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

Appetite Suppressants

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.

Fat Binders

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.

Fat Burners

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.


About banks1850

I'm a regular guy, very happily married, I have no kids, 1 dog (ok he's sort of a kid), love sports (playing and watching), and enjoy helping others. I'm an ACE certified personal trainer since early 2010 and I focus on impact athletics performance training and also beginner development for both nutrition and exercise. I'm a bit of a nerd, as such I love to read about health and wellness and much of my nutrition and biological knowledge comes from college and advanced text.

Posted on May 16, 2011, in weight loss. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you on this topic. When I first decided to make some changes to my life, and make no mistake, its a change in lifestyle NOT a diet, my first instinct was to go back to my old school thinking which was “Whats the fastest way I can lose weight?” I started thinking about Alli, bc I heard it helps you lose weight faster. I started doing research on it only to find now they think it may cause damage to liver and kidneys. I started to remember when I was in my 20’s and I was taking Xenadrine….and one night my heart was pounding so hard out of my chest I almost passed out (I stopped after that) One of my real eye openers was about 10 years ago, when a friend of mine and I were in GNC and we were asking the person who worked there what pills were good….we were telling her “we need something good we have tried everything” Then it hit me….I looked at the girl and then my friend and said “yeah we tried everything but eatting right ” We all laughed….but it was an eye opener. I now know and everyone should know, if you want to be healthy dieting, weightloss surgery, diet pills, these things are band aids and quick fixes….the only way to get truly healthy is changing your lifestyle and your attitude.

  2. Great post!! Nicely organized and presented.

  3. Excellent post, as always! I sometimes diminish the awesomeness of my own 63 pound (and counting!) loss by thinking, “well, its taken me a year and a half to do it” while others are losing just as much, if not more, much faster. But then i think: wait, i have had THE MOST FUN YEAR OF MY ENTIRE LIFE! I have learned so much. I have been doing it at a sustainable rate FOR ME. I have never once done a diet or diet pill or neglected a well-earned rest day. I couldn’t agree more with the “the harder you work for it, the more you appreciate it” sentiment. When people ask “whats your secret?” I smile and say “patience and bull-headedness” 🙂

  4. It is amazing that with all I know…………all I have learned and seen…………I still have that moment when I pick up the bottle and read it. Or write down the number at 3 am for the fast weight loss ‘supplement’.

    Thank God I am knowledgeable now and know better.

    Thanks for the good read my friend.

  5. This is a relevant response to the many questions people present such as, “you look great. How did you do it?”. I’ve explained the lessons learned and dedication I’ve come to appreciate with my new lifestyle and still I’m met with skepticisms. Our society is geared towards instant gratification. Who wants to work for something if the populous says “it” will work for you. Thank you for your insightful explanations. I’m looking forward to showing this post to many who tell me they just want a pill.

  6. Well said. On a side note, the few people I knew that have taken Alli had… issues… keeping their undies clean… if you catch my drift? Not cute. After that, diet pills scare me in a whole new way lol.

  7. Jeannie (arewethereyet)

    I love that you reference this on MFP.

    Recently I have a new situation where I have been given a anti-seizure medication to stop daily debilitating migraines. The side effects are many, one of which is weight loss. The reason? I have NO appetite whatsoever. The clock that says “You are hungry” is gone.

    No hunger trigger at all. This is scary.

    Scarier still is my research into this medication indicates the doctors are giving it to patients as a weight loss tool!!

    All of my research indicates it has some heavy side effects and in fact is called Dopamax by most, including the medical community. When discussing with my neuro he accidently called it this! This is due to short term memory loss.

    All I remember of the first time it was suggested by the NP, she said laughing, “And it will help you lose weight!”. She never mentioned any of the other side effects at all. She seemed rather happy for me. (this same NP had used one of the HCG protocols to lose 15 pounds she rightly gained right back)

    FInally I gave in, after having 2 auras a day, and had just come off a week of obstructed vision, I had to do something. Lesser of two evils and all. (it has released me from migraine for the moment)

    Before I go into the rest, here is the major side effect:

    I was speaking with my daughter about school. Her roomate moved out and she needed the internet to do her schoolwork. I argued for 1/2 an hour that she didn’t need to watch TV, or see her movies, and I wasn’t going to foot the bill for this. Because she is a nurse, she finally picked up on what was happening. She had me write down INTERNET= COMPUTER. I had associated the word with the TV. Scary?

    The 2nd, and equally scary side effect is:

    The fact that I have no trigger to eat. None. Nada. An average person, with no informative background would just not eat. Someone put on this drug as a weight loss tool may be giddy that they are finally ‘in control’ of all their cravings. When in fact, they are on the road to distruction.

    Without MFP and following blogs like yours, I might not have also! Instead I have made sure to make my calories count. Eating good protien, eliminating bread/pasta, adding nuts, fruits and veggies. Setting a time table of when to eat. Even setting an alarm in the beginning.

    What does all this mean to me? That the community at large, in cluding the medical community, is willing to do anything to lose weight, except eat better foods and move more. They will even take the risk of blindness (the worst and of couse less likely) or hair loss (still less than 1% but still OMG!) and short term memory loss which happens to just about everyone over eating better.

    Thanks Banks (still calling you that 😉 for just being there!


  8. To the person taking Topamax; there is an even scarier side effect. I was on it for 3 months; also for debilitating migraines. It didn’t help my migraines but I experienced every side effect listed in that time. I asked my doctor to take me off it because I was getting very scared about the mental confusion. After getting off, I began to notice how compromised my immune system was. Before taking Topamax, I was a person who rarely got sick; since then I catch everything going around. I have to be sure and avoid being around my grandchildren if they are sick because I will get it. It has been 3 years since I was on it and this effect is still with me. The fact that Topamax compromises immune systems has NOT been confirmed by any doctors. I just know what happened to me.

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