Given the incredible amount of time and effort a solid weight loss plan requires, quick fixes such as diet pills, supplements, and surgeries can hold a certain appeal. But many times, they are unsafe, unregulated, or too good to be true. Be sure to talk with a physician before you take any pill or decide to consider surgery, which always carries risks, including death.

Pills and supplements

When combined with a healthy diet and physical activity, some medications may help you reach your goal weight. But many over-the-counter diet pills, available at health food stores, drugstore, and online, are unregulated and may contain dangerous ingredients. That’s because dietary supplements and weight-loss drugs aren't required to adhere to the same rigorous standards as prescription drugs.

One common weight-loss pill is Alli, an over-the-counter version of the prescription drug orlistat (Xenical). It works by decreasing the body’s absorption of dietary fat; this unabsorbed fat is removed from the body in the stool. For that reason, it is crucial that you adhere to a diet in which less than 30 percent of daily calories come from fat, or you will experience unpleasant side effects such as loose stools or gas with oily spotting. Orlistat capsules are usually taken up to three times a day with meals. Because orlistat blocks your body's absorption of certain fat-soluble vitamins and beta carotene, be sure to supplement with a daily multivitamin that contains vitamins A, D, E, K, and beta-carotene.

Green tea extract and hoodia are popular weight loss supplements. These are reported to boost calorie and fat metabolism and dampen appetite, respectively, but solid scientific data and research do not support these claims.

Ephedra is a supplement taken to decrease appetite, but it is now considered unsafe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of supplements containing ephedra in 1994.

Bariatric surgery

As for surgery, some doctors will recommend it for obese patients suffering from weight-related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, or sleep apnea. Surgery is usually reserved for men who are at least 100 lbs. overweight and women who are at least 80 lbs. overweight. Weight loss surgery alters the digestive tract, often resulting in significant weight loss. Common types include Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, which reduces stomach size; biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch, which maintains some stomach function while bypassing most of the intestine; and laparoscopic gastric banding, in which an inflatable band is placed around the upper portion of the stomach to restrict the amount of food the patient can consume.

Surgical patients must follow a specialized diet that allows the digestive tract to heal and helps stimulate and maintain weight loss. It requires drastically reduced food intake, which usually begins with a liquid diet for a day or two following surgery that is followed by two to four weeks of pureed foods (beans, egg whites, yogurt, and soft fruits and vegetables). In the third phase, soft solid foods may be added. After about eight weeks, most patients can return to eating firmer foods. Still, hard-to-digest items such as nuts, seeds, popcorn, dried fruits, stringy or fibrous vegetables (celery, broccoli, corn, and cabbage), and tough meats should be avoided.

Weight loss surgery carries risks. Side effect may include infections, hernias, blood clots, and nutritional deficiencies. Because stomach size is drastically reduced, nausea and vomiting can occur if patients eat or drink more than a small amount. Eating or drinking too quickly may cause dumping syndrome. This occurs when food and liquid enter your small intestine rapidly and in larger amounts than normal, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and sweating. But with proper care and attention to diet and exercise, bariatric surgery patients can expect to lose 50–60 percent of their excess weight within two years of surgery.