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
Now that Body Solutions not only is being sued by the federal government and several states, but also is struggling to survive its recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, it’s easy to shrug and say that these are just some very unsurprising chickens coming home to roost. But is Body Solutions the problem, or are we? Americans keep getting into the same kind of mess, over and over. Body Solutions, like so many diet products before it, somehow overcame its inherent preposterousness and became a product that many people believe in. That‘s not the same as being a product that actually works, but when it comes to weight loss, isn’t believing half the battle? For instance, here‘s a proven weight-loss plan: Walk two miles every day and eat more vegetables than anything else. Are you motivated yet? Very few people with weight to lose are energized by the idea of getting up an hour early every day and going for a brisk walk, but lots of people seem to find it easier to get motivated for a walk if there’s a magic potion waiting for them.
The central fact about weight loss, the one that we as a nation are constantly realizing and then promptly forgetting, is that losing weight is really, really hard. It‘s time-consuming, discouraging, uncomfortable, disruptive and endless. If you’re overweight, you are dying to cut the ordeal of losing weight down to size, maybe put some sparkle in all the drudgery. You grasp at straws. You throw money at the problem. You try things that you know sound crazy: “Crazy, yes, but maybe just crazy enough to work!” Thousands of companies are competing to build an empire out of those impulses. Body Solutions succeeded.
Before we return to Dr. Kaats, some background. Body Solutions and Mark Nutritionals were created by a former tabloid photographer named Harry Siskind. Siskind was a very successful tabloid photographer, which is to say, hated by many. The actor Kelly McGillis sued Siskind after he and a reporter appeared at a private showing of her house and started asking her husband about his recent arrest for solicitation of a prostitute. A British television star threw a brick at Siskind‘s head. Pete Rose punched him in a parking lot. Christopher Reeve no doubt wanted to go after Siskind too, for lurking in the bushes outside a rehab facility and getting the first picture of Reeve as a quadriplegic.
Siskind did not get rich taking pictures, however, and he and his wife filed for personal bankruptcy in 1997. They moved to San Antonio and began working at a company called Texas D’Lites, a mail-order business selling a cookie that was supposed to help people lose weight. The Siskinds chose San Antonio because, as Siskind would later tell a group of San Antonio business people, he‘d heard it was the fattest city in America. But even surrounded by fat, Texas D’Lites went bankrupt by the end of 1998.
Undaunted, Siskind, less than a month later, started what was then called Mark Pharmaceuticals. He changed the name to Mark Nutritionals in 1999 when the Texas Department of Health informed him that the word pharmaceuticals was misleading. The Health Department also cited the company for “unapproved drug claims” in the labeling of its daytime formula, called “Atomic Energy.” Promotional materials for the product declared that one of its ingredients, chromium picolinate, “may lower blood cholesterol levels and optimize blood sugar.”
From the beginning, Body Solutions has been obsessed, like every other diet supplement in the country, with promoting the scientific basis for its products. Its Web site proudly proclaims that the company is an “industry leader in clinical trials and research.” The first thing you see on the back of a bottle of Evening Weight Loss Formula is a paragraph about how much research Body Solutions has done. Body Solutions‘ customers all cite how natural and well-tested its products are.
This is where Dr. Kaats comes in. He’s done most of the 30-plus studies that Body Solutions has commissioned, at a total cost of a million dollars. Even though the San Antonio--based research company that Dr. Kaats heads -- the Health and Medical Research Foundation -- is independent of Body Solutions, Dr. Kaats signed a contract to be Body Solutions‘ official spokes-scientist. That contract almost immediately placed him in the middle of the worst publicity the company has ever had.
“You must regret signing that contract every single day,” I said.
“Sometimes more than once a day,” he laughed.
I almost felt bad for him, but Dr. Kaats made his own uncomfortable bed to lie in. His degree is in psychology, not medicine, yet he volunteered to defend the quasi-medical claims of Body Solutions’ products -- namely, that they reduce fat while retaining muscle mass and building bone density.
Here is a portion of our conversation regarding the weight-reducing properties of aloe vera, one of the ingredients in Evening Weight Loss:
Dr. Kaats: “The aloe vera extract appeared to act as some sort of carrier.”
Me: “Carrier of . . . ?”
Dr. Kaats: “Some of the people in the aloe business say that the aloe vera extract serves as a way to make the product more bio-available.”