I was listening to a great podcast about Fen-Phen. (Maintenance Phase is solidly interesting and thought-provoking for anyone interested in ‘…debunking the junk science behind health fads, wellness scams and nonsensical nutrition advice.’)
Listening to this episode about a super-duper popular diet drug from the 1990’s, I was pretty shocked to learn tons of information I didn’t know about that drug combo when I was taking it. The ONLY thing I knew (cared about) at the time: It was the magic bullet in a pill bottle that could change my life.
For the fat kid who had tried and failed at everything to lose weight and who was horribly desperate to be thin; this drug was something I fought hard to get. Never mind that it was essentially prescribed amphetamine and there were plenty of stories of people ‘not doing well’ on the drug; I doc-shopped my butt off until I found a doctor willing to prescribe it. If it meant the ever elusive, cure-all of thinness — I was in, no matter what it took.
I took the meds for about 8 months before they were banned by the FDA. I was crushed when it was pulled from the shelves in 1997. Unlike a friend at the time, I did not go so far as trying to procure the drugs illegally. That’s only because I am at my core a rule-follower afraid of getting into trouble of any kind. Anyway, that prescribed pill combo worked so well for me with rapid weight loss and no hunger. It was magic. I dropped perhaps 60 pounds in 8 months. I felt like I had found the answer to a happy(thin) life. Never mind the side effects of being jittery, dry mouthed and a racing heart. AS SOON as the prescription ran out, when the FDA pulled the combo, I rapidly re-gained all the lost weight back plus a few empathy/sympathy pounds for good measure. The acute withdrawal was pretty awful as well. I remember feeling like an emotionally deflated balloon for well over a year.
It was not the first miracle cure that would work and then fail in my life. Not by a long shot.
Eventually I moved along to a myriad of other quick-fixes. Way, way down the road of discarded faux-silver bullets I would finally find the combination to health that would work well for me; I would reverse type 2 diabetes and find an active, healthy life. Then I would move into some intensive therapy and would learn to understand an eating disorder, love my body and regain (or gain for the first time?) confidence in who I was and how I was living my life.
Fast-forward 30 years and I’m just now understanding how many horrid physical side-effects were truly possible from this 2-pill combo. Really horrid stuff. I’m fairly certain I escaped most of it; but there is a hint of lingering doubt that something might show up in the future.
As I’m listening to this podcast I also began wracking my brain wondering if the doctor told me the side effects or if I purposefully ignored them all. Some pretty horrid side effects were possible. And I felt like listening to the podcast in 2021 I was hearing them for the very first time… I’m guessing I was 300 pounds of hyper-focused desperation who heard ONLY the phrase ‘you will lose tons of weight’ and ignored everything after that… Just a hunch. But a pretty good hunch.
Makes me sad for that younger version of me; I can see her pretty clearly and feel such compassion and sadness and grief for who I was and how much I HATED the body I was living in. It was ALL about thinness. Nothing else mattered. Being thin would fix everything. Being thinner would keep me from being bullied, would help me find a husband, have kids, BE HAPPY. I was so, so, so focused on thin being the cure-all that I probably a) blindly ignored warnings and/or b) brushed them off in favor of a desired outcome regardless of the outcome and/or c) in a deeply ironic way; traded a happy ‘now’ for any potential loss of quality of future life.
It was a fairly short-lived wave of sadness. Didn’t take me too long to re-orient to the present once the podcast was over. After all, I am a very different person today. Reflection is useful, yet I don’t want to get caught up and waste moments enjoying the life I have currently carved out and built. It was interesting that I could FINALLY look back on that past version of me and feel compassion, care, love and sadness and not shame, anger and disgust. Not that I needed it; yet ironclad proof that therapy works.
I’m really curious about anyone else who dabbled with Fen Phen and how you feel about it 30 years later… If you’re willing to share, I would love to hear your story.