The recipe for successful weight management is a complicated one: The main ingredients are diet and exercise, along with a helping of genetics and hormonal balance, plus a sprinkling of motivation...and the list goes on. There are too many places to count where a person could trip up in their efforts, and even after an ideal weight is achieved, the “management” work never ends: This is a lifelong affair.

The Essentials

“A healthy diet and exercise regimen are essential when trying to manage weight,” says Cheryl Myers, chief of scientific affairs and education at Europharma/Terry Naturally, Green Bay, WI. “Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill that can simply melt away the pounds.” That said, lifestyle changes don’t have to get complicated—in fact, for people just starting out, diving in with a lifestyle overhaul can be overwhelming and lead to failure. What does work:

Diet: Veggie Up to Slim Down—There’s a wide range of food formulas out there promising to trim pounds: heavy on fat, no fat, whole-grain, no grain, eating every two hours, only eating for a few hours a day. Two things, though, remain fairly constant no matter what food formula one chooses: increase fresh produce, reduce sugar. Even keto, known for being welcoming to bacon-lovers, and Weight Watchers, known for its flexibility and openness to every kind of food, call for eating a healthy dose of fresh produce, with keto proponents calling for vegetables sautéed in olive oil and Weight Watchers giving raw and steamed veggies a point count of zero. The Planetary Health diet, designed by a team of researchers looking to solve malnutrition and environmental decline, calls for half of every plate to be filled with fruits and vegetables (1).

That said, as a first line of defense against excess pounds, anyone who walks into your store looking for dietary help should head first to your produce aisle. It can’t hurt to have recipe suggestions available next to vegetables; a bit of imagination and some crushed garlic can go a long way in making veggies palatable even to the pickiest of eaters. Palatable is important: for real weight management, Myers says, a diet can’t be temporary. “The best way to lose weight for the long term is to give up the idea of a temporary diet and incorporate whole, healthy foods into your daily regimen for good.”

As to whether or not it’s really important to reduce sugar, even with increased veggies—Kim Hapke, N.D., Metabolic Maintenance, Sisters, OR, says, “Meals high in sugar create an inflammation response and cause an increased release of insulin. Over time, this can lead to weight gain, especially in the middle of the body and especially deposited on organs, which can lead to further inflammation and to insulin resistance.” It’s a cycle, and it’s fueled by sugary foods.

Exercise: Small changes = Big results—Being part of a supportive community is a big help when it comes to sticking to a healthy regimen. To that end, some stores host yoga or Zumba classes. Renée Southard, owner/CEO of Organic Marketplace, Gastonia, NC, says her store has hosted yoga for six months. Her café closes on Mondays, and a 25-year customer (certified by the Yoga Alliance) holds a gentle yoga class at around 8:30, after moms have dropped kids off at school. The teacher charges $5 per person, which she can do because Southard donates the space to her. “We don’t do it for the money,” she says, “We do it for the community.” Most of those who come in are current customers, although she says it could be good for outreach: “For those who just want something simple, and don’t want to pay huge prices per class.” It doesn’t generate sales, she says: “It generates community, and that’s part of our mission at Organic Marketplace.”

For those customers who say they don’t have the time, energy, or money to commit to an involved exercise program, you can reassure them that they don’t have to. Much of the science on exercise shows that, while there are ideal exercise amounts, types, and durations, anything will help. Doing high-intensity activities for five minutes a day can decrease BMI and odds of obesity while increasing satiety (2). Walking for a total of 30 non-consecutive minutes a day can improve body composition and decrease risk for metabolic syndrome (3). Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to see a coworker instead of emailing—little bits add up.

Here, too, exercise can’t be a temporary path to a goal. Psychologist Michelle Segar told NPR that weight loss isn’t a great goal, long-term; it takes too long to see results, and the brain isn’t wired to deal with that (4). Encourage customers to exercise for increased energy or better sleep instead: Women motivated by a sense of well-being participate in 30% more physical activity than those motivated by weight loss (5).

Overcoming Obstacles

It’s all well and good to stock up on veggies and buy a FitBit, but humans are, well, human, and a hectic, sedentary world, full of processed food ripe for the buying, is not the best environment in which to lose weight. Every person has a roadblock. Michael Smith, M.D., director of education and spokesperson for Life Extension, Fort Lauderdale, FL, says Life Extension’s eBook, The Nine Pillars of Successful Weight Loss, asks one question: Why are you gaining weight (6)? “For some consumers,” Dr. Smith says, “It’s hormonal, such as estrogen dominance, low free testosterone, or low thyroid. For others, it’s low insulin sensitivity or leptin resistance—just to name a few of the pillars.” Sometimes, it’s behavioral, in which case therapy or community can help. Consulting a doctor can help determine the underlying issue, and customers should always talk to a healthcare provider before making lifestyle changes.

That said, a variety of dietary supplements have been shown in studies to help with common weight-gain triggers. “Knowing what is driving the weight gain allows for targeted supplementation to reverse it,” says Dr. Smith. “This will set the stage for successful weight loss on whatever diet program a consumer chooses.” This knowledge is vital: No matter how great a supplement is, if it doesn’t address the right roadblock, it won’t aid them in weight management. It can help to put up signs around weight management supplements—“What’s your roadblock? Talk to an employee about which supplement is right for you!”—to help inform customers on the latest science and to help point them to the helping hand that can help them see results. Here, some offerings:

For a veggie assist: Whether due to pickiness, allergies, or a hectic lifestyle that doesn’t allow for food prep, you may get customers for whom upping their intake of fresh produce isn’t viable. Supplements can help. Solgar’s Spoonfuls are vegan protein powders that also contain concentrates of fruits and vegetables. Pines makes a wheatgrass supplement in both powder and pill form, to ensure that, regardless of which form a customer prefers, they’ll get leafy greens with every meal. Show your customers that they don’t have to figure out how to fit veggies into every meal—there are plenty of products formulated to fit effortlessly into a busy lifestyle.

To calm cravings: How often does a low-carb diet go astray because of a desperate craving for bread? How many customers tell you that they’ve tried dieting, but they never feel full? In both cases, fiber can help. Fiber is a low-energy-density food: a lot of food with few calories, allowing people to feel full without the calories (7). Fiber is in veggies, fruits, and whole grains, but when dietary choices aren’t enough, supplements like Terry Naturally’s Slim-VX1® can bridge the gap. Myers says this supplement addresses “the sense of satiety that stops someone from wanting to snack or overindulge. One of the main ingredients is a clinically studied form of concentrated fiber. In just three months, people taking this supplemental fiber lost up to seven times the weight compared to those in the placebo group. It significantly lowered BMI, body fat, fat accumulated around organs in the torso, and waist, hip, and upper abdominal circumference, too. It was balancing out blood sugar levels, and stopping the spikes and troughs that can spur people to eat more than they really should.”

Also on the fiber front, Anke Sentko, VP of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication at Beneo, Mannheim, Germany, says it may be beneficial to consume food containing Beneo’s prebiotic fibers, which increase bifidobacteria. “Beneo’s Inulin and Oligofructose from chicory root are the only plant-based prebiotics on the FDA’s list of approved dietary fibers,” she notes. Products containing these ingredients can pack a double whammy: fiber to fill up and prebiotics to encourage good gut bacteria. A customer who feels full is less likely to reach for that sugar-packed dessert.

For people battling can’t-resist cravings, a product made with Palatinose™ or Isomalt also may be of benefit, says Sentko. She explains that Palatinose™ is a carbohydrate that is absorbed slowly, generating a lower glycemic response while still providing natural energy in carbohydrate form. Isomalt is a sugar replacer made with pure beet sugar: It gives both a low glycemic and a low insulemic response, and has half the calories of beet sugar.

To help with a sluggish liver: Dr. Hapke clarifies that detox supplements aren’t actually detoxifying the body; they’re aiding the liver. “The body is a master detoxifier. It performs numerous biochemical reactions that mostly take place in the liver. The processes take place in two phases and use various nutrients as cofactors, carriers, or providers of needed factors for transformation of substances. If a needed nutrient is depleted, it can slow down one or more biochemical pathways in the detoxification process. Phase 1 can result in intermediate byproducts that are more toxic than the initial substance; if they are not quickly transformed by Phase 2 reactions, they can create damage through oxidative processes to cells and tissues.”

Supplements can help provide the nutrients the liver needs to perform these vital processes, preventing the oxidative damage toxic byproducts can otherwise cause to cells or tissues, damage that results in inflammation and insulin resistance. Both of those, Dr. Hapke says, are associated with abdominal weight gain that is part of metabolic syndrome, which drives up inflammation, creating a vicious cycle of inflammation, insulin resistance, and weight gain. Metabolic Maintenance sells a Metabolic Detox Complete product that contains a variety of nutritional cofactors, along with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and 20 grams of protein, making it a good meal replacement shake.

To help with emotional overeating: For those whose tend to overeat when stressed, scared or feeling down, supplements that aim to lift mood and ease inflammation may be more useful than something specifically marketed toward weight management. As Myers explains, “I would argue that the brain is a determining factor for many people with weight-management challenges. Many individuals self-medicate with food. Consuming certain comfort foods elicits neurotransmitter increases that lift your mood—at least, temporarily.” Myers points to curcumin as an aid. Terry Naturally’s CuraMed® delivers curcumin blended with turmeric essential oil, a source of ar-tumerone. Curcumin and ar-tumerone have, Myers says, been shown to boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein associated with neural health and mental resilience.

Saffron, too, “has shown excellent depression-reducing activity in clinical research and has been shown to stop stress-related snacking and overeating.” Besides boosting serotonin and preserving GABA, it’s an anti-inflammatory. “It’s amazing, really,” Myers says, “how much of a difference it can make to a person’s outlook simply by reducing inflammation in the mind and body.”

To help with middle-age spread: With each passing birthday, the number on the scale tends to creep up. Dr. Smith lists loss of lean muscle mass, low AMPK activity (leading to a tendency to store fat) and low metabolism as contributing factors.

Protein can help build muscle mass. Bluebonnet has a dual-action protein powder that helps rebuild broken down muscle; Solgar’s protein is a great vegan option. AMPK is an enzyme that burns fat; as it runs down, fat gets stored. Life Extension’s AMPK Metabolic Activator has extracts to help trigger AMPK production. Low metabolism can be boosted in any number of ways: LifeSeasons uses chromium, green tea extract, and green coffee bean, while Dr. Smith mentions 7-keto-DHEA as a thermogenic supplement—one that boosts metabolism.

For our furry friends!

Similar to humans, dog obesity is at epidemic levels. Over half of dogs in the U.S. are facing the battle of the bulge (13), but pet parents can take steps to get their pals on the path to healthier and happier. Ruth Stedman, CEO and founder of Grocery Pup, Austin, Texas, shares five strategies that can help in her blog “A Pup’s Ultimate Guide to Healthy and Happy.” 

To help with a mystery plateau: Your customer comes in frustrated, on the tail end of weeks spent eating vegetables and exercising religiously, unable to lose weight. This could be for a variety of reasons, and there are an equally wide range of supplements that can help.

The issue could be gut bacteria: One study found that an OTC probiotic, VSL#3, prevented and treated obesity in mice and in cell cultures; Another study found that Lactobacillus paracasei F19 prevented body fat storage in mice and in cell cultures (8, 9).

Maybe your customer just needs a boost. Dr. Hapke suggests L-carnitine, an amino acid found mainly in meat (making it important for those who don’t eat much meat) that helps turn fat into energy. “L-Carnitine performs the essential job of transporting long chain fatty acids across the mitochondrial membrane for breakdown and energy generation,” Dr. Hapke says. “Thus, it supports energy production in the heart and muscles, weight management, and recovery for muscles after exercise.”

Capsaicin is another option to help nudge the needle on the scale. Brian Appell, marketing manager for OmniActive Health Technologies, Morristown, NJ, suggests Capsimax: it contains capsaicinoids, the active compounds responsible for the heat in chili peppers. Capsaicinoids have been shown to boost metabolism and the breakdown of fat, but whereas eating it would require upwards of 10g of chili peppers, Capsimax does the job with 100mg. It could be the boost your customer needs.

Of course, every body is different, and some bodies react to sugar in a different way. Appell points out that the average person consumes more than 60 pounds of sugar every year: “It’s not only overt sources; it’s also the hidden sources of sugar in foods that are considered healthy—ketchup, yogurt, bread, granola bars.” That leads to chronic spikes in insulin, which leads to bodies storing that sugar as fat. OmniLean, an extract of Salacia, helps buffer the glycemic impact of carbohydrates by inhibiting the breakdown of simple disaccharides, preventing them from being absorbed. Appell says OmniActive insists on taxonomical identification and consistency in the company’s Salacia, allowing OmniLean to work effectively in 500mg or less.

Ideal Health: It’s not always about losing weight

A recent research review determined that 10% to 25% of obese individuals are metabolically healthy, likely due to preserved insulin sensitivity. The experts explain that insulin resistance is mediated by factors independent of total body fat mass (11). The researchers summarized their findings: “Recommendations for obesity treatment should distinguish the metabolically ‘healthy’ from ‘unhealthy’ phenotype to identify early the obese person who will benefit the most from losing weight” (11). In other words: It’s not necessarily extra weight that is unhealthy, but insulin resistance.

In The Fat Studies Reader, a collection of thoroughly sourced essays on the science behind the “Health at Every Size” (HAES) movement, Deb Burgard poses interesting questions: “If fatness causes health problems, why do they not show up in all fat people? Why do those same health problems show up in thin people? Why do the diseases attributed to higher BMI seem to also be characterizable as diseases of aging or chronic stress?” (12). She goes on to point out that “Health improvements attributed to weight loss occur without any weight loss when research participants improve their health practices. There is no dose-response relationship between the degree of weight loss and the degree of health benefits, which is what we would expect if weight loss was causing the health benefit. Also, weight loss in the absence of improved health practices, like liposuction, has not been demonstrated to correlate with health improvements” (12). It is possible to be unhealthy and overweight, yes, but also to be unhealthy at a socially acceptable weight, as well as to be healthy and overweight.

The HAES movement addresses Segar’s concerns, in fact, quite thoroughly: Don’t bother making weight loss a goal; that’s unsustainable. Make health the goal, focusing on whole foods and regular exercise, regardless of what that looks like for each individual. Extreme weight fluctuation is unhealthy; cycles of dieting and regaining weight are unhealthy. Myers says, “Retailers are perfectly positioned to be a force for good on this count. They can help direct their customers to the best options for real, sustainable weight management for the long term.” Natural products retailers are particularly well suited to this; people of size, unhappy with being told by doctors that every conceivable problem is caused by their weight, may well turn to natural products such as immune support supplements or cardioprotective supplements to gain control of their wellbeing. WF

Alert on Adulterated Supplements

There have been a variety of weight-loss drugs masquerading as supplements which fueled distrust of the supplement industry in mainstream news, and probably sparked some anxiety in customers, as well. Renée Southard of Organic Marketplace says that she told her employees to refer questioning customers to management, who were more educated on the topic and handled questions one-on-one. And she finds that vetting her products, and being known for that, makes a difference: “We’ve been here 26 years. I’ve taken products off my shelves before, and if they aren’t cleared to my satisfaction, or if I don’t like the integrity—or lack thereof—of the company in question and how they handled that issue, they don’t come back.”

When asked how to differentiate between supplements and pills, Cheryl Myers said, “Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill that can simply melt away the pounds—believe me, most people would be taking it if that were true. So the fact that we’re recommending lifestyle measures and telling people about the supportive role of fiber, polyphenols, and other natural compounds is a plus. Food matters. Exercise and lifestyle matters. Supplements can be an important part of that picture—our literature makes it clear that Slim-VX1® can help a person lose weight, but in a healthy way by stopping cravings and supporting healthy blood sugar levels.” If a product claims to help the customer lose weight, there should be a clear pathway, supported by science. The packaging for Slim-VX1®, for instance, states on the side what it does, and that it should be combined with diet and exercise. Let customers check for themselves and see these products aren’t making impossible claims. They’re not magic pills; they’re a helping hand.
  1. WholeFoods Magazine Staff, “Study: Planetary Health Diet Would Save Lives,” com. Posted 01/18/19. Accessed 01/18/19.
  2. Ashley Marcin, “Are 5-Minute Daily Workout Routines Really Beneficial?” Posted 02/27/17. Accessed 01/18/19.
  3. Gabriella Boston, “The many benefits of walking 30 minutes a day,” The Washington Post. Posted 10/20/2015. Accessed 01/18/19.
  4. Maria Godoy, “From Couch Potato To Fitness Buff: How I Learned To Love Exercise,” com. Posted 01/14/19. Accessed 01/18/19.
  5. Michelle L. Segar et al., “Type of physical activity goal influences participation in healthy midlife women,” Women’s Health Issues, 18, 281-291(2008).
  6. “The Nine Pillars of Successful Weight Loss.” Accessed 01/18/19.
  7. Mayo Clinic Staff, “Weight loss: Feel full on fewer calories,” org. Posted 01/20/17. Accessed 01/18/19.
  8. Yadav et al., “Beneficial metabolic effects of a probiotic via butyrate-induced GLP-1 hormone secretion,” Journal of Biological Chemistry, 288(35), 88-97(2013).
  9. Aronsson et al., “Decreased fat storage by Lactobacillus paracasei is associated with increased levels of angiopoietin-like 4 protein (ANGPTL4),” PLoS One, 5(9), 2010.
  10. Allison Aubrey, “Diet Hit A Snag? Your Gut Bacteria May Be Partly To Blame,” com. Posted 08/06/18. Accessed 01/18/19.
  11. Healthy Obesity Matthias Blüher, “The distinction of metabolically ‘healthy’ from ‘unhealthy’ obese individuals,” Current Opinion in Lipidology, 21(1), 38-43(2010).
  12. Esther Rothblum and Sandra Solovay (ed.), “The Fat Studies Reader,” New York University Press (2009). 
  13. Amy Kraft, “U.S. pet obesity rate continues to rise,” CBS News.Posted 1/12/16. Accessed 2/1/19.