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Weight and watch

Abhijit Das, a young professional in Calcutta, was taken ill within three days of joining a “size zero” programme at a slimming centre. He started feeling dizzy on the very first day after the heat-wrap therapy. When the symptoms recurred, he demanded to see the in-house doctor but was told that he would be available only on weekends. The centre took no notice of the fact that Das had diabetes and hypertension before he was put on the weight-loss programme. “There was no doctor to attend to me when I fell ill. Instead, a counsellor took my blood pressure which had shot up abnormally after the therapy,” he recalls.

The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum recently awarded Rs 20,000 to Das along with a full refund of the money that he had paid for the “size zero” programme.

Though Das did get justice, there are hundreds of others who fall prey to malpractices by weight loss centres. These centres often do not check out a customer’s medical condition before enrolling him or her. At times they do not even have a doctor on call to attend to any emergencies.

Indeed, a consumer may be duped by an unscrupulous slimming centre even if there is a doctor on board. Take the case of Subhadra Saxena, who enrolled for a weight loss and tummy tuck programme at a weight loss centre in Delhi. Once she got her tummy “tucked”, a doctor told her that she was suffering from a cardiac problem and hence could not be treated for weight loss. The centre also refused to refund any part of the Rs 15,000 that she had already paid for her twin programme. Saxena rushed to a hospital but a cardiac check-up revealed that she was absolutely fine.

Most weight loss centres assert, however, that they always have a qualified doctor on call. Dr Veena Aggarwal, head of research and development, VLCC Healthcare Ltd, which has branches almost all over the country, asserts that their centres are staffed with qualified doctors, physiotherapists and counsellors. They take a complete overview of the clients’ body mass index, underlying diseases and then suggest weight-loss techniques based on individual requirements. “If the client does not lose the desired weight within a specified time, we ask him or her to go for tests,” she says.

Consumers should also be aware that many slimming centres push their customers into programmes that are not scientifically designed. And sometimes, what you are promised is not what you get. Keya Karmakar, a Calcutta-based housewife, enrolled for a slimming package after she was assured that body massages, workouts and dieting would work wonders for her. But she ended up getting only heat wraps.

Experts say that one should be careful when a slimming centre advises heat wraps or crash diets.

“A heat wrap treatment dehydrates the body, leading to weight loss. Human bodies are made up of 95 per cent water and dehydration could lead to severe ailments,” says bariatric surgeon Dr V.K. Bhartia. He adds that those with diabetes, high blood pressure and renal problems should avoid the procedure.

In fact, it is a mistake to think that a heat wrap melts fat. “Heat doesn’t help melt fat. You can only lose weight by exercising and following diet restrictions,” asserts Dr Somnath Bhadra, a Calcutta-based physician. However, centres such as VLCC claim that they administer what is called a “cellotherm treatment”, a German technology that burns fat and cholesterol using infrared waves.

Crash dieting too could lead to nutritional deficiency. Das remembers that he was asked to consume not more than 800 calories a day, though an adult male needs around 1,600 calories daily. “Crash dieting is very unscientific as nutritional deficiency leads to hormonal imbalance and the body starts gaining weight rapidly. Starvation releases the hunger hormone, leading to hankering for food. Gall stones could also form owing to the non-intake of food over long periods of time,” says Karnika Ghosh Das, head of dietetics, Mercy Hospital, Calcutta. “Therefore a client should not blindly follow the diet chart given by a slimming centre,” she advises.

Others agree that consumers should be careful the moment a weight loss centre urges a drastic, quick-fix solution. Says Surjyashekhar Bose, fitness expert and owner of Bodyline Gym in Calcutta, “One should never try to lose weight rapidly. A drastic weight loss over a short period of time can be disastrous for one’s health.”

So what should you do in case you feel cheated by a slimming centre, or worse, if you are taken ill after following one of its programmes? You could always file a case at the district or state consumer disputes redressal forum or seek justice under the Consumer Protection Act. But be warned that it is usually fairly tough to prove a case of malpractice against slimming centres. Suranjana Chaudhuri, a consumer activist based in Calcutta, says, for example, that it is next to impossible to bring a slimming centre to book for taking a huge amount of money and not delivering any result in terms of appreciable weight loss. “Most centres would try to establish that the client did not follow the instructions properly.”

Though the court order in favour of Abhijit Das is a heartening development, consumer lawyer Prashanta Bishal feels that the best way to protect consumers’ rights is to have a body that would monitor the activities of weight loss centres. “There should be a monitoring body under the state health department to conduct checks,” he says.

Until that happens, you as the consumer have to make sure that the slimming centre you have chosen has a qualified doctor and will design a diet and exercise programme based on your specific needs.

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