illustration of Jessica Wapner for Weight Matters podcast

Predatory Diet Industry – The “Hoax” Is In

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Intellihealth’s Dr. Louis Aronne and Dr. Katherine Saunders talk with Jessica Wapner about the history of the predatory diet industry and the dangerous diet drug DNP.

Some people who are desperate to lose weight will try almost anything. When that leads them to use dangerous diet drugs they purchase online, the results can be fatal. 

With the One Click podcast, science journalist Jessica Wapner brings awareness to this issue by highlighting the story of DNP, a dangerous diet drug that was first discovered during World War I.

In this episode of Weight Matters, Dr. Louis Aronne and Dr. Katherine Saunders talk with Wapner about the history of DNP, as well as the underlying societal pressures that motivate people to take extreme measures in order to lose weight. 

A Dangerous Diet Drug: DNP

DNP features a chemical compound that was used to make bombs in World War I. People started to realize that the chemical would cause weight loss, but it also raised their body heat so much that several people died. 

Seeing the potential for a “miracle” weight-loss drug, researchers tried to make the chemical safe enough for people to use. Though the drug had some success, doctors had trouble regulating how much people used.

“When people started losing weight according to the recommended amount that their doctor had told them to take, what they would then do was start taking more of it,” Wapner explained. “There was no way to control how much DNP people were taking, and the chemical has a cumulative effect in the body, so the more you take, the worse it’s going to be.” 

DNP is especially dangerous in this regard because it has a “very thin threshold of harm” Wapner shared. 

“With something like caffeine, you can drink lots of coffee before the caffeine will start to affect you poorly. With DNP, it’s a bit of a razor’s edge before it can become harmful, and it’s very difficult to control that,” she said.

Even after experts started to see the dangers of DNP, it took time to remove it from the market. This is a common issue with weight-loss drugs, which are classified as supplements and aren’t regulated as strictly by the FDA as a result.

“The FDA banned it; that lasted for a little while. It then had a resurgence,” Wapner explained. “And later, with the advent of the internet, of course that made DNP much more accessible.”

Understanding the Role of Body Image

People often talk about the negative impact of the internet on body image, but this is not a new issue, Wapner argued. Throughout history, people have taken dramatic action to fit whatever standard of beauty is in vogue at the time.

“This pressure has been going on for centuries, it’s not new. However, it’s also true that social media has ramped it up hugely, because the amount of images that we see every day is so vast,” she explained.

The internet also equips people to seek out information that is often inaccurate or even dangerous to try to take their weight loss into their own hands. And unfortunately, there’s no easy solution. To remove people’s access to drugs like DNP, you’d have to fundamentally change the nature of the internet.

“I think again it returns to the bigger issue about why we turn to these things in the first place,” Wapner shared.

A Path Forward for Healthy Weight Loss

If clinicians want to help solve this problem, Wapner believes the first step lies in understanding the root cause. 

“No matter what a person does as far as trying to diet or exercise or alter their appearance, what matters is actually trying to identify the underlying psychology behind it,” she shared. 

If people feel judged or looked down on by their doctors, they’re less likely to open up about the weight-loss methods they’re trying, so Wapner encouraged doctors to lead with compassion. 

“People will try things. They’ll try what they can afford; they’ll try what celebrities are trying; they’ll try what other people have taken that seems to have worked,” she explained. “If you don’t know what they’re doing, that’s really where the problem starts.”

And for anyone who’s struggling with body image, insecurity, or weight stigma, Wapner encourages them to start by becoming aware of why they feel the way they do.

“Knowledge is power,” she said. “The more we understand that these thought patterns that we fall prey to are not our own, I think the better position that we’re in to step away from them. We all know the story of Rumplestiltskin who lost his power when the woman could say his name. And life is a little bit like that. When we can name something, it loses its power over us.”

Follow Weight Matters wherever you get your podcasts to never miss an episode. To learn more about Dr. Saunders and Dr. Aronne’s work to transform specialized treatments for chronic conditions through the best in medical science and advanced digital technologies, visit www.intellihealth.co/podcast

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