It is not common to see posts or blogs relating to eating disorders that blatantly refer to disordered eating behaviors being practiced. Articles and social media posts will refer to these behaviors without naming them, seemingly in fear that naming a behavior will trigger someone to use it who otherwise might not have.
However, in avoiding direct discussions on eating disorder behaviors, we lose an opportunity to inform that could strengthen an individual’s recovery. One such eating disorder behavior that is often not discussed is the utilizing of appetite suppressants and diet pills.
Diet pills are commonly referred to and used but less commonly understood, which is concerning considering the damage they can cause. These pills work by “reducing your body’s way to fully absorb nutrients consumed or by suppressing appetite .”
Frighteningly, diet pills and appetite suppressants are easily accessible and can be purchased over-the-counter despite the fact that diet pills sold this way are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) . Our culture celebrates diet pills or appetite suppressants as an “easy” method of weight-loss, focusing on the immediate results of this “magic pill” without considering the numerous and severe long-term physical, mental, and financial consequences, which are detailed below.
The Prevalence of Diet Pills and Appetite Suppressants
Companies that sell diet pills are very sneaky in their portrayal of these products, constantly recognizing when public opinion has caught on to the dangers and quickly rebranding in order to continue making money off of the same dangerous product. These companies often use social media and celebrity influence to sell laxatives, appetite suppressants, and diet pills, preying on people’s desires to fit socially accepted beauty norms and be validated for this.
These celebrities often tout that the products “really worked” with no side effects, not acknowledging that they likely do not actually use the product and that they have access to a number of professionals that actually create their public image. With all of this misinformation, it is not surprising that nearly a quarter of Americans have used diet pills and/or appetite suppressants in an attempt to lose weight . These pills are also widely used by those with eating disorders, with 50% utilizing them as a part of their disorder.
It should not be surprising that using and abusing diet pills creates a concerning risk for eating disorder diagnoses. The notion of using these pills as a “casual” or “temporary” method of weight-loss does not hold water when one considers the data behind the use of diet pills and appetite suppressants as they relate to eating disorder issues.
Studies show that “1.8 percent of those who used diet pills during the previous year reported receiving a first eating disorder diagnosis during the next one to three years .” Researchers are especially concerned with the implications this has on teen use of these products, as “use of these products for weight control may serve as a ‘gateway’ to disordered eating practices by dysregulating normal digestive function and fostering dependence on unhealthy and ineffective coping methods .”
Physically, diet pills and laxatives wreak havoc on the body, often resulting in organ damage. One specific “weight-loss supplement OxyElite Pro caused nearly 100 people in 16 states to develop hepatitis, leading to liver replacements, hospitalization, and even death .
The lack of regulation and widespread misinformation regarding diet pills and appetite suppressants make them incredibly dangerous to those with or without a predisposition to disordered eating.
Resources Karges, C. (2017). Eating disorders and co-occurring diet pill use. Eating Disorder Hope, retrieved from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/eds-co-occurring-diet-pill-abuse.  Belluz, J. (2014). Survey: Americans still believe that diet pills work – they don’t. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2014/12/30/7468467/diet-pills-weight-loss  Roeder, A. (2019). A gateway to eating disorders. The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/11/diet-pills-linked-with-eating-disorder-diagnosis/.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published February 22, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on February 22, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC