By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In the parking lot of a Jack in the Box on Glendale Boulevard a few months ago, I got my body fat tested. We did it at the Jack in the Box because the Winnebago with the testing equipment in it needed a power source, and the manager at the Jack in the Box let us use an outlet in the back of the store.
As I walked over to the Winnebago, a 6-foot-plus, partly bald man in squarish sunglasses approached me. This was Dr. Gil Kaats, who ran research projects for Body Solutions, the company that was about to test my fat. He had a gray-and-white beard and was in dark pants, a white shirt and a tie. We shook hands. We‘d talked on the phone but hadn’t met in person yet.
It was a perfect, sunny Los Angeles afternoon, way before the Federal Trade Commission announced that it was suing Body Solutions over those “Lose Weight While You Sleep!” ads you probably heard on the radio at some point. If you never did hear them, you missed out. They were brilliant. Body Solutions got hundreds of DJs around the country (30-plus in Los Angeles) to use their diet products and do these chatty ads-that-don‘t-sound-like-ads about how much weight they lost. In the commercials, DJs marveled at how easy it was to follow the no-fuss Body Solutions plan: Eat whatever you want, don’t worry about exercising, and then just stop eating and drinking three hours before bed and take one tablespoonful of Body Solutions‘ Evening Weight Loss Formula with a glass of water right before you go to sleep. Watch the pounds melt off.
“I’m Nancy,” I said to Dr. Kaats.
“With the smiling face,” he said.
“Nancy With the Smiling Face” is a Sinatra song, if you didn‘t know. It’s not one of his better songs, but it‘s one you’d know if your name were Nancy. In my experience, it usually signals the start of a conversation that will be, overall, more jokey than the situation warrants.
A technician sat at a computer in the Winnebago, and a Body Solutions PR guy stood in the doorway, as Dr. Kaats (pronounced Kates) put me on a machine called DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry). It‘s an 8-foot-long box hooked up to a computer. I lay on the box, face-up, and a mechanical arm inched over me doing a very low-level X-ray. Dr. Kaats told me it would measure my bone density as well as my body fat. Body Solutions, at the time, was very into bone density. Dr. Kaats had been driving the Winnebago around to different cities for the last several months, offering to test people’s body fat and bone density and start them on Body Solutions.
Once I finished on the DEXA machine, Kaats kindly shooed the technician and Body Solutions‘ PR guy away to tell me my body-fat level (an acceptable 22.8 percent) and to give me the good news that I have “the bones of Godzilla.” I got so caught up in the process -- what woman doesn’t want to talk endlessly about her fat content and osteoporosis risk? -- that I almost forgot to ask my question: What does Body Solutions‘ Evening Weight Loss Formula have to do with bone density, again?
Dr. Kaats’ voice took on a mystified tone.
“I don‘t know,” he said, shaking his head. “When we did the study of the Evening Weight Loss, people who took it at night on an empty stomach increased bone density. If you say, ’Come on, Gil, how can that happen?,‘ I don’t know how it could happen. I can‘t explain it.”
Dr. Kaats had the same response in an earlier telephone interview, when I asked him how Evening Weight Loss managed to fulfill its claim of reducing fat while maintaining muscle: “I can’t explain that.”
Dr. Kaats smiled throughout the conversation and seemed utterly unfazed by his own lack of answers. What kind of company, I wondered, would deliberately steer reporters to this man?
When I started this story, Body Solutions filled me with an odd mix of curiosity and dismissiveness. The promise of losing weight while sleeping seemed absurd. I wasn‘t surprised to find out that, even before the FTC got involved, Body Solutions’ Texas-based parent corporation, Mark Nutritionals, was being sued in five states -- California, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Michigan -- for false and deceptive advertising. I did wonder about the people suing, though. Who could possibly say with a straight face, “I bought a product that told me I would lose weight while I slept and I didn‘t lose weight and now I want to sue”?
All diet products, in my opinion, are either a placebo or speed; either way, they’re a scam. That‘s why every story about every diet product, including Body Solutions, ends with the official reminder that there is no magic bullet when it comes to weight loss, just a lifetime of exercise and eating right. But all of that skepticism just begs the question: If everybody knows weight-loss products are scams, how did Body Solutions manage to grow, in four years, from an unknown product being sold out of a storefront in a strip mall to a multimillion-dollar corporation with 300 employees?