, Education and Racial Disparities Shape Health.” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was the host. The expert panel included: Dr. James Marks from the Health Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Paula Braverman from the University of California in San Francisco, David Williams from the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard University, and Steven Woolf from the Virginia Commonwealth University.

We Spend a Lot on Healthcare for Such a Sick Country

I learned that the United States spends so much on health care, yet ranks poorly in terms of several health indicators, like infant mortality and life expectancy.  However, the cause of the United States’ poor health cannot just be attributed to the factors we normally consider – medical care, genetic make-up, natural environment, behaviors and nutrition; rather, the cause of poor health can also be attributed to “upstream” factors such as race, income, and education.

You might have heard that non-Hispanic whites are likely to have a five-year greater life expectancy than other races and poverty is linked to poor health. But while this may seem unsurprising to you, the solutions to these problems may come across as unique and inspiring.

Policies Needed to Prevent Disease in Communities

The panelists urged prevention.  They advocated to support policies that promote more walkable cities, affordable housing and worksite wellness programs – just to name a few – to help promote the health and nutrition of our communities.

Currently, the poorest neighborhoods are the least likely to have access to recreation centers, playgrounds and even sidewalks. Why is that?  Why are we not investing there? American communities need walkable cities to help ensure that more children and families have space to walk, ride their bikes and achieve the necessary physical activity to prevent chronic disease.  You can’t bake a cake without eggs and you can’t drive a car without gas – how can people exercise without fun and safe places to do so. Imagine, a working mom takes an odd shift to be home with her kids, wouldn’t it be great if they could play together before dinner at a nearby park, which they walked to on the sidewalk. It’s basic.

I think D.C. does a good job at providing access to physical activity to residents. We have programs for kids and families, recreation centers and indoor and outdoor pools! Check out their website: DC’s Department of Parks and Recreation

Healthy Employees, Happy Companies

Worksite wellness programs should be implemented in all fields of employment. Are there incentives for small businesses to educate and motivate their employees? What about the local deli owner or dress shop? They may have 5 or so employees – is there incentive for them to help keep their employees healthy?

Take a Page from Community Programs

Organizations like Operation Frontline and Brain Food currently lead programs to teach parents and children about cooking nutritious (and delicious) meals and eating healthy on a budget; however, these organizations cannot do it alone.  They rely on the kind hearts of volunteers to make a difference in the lives of those with the greatest NEED by the statistics.

Be the Change!

You can make an “upstream” difference by just volunteering for one of these organizations, or attending local meetings (town halls, open local government sessions etc.) to support policies related to health and nutrition. You can help be a solution to these statistics!

What do you think is needed to improve the health of our communities?