I Was Addicted To Diet Pills & It Nearly Killed Me

I Was Addicted To Diet Pills & It Nearly Killed Me ©iStock/filadendron

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve had serious body image issues for the majority of my teen and adult life. In fact, I’m pretty cavalier about openly admitting that I had a pretty serious eating disorder at one point, and while the entire fact that I wasn’t eating was bad enough, it was made worse by a certain addiction I had: I was an EDNOS-suffering model addicted to diet pills.

The allure of diet pills was a no-brainer for someone like me. I didn’t have time to spend hours at the gym, even though I did. I couldn’t deal with the fact that my body was screaming for sleep, and while I loved the hollow feeling of having not eaten for a day or two, I always felt tempted to eat something once in a while. Just looking at those commercials showing women who were thin, smiling, and full of energy just made me envious. I wanted that happiness. I wanted that svelter figure. I wanted that energy, and to make the thought of food go away once and for all.

I started off with ECGC pills, which are made from green tea. That gave me a small boost of energy, but no results in terms of weight loss. (At this point, I was 5’9″, 120 pounds and a size 0, so it’s not exactly like there was much to lose, but as a model, there’s always more you can lose.)  Though I was underwhelmed, I decided that I wanted more. I wanted a stronger diet pill, and God help me, I was going to find it.

It didn’t take too long for me to find someone who was able to get me ma huang pills. Ma huang is also known as ephedra – a now-illegal stimulant linked to strokes, deaths, and heart attacks. I took a chance, and I was absolutely hooked. For a while, food was an afterthought. I felt full of energy, and felt my heart racing with every step I took.

The effects it had on me were profound, but none were quite as profound as the effects it had on my moods. One minute, I was euphoric. The next minute, I was ready to eat a bunch of 10-calorie Jello cups with the sole purpose of throwing them up. It was a roller coaster, but I saw pounds still shedding off. I loved watching the numbers drop, so I kept popping them. I felt my heart fluttering more and more.

Within a matter of months, I had shrunk to a very tiny size 00. It was getting very hard to find clothing that fit me, so I started to wear children’s clothing instead. Additionally, my mood swings were getting worse and worse. Soon enough, I hit a plateau at around 110 pounds. Despite everything, I still wanted to be thinner. I was furious with myself, despite the fact that many of my friends who also had eating disorders were jealous of my waistline. It still wasn’t good enough for my standards.

I was already spending way too much time at the gym. I was already eating only 800 calories a day, and had even done the 2, 4, 6, 8 diet. I started combining diet pills and any other stimulant or appetite suppressant I could get my hands on. My regimen turned to one of ephedra, caffeine, hoodia, and laxatives. For “dessert,” I would indulge in flavored fiber tablets.

At the time, I was working as a model, and I began to notice that fewer and fewer people were interested in shooting me. They wouldn’t give me a direct answer most of the time as to why. I finally found out why when one of them told me in confidence, “You’re too skinny. You look like you’re about to die.” It also didn’t help that I had begun to faint on a regular basis. Going to the gym, or even walking for any length of time, was now out of the question.

The mood swings had gotten worse and worse, and to make matters worse, the fainting became a regular occurrence. I still couldn’t give it up. I needed to be perfect. I needed the thrill of the pills, and I needed to feel in control of my eating at any cost. At school, people began to ask if I was sick. I laughed at them, and felt proud that I was able to get to such a low weight.

The final straw happened after a bad breakup, when I began to exercise until I started getting serious chest pains. Long story short, I ended up being hospitalized, started flipping out, and almost had a seizure. If my dad hadn’t called 911, I would probably have been dead.

When they got me in the ER, they had found out that my resting heart rate was about 150. They also found out I was severely dehydrated. Had I taken more diet pills, or stressed my body any more, I would have had a heart attack. It was then I realized something. When the photographer told me that I looked like I was about to die, it wasn’t because he was trying to just come up with an excuse not to shoot me. It wasn’t because, as I had thought, I wasn’t thin enough. It was because I was actually dying.

While in the hospital, I made the decision to get better. I had to go to counseling on an outpatient basis, and began to slowly come out of it. It took a very long time, but now I’m a healthy size 12, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I no longer long for the days of being a living twig, nor do I want to pursue modeling ever again.

I don’t know if anyone who’s dealing with an eating disorder is reading this, but if you are, know that I’ve been there, and I’m sorry that you’re suffering. There is hope out there, and there is a lot of help. Please, I’m begging you, talk to someone. Anyone. Just please, do what you can to fight it. I don’t know who you are, but I love you. I know others love you. If not for yourself, fight back for others. And for the love of God, please, please, please stay away from diet pills.

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a New Jersey based writer and editor with bylines in Mashed, Newsbreak, Good Men Project, YourTango, and many more. She’s also the author of a safe travel guide for LGBTQIA+ people available on Amazon.

She regularly writes on her popular Medium page and posts on TikTok and Instagram @ossianamakescontent.