My Ephedra Days

One of the questions I ask Movers & Shakers is, “What diet/nutrition/exercise programs have you tried in the past?”  In thinking about how I would respond to that, the scary word “Ephedra” comes into play.  The story starts back in my college days when the campus nurse practitioner was helping me learn to eat better.  Seeing modest gains, I thought, “I wonder if I could ramp this up a notch with some diet pills.  Nothing major.  Let’s go see what they have in the nutrition aisle at Wal-Mart.”

Red Army
Thijs van Exel via Compfight

I don’t recall the brand name now, but I do recall buying bottle after bottle of pills for several years that I took regularly.  In the mornings, I would swing by the vending machine to buy a 16-oz. bottle of orange juice, which I would use to wash down my pills before darting from my dorm room to class.  I didn’t know at the time that the Food and Drug Administration didn’t classify these pills as “drugs,” and wasn’t, at that time, paying attention to whether they were safe or effective.

With minimal focus on nutrition as the key player in my college weight loss attempts, I had no idea that my bottle of orange juice was equal in calories to four to five servings of fruit.  I ate primarily Subway turkey sandwiches and salads, and Healthy Choice meals at home.  It was the era of “Jerad,” “The Subway Diet,” and shell necklaces.

Ephedra, or “Danny Crack,” as my friends called it, was this mysterious powdery substance that came in capsules.  You had to swallow them quickly before they got wet in your mouth, or you’d be left with an aftertaste of ash and sulphur.  Even if you did get the capsules down quickly, sometimes a burp or belch would allow it to escape.  That’s part of the reason why I gravitated toward juice rather than cola to take them with.

From my perspective, taking Ephedra was a lot like drinking caffeine.  It gave me an edge.  My observations felt crisper.  There was some extra pep in my step.  Friends often asked for one on nights that we would go out to bars.  They really did “give you wings” better than any energy drink.  They also curbed appetite.

“I took one of his pills last weekend, and I wasn’t hungry again until next Tuesday.”  This was a quote from a friend, Robin, with whom I’ve long since lost contact.  Ephedra certainly did pack a wallop in terms of cranking up energy and metabolism while toning down appetite.  It also cranked up the cardiovascular system in dangerous ways.

In both of these examples I refer to my friends being given one capsule.  The directions on the bottle explained that it takes the metabolism a week to adjust to the effects of the supplement, and that it is best to take one pill twice a day for the first week.  I was taking four to six pills a day for several years, but I wouldn’t allow my friends to take more than one on their first go.

It wasn’t like I was a drug dealer — I bought this stuff at Wal-Mart.

While I never noticed any ill effects from living on ephedra and TV dinners, I was losing weight and looking good.  I was irritable if I didn’t get my ephedra when expected, and I panicked when the FDA announced that Ephedra was being pulled from the market.  I spent several hundred dollars trying to stock up before the last of the supply was gone forever.

I. Was. Addicted.

I talk about making sustainable choices with regard to weight loss.  Whether than means choosing an exercise program that you can do regularly without exhausting yourself and giving up, selecting meal plans that will nourish your body rather than strip it of particular resources, or picking supplements that will not leave you in an unsustainable condition when you stop taking them, it’s important to begin with the end in mind.

Sensa is all the rage now.  It’s a product that you sprinkle on your food.  The commercials show thin people eating hot dogs and pizza and losing weight.  What’s actually happening with Sensa is that the users are sprinkling chemicals on the foods that make the body feel full.  Users aren’t consuming the nutrients they need.  They’re starving, but the Sensa sprinkles make their brains say, “It’s OK.  I’m full.”  It’s chemically-induced starvation.  Can you imagine how hungry you’re going to be when you run out of or stop buying your sprinkles?

I’m so fortunate not to have had a heart attack or stroke from taking ephedra for so long and at such high doses.  I’m thankful that I didn’t cause any of my friends harm by giving them diet pills, too.  In retrospect, it was such a poor decision, made from ignorance.  I didn’t know any better.  I didn’t know that the pills were harmful.  I didn’t think through to the end how things would turn out when I eventually stopped taking ephedra.  I didn’t think about what I was putting into my body to nourish it.  I only thought about what I wasn’t putting into my body to make it slimmer.

I’m so glad my ephedra days are over, and I am much wiser, having been through the entire experience.

Did you take diet pills?

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