Monday, May 4, 2009

Death by Diet Pills (Literally)

Those of you who lived through the ephedra/ma huang recalls of the 90’s and all the resultant so-bad-you-can’t-stop-watching Lifetime movies will not be surprised to learn that the bane of Jessie Spano have struck again. A person - a woman, I’m assuming although the reports don’t say - died recently from using the popular diet pill Hydroxycut. The old formula made with with ephedra, naturally, was recalled years ago but this new death, along with at least 14 other reports of severe liver damage, is being attributed to the “new, safe” formula that line the shelves at every GNC. In addition to liver damage, a host of other ailments including “documented seizures, cardiovascular disorders and rhabdomyolysis, a type of muscle damage that can lead to kidney failure” are being reported by the FDA.

If you don’t immediately recognize the name, anyone who has opened a ladymag in the past 10 years will recognize their advertisements. These two-page glossies usually feature Ashley/Cindy/Kelly/Generic Barbie in the classic 3/4 turn, spray tanned in a bikini and heels pose. Then in a smaller box you see whatshername looking dumpy and fat in the exact same bikini. “I lost 67 pounds FAST!*” The copy screams, with the asterisked text adding “She-Ra lost the weight over 52 months with Hydroxycut and a sensible diet and exercise program. Model was remunerated.” (In case you don’t have a dictionary handy, “remunerated” means they were paid.) And don’t forget the straight-from-general-casting Hottie in a Lab Coat vouching for it’s medical efficacy!

I hate these ads and yet I’m mesmerized by them. The first time through a mag, I read it for the articles but the second time - I’m all about the advertising and I admit, these hold my attention long enough to get hemerrhoids. What is so compelling about them? The lure of quick, easy weight loss. The obvious and marked change in the before-and-after shots. The (fake, probably) testimonials. The stupid doctor. And yet, it’s our modern day fairy tale. These Cinderellas went from rags to riches - beauty is the new money, honey - all with one little magic pill. That’s even easier than a glass slipper! Cheaper too.

I remember one day in GNC staring at the pretty displays of diet pills when a salesman sidled up to me, “Would you pay $80 a month to be thin the rest of your life?” Honestly? I absolutely would. In fact, most people would probably pay much more than that - it’s become that important to us. The trick, of course, is if they actually work.

Back in high school, I used to buy those “mini-thins.” Mostly I think I liked them because a) you had to be 18 to buy them and of course I wasn’t but the cashier always sold them to me anyhow and b) they gave me a mad rush of energy courtesy of all the caffeine that I used to slam through back-to-back waitressing shifts and finals. But despite their name, I never did lose any weight I could attribute to their use. That, thankfully, was the end of my experimentation with diet pills. They didn’t work for me, I never used them again. (Well, okay, I did for one day.)

I have, however, had many friends over the years who have used and abused them. Some took them for the energy rush while others relished the quick-but-temporary weight loss that occurs the first couple of weeks. Despite being a staple of every eating disordered girl I have known, none of them though have seemed to have any lasting weight loss from the pills. In fact, most of the ED’ed girls I have known that take them, use them as a means to get through their workouts since they aren’t eating enough food to fuel their activity. But the extra exercise makes them extra hungry. And so they restrict more. It’s a vicious cycle. And for the “normal” women I know that take them? No lasting weight loss there either.

So who is buying these pills? And why? Have you ever tried diet pills? Did they work for you? And even if they did, how do you feel about knowing that you’re co-signing with your liver? Anyone else just mesmerized by the ads?