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Life after Fen-Phen: Weight-loss battle continues as before

December 21, 1996
Web posted at: 3:20 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Carolyn O'Neil


This is the fifth in a series of reports on the diet drug Fen-Phen.

(CNN) -- While the pounds may melt away with the new diet wonderdrug Fen-Phen, experts agree it's up to the individual to keep the weight off.

When Bill Pickle decided it was time to get serious about weight loss, he turned to Fen-Phen, a diet drug combination that affects the brain's ability to control appetite.


Suzy Goldman didn't have much weight to lose, but she was desperate to shed the 40-plus pounds she gained during pregnancy. She tried diet and exercise, but the weight wouldn't budge, so she too turned to Fen-Phen.

"I think while there are risks, it's a great opportunity for people to lose weight, Goldman says.

So far, Pickle has lost 80 pounds. Goldman has just another seven pounds to go to meet her goal. Both have stopped taking Fen-Phen.

Their challenge now is to go it alone, learning new ways to eat and exercise to keep the weight off.

"Once you come off of them (Fen-Phen), you have to deal with your appetite," says Kathleen Zelman, a registered dietitian.

The latest research shows that those who are most successful in keeping weight off are those who were prepared for life after diet drugs.

"While you're on the drugs, you have to think of life after the drugs, because it is during this drug therapy when you can make those small gradual changes that will ultimately lead to lifestyle changes," Zelman says.

While he was taking Fen-Phen, Pickle learned the importance of proper nutrition and regular exercise at the Behavioral Medicine Research Center in Houston. But not all patients understand the need for lifestyle changes.

"We had some patients gain weight while taking the medication, because it is possible to eat three cheesecakes on the medication," says Dr. Ken Goodrick of Baylor College of Medicine.

Pickle says he's been off Fen-Phen for a month now and so far has maintained his weight loss by continuing to control his food intake, using a treadmill five nights a week and attending support meetings at Baylor University.

Not all diet pill programs offer professional nutrition support, a step Zelman says is a vital missing link.


"They are going to have to go back to basic principles of healthful lifestyles -- eating properly and getting exercise. There's no getting around it, absolutely no getting around it," she says.

In fact, short-term use of diet pills without learning how to eat and exercise is asking for failure.

"Almost virtually 100 percent will regain their weight, and unfortunately, they may gain more weight then they had to start with," says Dr. George Blackburn of Harvard Medical School.

As a result, researchers conclude that diet pills such as Fen-Phen are useful weapons in the war on fat, but are most effective when used as a step in a lifelong journey of weight control.


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