Think twice before swallowing that diet pill—there is no substitution for a good, old-fashioned workout.

Think twice before swallowing that diet pill—there is no substitution for a good, old-fashioned workout. / illustration by Adam Omernik

Think twice before swallowing that diet pill—there is no substitution for a good, old-fashioned workout. / illustration by Adam Omernik

Imagine being 5’4”, 130 pounds and being told that you are fat, overweight or obese. Knowing that your social acceptance depends on your physical appearance, you try to find the fastest way to lose that extra five or 10 pounds. What do you do? With 58 million Americans overweight and 40 million dangerously obese, more than half turn to dieting pills.

With conventional weight loss techniques being labeled as boring and time-consuming, many weight loss products, programs and schemes, such as Meridia, Xenical, Hoodia Weight Loss, Diet Trine and Fast Fat Reduction have been created to bypass the drudgery. But none has had a greater impact on society than dieting pills. They have revolutionized the medical field for the extremely overweight, but their positive medical effects have not successfully spilled over to the mainstream.

What contributes to dieting pills’ misuse is their classification. The current classes are prescription pills, over-the-counter pills and weight loss supplements. Prescription pills are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and their possible side effects are monitored. They may be prescribed for weight loss under certain conditions with specific dosages.

Over-the-counter diet and weight loss pills have become the fastest growing section of the weight loss industry. These pills differ from FDA-regulated pills because they are classified as food supplements, not diet drugs. Unlike prescription pills, OTC pills are not tested, do not require dosage specifications, and companies are not responsible for ethical advertising. In addition, OTC pills and weight loss supplements contain amphetamine-like properties that have been known to cause death and there are no reporting guidelines for them.

FDA rules state that if a drug has unusual side effects and has caused deaths, it must be reported. These rules do not apply to OTC drugs. Doctors with patients who are users of OTC drugs typically go after the company if a patient has suffered damage. “There are dangers to consumers who purchase diet pills that contain drugs of unknown origin and quality,” says Steven Galson, M.D. in a FDA news release. By taking diet pills, you put yourself at risk for liver complications, extreme mood changes, nervousness, tremors, diarrhea, bulging eyes, racing heartbeat, elevated blood pressure and even heart failure.

Do diet pills work? Yes and no. Diet pills are designed to help lose weight for a short period of time, but if you are looking to keep those extra pounds off permanently, diet pills are not for you. Diet pills are designed to speed up the metabolism, so once you stop using them, your metabolism returns to its natural state.

Most doctors agree that diet pills should not be a person’s first choice for losing weight. “Diet pills are no good,” says J. Sandiford, Doctor of Chiropractics at Deep Tissue Center in Norwalk. Dr. Sandiford is a doctor who has worked with Olympians such as Maurice Greene and Mike Powell. “I’m not an advocate of chemical intervention. Friends, athletes, models that I know who took these pills in the ‘70s still haven’t recovered completely.”

Most diet pills contain amphetamines that cause addiction to the pill. Amphetamines help speed up your metabolism and increase your energy level, but once addicted, people are prone to abuse the pills or even overdose.

The majority of diet pill users are models, women and athletes. Mo-dels and women mainly take the pills because the amphetamines cause weight loss, but then they become hooked because the lost weight will return without the pills. There have been cases where people have gained twice what they lost once they stopped taking the pills.

Diet pills become extremely dangerous when women who are not overweight or obese begin to take them. Maya Damas of Montclair began taking diet pills because she believed she was fat. With her busy work schedule, she lacked the time to go to the gym to keep her body toned. Damas turned to diet pills because it kept her weight down, and it didn’t affect her daily routine. “The pills worked but I lost my appetite,” Damas says.

University of La Verne junior journalism major Rhian Morgan also experimented with dieting pills to lose a few pounds. “ I used to wake up at 4 a.m., and I wouldn’t be tired. I would just eat two pieces of chicken for the whole day. I thought it was the easy way to lose weight, but it wasn’t.”

Athletes take diet pills for increased energy levels and performance. The pills come before and after games, practices and weight training. Taking the diet pill gives them energy to put in extra hours when their competition is resting.

“People get hooked on the energy,” Daniel Rosales, specialized kinesiologist of Deep Tissue Center, says. “Taking the pills isn’t for the diet anymore; it’s for the energy.”

Because diet pills give you a boost of energy, they sometimes send signals to your brain that make you believe you are able to take on anything that stands in your way. “When I was at the gym, I told a white supremacist to get the hell out of my mirror,” Rosales said. “Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have told him that, but since I was taking that pill, I acted out of my character.”

To lose weight effectively and keep the weight off, old fashioned dieting is the way to go. Changing your eating habits and going to the gym is the safest and most productive way to lose weight.

“I recommend Jenny Craig, Curves and Weight Watchers,” Sandiford says “They are the right way to go.”