Editor’s Note: This article discusses eating disorders and diet pills.
The number of diet pills available in the market is alarming to say the least. These products, which are easily available to college students and general people, prey on the standards instilled in us by society, especially for women. We are taught that to be beautiful we must be slim, never bloated and stay under a certain, often unrealistic, weight. On the surface, these pills may seem like our saving grace. We couldn’t be more wrong.
From over-the-counter drugs to FDA-approved drugs, there are an abundance of products readily available for those looking to get the number down on the scale. What the labels on these drugs don’t tell you, though, is that they’re simply a product of diet culture that does more harm than good.
Brands like Love Wellness advertise entire lines of diet products designed to curb food cravings or boost your metabolism. In an interview with Sarah Ash, academic advisor and professor of nutrition at NC State, I learned that these products are not tested for safety or effectiveness.
“[The products] they don’t have to provide any evidence that they do what they say they do,” Ash said. “The vast majority of them do nothing.”
According to his expert knowledge in food science, bioprocessing and nutrition, these drugs include caffeine, which increases one’s metabolic rate, but not in sufficient quantities to have a lasting and profound effect. Ash explained that the potential harmful effects of these over-the-counter prescriptions can include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Also, as people get used to them, they might disrupt your sleep patterns.
A similar habituation can occur with FDA-approved drugs. Additionally, the previously FDA-approved weight loss drug Ephedra was pulled from the market in 2004 due to the risk of illness and injury associated with it. However, FDA-approved drugs are for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and are not meant to be used for weight loss purposes only. Using drugs in this way is known as off-label use, Ash said.
Off-label use of drugs like Ozempic has become popular among celebrities but is hardly healthy. They can make you lose weight, but when you stop taking the drug, the weight comes back. These types of side effects prove that there is no easy, long-term solution to weight loss.
The most important thing Ash shared with me, though, is his statement – which may seem obvious – that weight is not a good indicator of health. People are often told not to pay too much attention to scale, but we rarely take that to heart. That’s easier said than done, after all.
Besides being scams at best and poison at worst, weight loss supplements perpetuate false body image narratives.
Everyone in the world could be doing the same workout routine and eating the same foods and we would all be at different weights. Also, two people can be the same weight and look completely different based on genetic factors. Weight is something we can see, but it doesn’t necessarily determine our health. Mental well-being, on the other hand, is not something we can see, but it is definitely indicative of our health. Weight loss remedies have a negative impact on the latter.
As someone who hasn’t had a healthy relationship with food in years, seeing these products is triggering. Products that claim to curb my food cravings make me question my food choices. Products that claim to boost my metabolism make me question my workout frequency.
Considering that college-age people are more at risk of developing eating disorders, this type of thought process is dangerous. Thinking about how much you’re eating or how often you exercise can be the start of problematic eating habits. I started working out more frequently with the intention of being healthier. Before I knew it, I was counting calories and skipping meals. It caused me physical and emotional distress, as my self-esteem plummeted and my ability to focus on tasks faded.
Recognizing these thoughts as harmful is the first step. NC State has nutrition counseling services you can rely on to help challenge notions about healthy eating and body image. During my freshman year, I visited one of the University’s dieticians and sought out the recovery I needed.
If going to a nutritionist doesn’t appeal to you, therapy in general is beneficial. In addition to the help I received from the NC State dietician, my therapist helped me reframe the way I thought about food. NC State’s counseling center can help you get started. There are professionals to talk to and disordered eating seminars to attend.
It’s hard to be aware of what you eat, especially in college. The last thing we need are pill bottles to remind us of that. Not going to the gym every day or eating leftover pizza at midnight is fine. Regardless of what society tells you, there’s no need to reduce your food cravings. A healthy diet leaves room for the foods we like, without guilt. And you don’t have to take diet pills to counter it.
NC State Student Health offers nutritional counseling for those with eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors. Appointments can be made through the HealthyPack portal or by calling 919-515-2563.
If you or someone you know struggles with eating disorders or unhealthy relationships with food, visit the NC State Counseling Center to take advantage of their resources.