A simple online search will bring up thousands of sites where you can buy diet pills. Instagram is full of #spon posts for weight loss teas and coffees. Even on television, ads for weight loss drugs are shown between episodes of Judge Rinder and Dinner Date.
Quick fix solutions are what people want, and when they’re readily available over the counter or online, we assume they must be safe.
‘Lose 5lbs a week with this wonder drug’ seems much more attractive than ‘lose 1lb a week with diet, exercise, and self control’.
Reports last year suggested that a so-called ‘skinny pill’ has been found by scientists that may give people these dramatic results they crave, with tests in mice showing that the drug changes the way the body reacts to fat, essentially blocking it from being absorbed.
Of course, like with any ‘too good to be true’ solution, there were downsides. Some of the mice ended up with edema (fluid retention) and, even if this side effect was somehow rectified, finding a way for humans to have the same results as these tiny rodents would take some time.
There are plenty of diet pills already available, however. One of the most common diet pills on the market right now – Orlistat – works in a similar way to the new drug being tested.
According to the NHS website the pill, which is sometimes marketed as Alli or Xenical, inhibits up to 30% of dietary fat from being absorbed in your gut. Instead it just passes right through, straight into the toilet (or your pants if you’re unlucky enough to suffer the side effect of ‘leaking’).
This is the main side effect of Orlistat – oily diarrhoea-like stools – which will sometimes come without warning. You can also have heavy wind and painful bloating.
Dr. Daniel Atkinson, Clinical Lead at Treated.com told Metro.co.uk: ‘There are less common side effects to be aware of too. The likes of rectal pain, feeling bloated, feeling tired, increased frequency when passing stool, irregular menstruation and tooth or gum problems are all potential side effects.’
They can also interfere with the nutrients your body takes in, with Dr. Daniel saying, ‘some good vitamins and nutrients are found in fats so eliminating them altogether might lead to vitamin deficiencies if they’re taken for several months.’
These, however, are normally taken under supervision of a doctor or pharmacist, so if the side effects are something you feel you’ve considered and can handle, then at least you’re going into the situation informed.
This is where we come to the ‘acceptable face of diet pills’ in the form of something like raspberry ketones (which swept the internet some years back, being touted as a ‘natural’ alternative to traditional medicine and willpower), teas and coffees designed for weight loss, or thermostatic weight loss drugs, which include green tea extract, bitter orange extract, capsaicin, and chromium.
Many of these are bought online, with no guarantees about their ingredients, effectiveness, and safety.
For any of these, side effects can range from headaches, to nausea, to hives, to even liver failure in some cases where drugs have not been taken with food as directed.
Some people might see the downsides of these drugs as a small price to pay for accelerated weight loss, but unless you’re under guidance from a medical professional, there’s no way to ensure what you’re taking is safe, particularly if you’ve bought pills online.
And it’s a slippery slope.
DNP is a diet pill which has been doing the rounds again recently, as a spate of young people reportedly died after taking it.
It’s readily available on seemingly-legit websites. What these websites fail to mention is the fact that the chemical reaction that helps you lose weight through taking DNP is the very same thing that can kill you.
It can cause fatal hyperthermia, with your body essentially cooking itself from the inside. Five people last year lost their lives to DNP.
Although the Food Standards Authority have confirmed it isn’t safe for human consumption, it hasn’t halted its availability, and it hasn’t stopped people taking that risk in the hopes that it’ll give them the quick results they long for.
It might seem extreme, but the diet culture that leads to people searching for such extreme measures starts right on your own social media feeds. When it comes to the ‘skinny teas’ you might see when scrolling down your timeline, you’re not being sold a medical product, but a lifestyle one.
Sites where you might buy chromium or DNP are touted as medical retailers, but for some people the need to lose weight starts on pastel-hued Insta click-throughs featuring women in crochet bikinis.
Despite not being as dangerous as drugs like DNP the message is the same for weight loss teas – this will get you what you want without trying. Those teas, in reality, are just laxatives dressed up in new packaging. Most contain senna, which is a common ingredient in laxatives you’d buy from a pharmacy.
Unsurprisingly, it makes you poo, and can even stop your contraceptive pill from working. Other effects of senna can include abdominal pain and discomfort, cramps, bloating, gas, nausea, diarrhoea, potassium depletion, muscle spasms, and an abnormal heart rhythm.
‘The continuous flushing out of your system means you may not be absorbing vital nutrients to stay healthy, you could become dehydrated, you’ll feel uncomfortable and it’s an unsustainable diet plan,’ says Dr. Daniel.
‘Rather than using laxatives to facilitate weight loss, make sure you’re getting enough fibre in your diet, in the form of fruits and vegetables, and healthy cereals. This will help with digestion and you will feel fuller for longer (so you aren’t as tempted to snack before your next meal).’
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The fact is, there is no quick fix to weight loss, and if you’re losing weight in a healthy way, laxatives and pills that change the way your body works aren’t generally going to be included in that.
It’s not to say there will never be a reason for weight loss aids. In fact, doctors sometimes recommend them in cases where patients need to lose weight quickly before surgery, or when diet and exercise haven’t had the expected results.
But taking (often unregulated depending on where you get them) drugs without medical supervision isn’t just a case of will I lose weight or won’t I, however. You’re playing with fire.
If you want to lose weight, speak to your GP and do it in a way that won’t hurt you.
‘You should speak to your GP about your intentions to lose weight so they can give you some guidance on the best practices to do so. With weight loss, it’s a marathon rather than a sprint so you need to be patient with your journey,’ says Dr. Daniel.
‘If you do need some extra help to reach your target weight and lower your body mass index, they might suggest medication. But the most important thing is to make sure that you’re keeping to your diet plan and doing enough physical activity.’
If it sounds too good to be true, it normally is.
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