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Woman seen from ankles down on white scale on a pinkish floor
picture source

weighing in

Source: Corbis

Diet Pills? Really?

Even Feminists Take Phentermine

Why you should care

Because despite Dove ads’ best efforts, women are STILL risking their health to fit some insane image of skinny. 

It happened again. I got fat. Including the time I was pregnant with twins and tipped the scales at 205 pounds, this is my — oh gosh — sixth or seventh time achieving extreme chub.

But just so we’re clear, in between my fat years, I am not exactly what you’d call statuesque. My Scandinavian genes are not pooled from the supermodels and tennis stars. We’re more like the people you call when you need potatoes pulled from the frozen soil. We’re a sturdy clan. When I am at my thinnest and fittest, I am a size 8. And I still feel pretty foxy at a comfortable size 10.

I know there are a thousand better things to do with your life than worry about your weight. Still…

Besides, I’m a feminist. I believe most commercial images of women are harmful to our society at large. I believe we should have subsidized childcare to help counter-balance the economic hit women take when they become mothers. I also believe that dieting to be smaller than your natural size is anti-woman. I know there are a thousand better things to do with your life than worry about your weight.

Still, I find myself popping potentially harmful diet pills without so much as a backwards glance. After losing 25 pounds in about 4 months by eschewing all sugar and grains, drinking gallons of water, keeping portions small — and secretly swallowing one tiny little capsule a day — I started getting a lot of compliments. “Yeah,” I’d say proudly, “No grains or sugar of any kind; it’s really not that bad.”

Samanthan in black top on white backdrop

Samantha Schoech

Which was absolutely true, but I knew enough to leave out the part about the 15 mg. of phentermine I was taking to help curb my appetite. I knew that if I told people the truth it would diminish my accomplishment, which, was, excuse my French, still really effing hard to achieve. Plus, they’re just sort of tacky in a back-of-US-Magazine kind of way. I mean, who takes diet pills anymore? They are like the provenance of depressed 1950s housewives, or vain Dynasty-types trapped in the ‘80s.

Phentermine happens to have a bad rap. It’s the phen part of the notorious “Fen-phen” miracle weight-loss pill of the ‘90s that also happened to cause heart valve problems and potentially fatal pulmonary hypertension. After a class action lawsuit and damages of over $3.75 billion, Fen-phen was pulled from the market.

Well, half of it anyway. Phentermine remains the number one most prescribed diet drug in America. It is illegal in Great Britain.

I was prescribed phentermine by a doctor I’ve still never met. It was given to me at my first appointment at a weight-loss clinic in the San Francisco Bay Area; it was included as part of my $350/month membership fee. (I was later required to get a full medical exam and a complete blood workup).

I didn’t ask what it was. I didn’t ask about side effects. I just took my little bottle in hand with my heart full of hope. As a life-long yo-yo dieter, I was overjoyed to have something that might make the arduous weight-loss journey a little easier this time around.

I didn’t ask what it was. I didn’t ask about side effects.

I didn’t even look up the side effects, until those first 20 pounds were history. I didn’t want to know. Why would I? I dropped 5 pounds the first week, another 3 the week after. And, for the first time in my life, my yeti-size appetite wasn’t sabotaging my effort to eat less and weigh less. I’d been around this block enough times to know I wasn’t going to drop the 50 lbs. without it.

When you Google “phentermine” what you find are people trying to figure out how to get it without a prescription. Once you wade through the ads for foreign sources, it is possible to get some real information. Here is a brief list of what phentermine could do to me: xerostomia, restlessness, nervousness, euphoria, agitation, arrhythmia, tachycardia, hypertension, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, rash, facial oedema, urticaria, impotence and changes in libido. Even though there are at least four things on this list I cannot identify, I know that I should be horrified.

Pill bottle on left and pills on right

Source: Getty

Phentermine (trade name Ionamin), one half of the once-popular, now-withdrawn anti-obesity drug Fen-phen

To risk all this for a couple of dress sizes? It’s sad. Just sad.

Slip too far in one direction and you’re a lazy slob with no self-control. Slip too far in the other, and you’re a shallow, self-hating woman…

Only I’m not horrified at all. I am a girl who has fantasized about slicing off her inner thighs and belly bulge. I have tried and failed to become bulimic. Besides, I have no side effects. Oh, a little dry mouth, a little blurred vision, but compared to my renewed energy! My smaller hips! This feels like a small price indeed. In fact, I didn’t even notice any side effects at all until the Internet told me there were some.

Shameful, I know, but there is little I haven’t risked to stay a size 10 (or to claw my way back there again and again after repeated weight gain). I’ve done it all: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, juice cleanses, African hoodia, gym rattiness, South Beach. I’ve even tried that favorite suggestion of the naturally thin to just “eat healthy,” which, in my case generally results in a good 20–pound gain.

I blame my genes. I blame my age. I blame my gut flora. I blame my ranch hand appetite. Who the hell knows why I’m a chubbers. Luck of the draw, I guess.

What I do know is that being a woman is to live in that precarious place where both scale and self-image must remain perfectly calibrated. Slip too far in one direction and you’re a lazy slob with no self-control. Slip too far in the other, and you’re a shallow, self-hating woman, and a slave to harmful standards of beauty. I am raising a daughter, for God’s sake. Teaching her to value herself beyond her appearance is as important to me as teaching her to read.

And yet, here I am: loath to give up my phentermine. I will, eventually. You can’t stay on this stuff indefinitely. And even though I am still about 20 pounds shy from my (very sane) goal weight, I might try to go it alone. But not yet… I am too scared of the backward slide. Plus, I’ve already bought new jeans!

So I will continue to pop pills. I will continue my inner battle. The feminist in me will argue that I should focus my attentions on achieving self-acceptance and becoming the proud bearer of size 14 thighs. But the fatty in me still just wants to be thin — no matter how I get there. 

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