My take on “diet pills”
Diet pills are a popular and somewhat controversial topic to most health care experts. While they can often provide a purely physical answer to the problem of weight loss, the psychological aspects of diet aids can be quite harmful to people taking them. Not only are very few diet pills recognized by regulatory and expert organizations, they also vary widely in their physical makeup. Side effects and drug interaction issues are widespread in the diet pill community and it is why I normally advocate a policy of avoidance at all costs. Here’s a short summary of the different types of diet pills out there, and what these types target for weight loss. I finish with a short treatise and summary at the end. As always, please feel free to comment and reply to my posts.
types of diet pills
Examples: Hoodia, Appesat
What they are: when in pill form can be made from many different chemicals and cause many different chemical reactions. In the case of Hoodia, the chemical is called P57 (but it is unknown yet whether this chemical has real suppressant properties). What we do know is that no person with heart disease, thyroid issues, diabetes, high blood pressure, or glaucoma should ever take these or any OTC diet aids without first consulting their physician.
Examples: Alli, Lipobind
What they are: These drugs promote weight loss by preventing the digestion and absorption of fat in food. Specifically they usually block the action of lipase (an enzyme created in the pancreas) on fat, which prevents fat break down, allowing fat to pass through the digestive system in stool.
Examples: Phen375, Capsiplex
What they are: these pills use the drug phentermine or sometimes caffeine derivatives. Working on the hypothalamus, phentermine stimulates the adrenal gland to produce norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter signals the “fight or flight” response in the brain, which speeds up the metabolism while suppressing hunger, similar to when you are in a state of pre-exercise or warm-up. Also it signals for adrenaline and dopamine release in the body which causes fat cells to release stored fat as energy.
Carbohydrate Absorption Inhibitors
Examples: NutraMetrix, Dietrine
What they are: The theory is similar to Fat Binders except they supposedly act upon carbohydrates, but this type of drug has NO clinical proof of success and is generally thought of as a gimmick or “snake oil” product.
Why I HATE diet pills.
Look, I know many of you have probably had short-term success with diet pills, and are defensive about their use as a tool. I applaud you for trying, I really do, but as the old saying goes “the road to hell…”. That’s right, as effective as some of these pills can be (and make no mistake, some of them work exactly as they suggest), that doesn’t mean they are a viable solution for long-term good health.
There are two main reasons why I abhor the use of diet pills; the first reason being that they are generally unsustainable in the long-term. This means that eventually, you’ll have to learn how to eat correctly on your own. 90% of people that use these pills while changing their eating habits or lifestyle to be healthier will need to change again “post pill” to see lasting results. The problem is, once you stop the pills, you’re going to have to RE-LEARN how to eat healthy all over again with a different set of rules, and if you don’t you’ll just put the weight back on despite thinking that you’re doing it right. If you’re going to change your habits at the beginning, just start out the right way in the first place, skip the pills, and instead take an extra week or so and do some REAL research, talk to a Registered Dietitian (not a GP doctor, they are hit or miss with Nutrition advice), read a few clinical studies, talk to people who haven’t just lost weight, but have kept off the weight and become health for two or three or more years, compare a few different people and a few different techniques, and be skeptical. If it sounds farfetched, it probably is.
The second reason is the mental aspect. Losing weight and becoming healthy is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. When we use mental crutches like diet pills, we relieve ourselves of the responsibility, that’s bad. Not only does this make us dependent on an outside factor that eventually will have to stop, but it minimizes the successes in our own mind when we do win. For most people, being overweight and unhealthy is to some degree, a mental problem. Adding a crutch is no different from being an enabler for your own weight issues. There will always be that little voice in the back of your head, even if you succeed, that says “sure you did it, but you did it with PILLS, so it wasn’t a complete victory”.
Summary: In general you could take the word diet pill out of my above writing and replace it with any generic “diet” term like “weight loss surgery” or “diet” (as in the 17 day diet or the HCG diet as examples). Do they work? Many of them do what they say they do (or partially in most cases). Are they healthy? That’s a harder question to answer. You first have to define what you mean by healthy. Does the diet actually CAUSE damage directly? Most don’t if you follow them strictly, but that’s not the only definition of health. By “yo-yo” dieting, you can cause severe damage to your body over the long-term. Add the psychological damage you can do by failing at a diet and the downsides are far greater than people realize. Specifically to diet pills, people expect magical results from them, and very few will achieve the kind of successes that the hype provides which results in an extremely high failure rate with pills. Even most successful graduates of the “pill phenomena” usually look back and recognize that they probably didn’t need them. In my opinion, diet pills are a result of the prevalent attitude toward weight loss, at least in the United States, that attitude being “I want it NOW, and I don’t want to work that hard for it!” I’m sure you all can recognize the folly of this attitude. Following another old adage I usually tell people; the more effort they put into something, the more they will value the results. Diet pills psychologically diminish your sense of pride and/or success, which means you won’t work as hard to keep that success, and it also means you could return to that less healthy lifestyle much easier than you would if you worked really hard to become healthy.