Weight Watchers, Meth, Adderall & Lipo: The Tragic Lengths I Went To Be Thin

Even at my skinniest, I was so very unhappy.

Woman struggling with body image and addiction pixelshot, NataBene, vadimguzhva, Timotej Nagy | Canva

My sister and I, from as young an age as I can remember, were on diets. The grapefruit diet, the six-day-nothing-but-watermelon diet, the one Yoplait yogurt, and one raisin bagel-a-day diet. We never made it past day three before breaking down and going to Woolworths for chocolate malts. Sitting on red swivel stools we’d lick the whipping cream up with our tongues, ask the waitress for more whipping cream then stick our straws into the malt. 


I was raised in a house that feared food.

My mother didn’t like food in the fridge. Red Zinger tea, Tab, and nail polish. Anything else put her in a bad mood. What also put her in a bad mood was hearing my sister and I talk about her butt. At the time my sister was seven and I was ten.

“I’ll kill myself if I have a butt like hers,” we’d say, inspecting our butts in the mirror above the bathroom sink, as we balanced on the rim of the bathtub.  

“Men like my butt, they always have,” our mom would tell us. 

But we didn’t like Mom's butt. It looked too big to us. And too wide. 



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By the time my sister and I moved away from home and in with only each other, we were a lot like our mom only instead of Tab and nail polish in the fridge, we kept the items necessary for whatever diet we were on. Carried over from childhood, there were many. 

The eat nothing but egg whites during the week and one Entenmann’s chocolate cake on the weekend diet. The potato diet. Nothing but potatoes all week — fried, boiled, baked. The Madonna air popcorn diet. My sister and I sat side-by-side in our butterfly chairs each with a huge bowl of air popcorn spraying I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter on every handful of kernels. Our little claws reach in, spray, spray. One bowl after the other. 

None of the "diets" worked. 

Most days by 9 p.m. we’d break down, jump in the car, and go to Donut Time on Santa Monica Boulevard for bear claws. Driving home we’d throw half a bear claw out the window feeling better that we at least didn’t eat the whole thing.  


We tried Weight Watchers. Not just to lose weight but to learn what it is to eat healthy. To eat "meals."

“You have to be a certain weight to join,” the lady said. 

We tried another location. This time strapping on weights to our ankles and around our waists with oversized sweatshirts and sweats. We qualified. The next week we went without our weights. 

“This is astonishing,” the lady said. “You’ve both lost ten pounds.”

Weight Watchers was too hard. We were starving. 

“Frozen yogurt, we’ll eat nothing but frozen yogurt.” Every day driving across town to Penguins and The Big Chill, depending on the flavors.

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We were miserable. At twenty-one and twenty-four, we decided we couldn’t keep doing what we were doing. 

“Our butts are looking a lot like Mom,” we agreed. “We can’t live like this.” 

Liposuction. We lived in LA. The two of us standing in our underwear and bras at Dr. Flowers in Miracle Mile as he asked, “What exactly are you not happy with?”

“The underpart of our butts,” we said. “There is no line under our butt.” 

He took out a purple marker drawing circles around our unhappy, can’t live like this, areas. 

“And my arms,” I said. 

“And my outer and inner thighs,” my sister added. 

“Mine too.”

“More and more young women like you are coming in,” he said, shaking his head.


The following month we were recovering from liposuction. The two of us were side-by-side in our twin beds that we had pushed together. We couldn’t wait to see the results. When it was time to take the girdles off, just like when we were little girls, we inspected our butts in the mirror. 

“It’s beautiful, we have a line under our butts.” 

We pranced around town and naked in our apartment happy with our new and "improved" bodies. That happiness and the now everything will be good, we can go ahead and live our lives feeling didn’t last. We began to grow muffin tops.

“What is wrong with us? Why didn’t we have Dr. Flowers point that needle up?”


We were very unhappy.

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Then came the diet drug Fen-Phen. It was the 90s. Fen-Phen was big. Despite being a stimulant it was said to be "safe." Within months we began going from doctor to doctor for refills. It worked. We lost weight. For two years we were grumpy, but we weren’t hungry.

“Miracle Drug Fen-Phen Banned: Known to cause heart problems.” It hit the headlines. 



At this point, my sister and I were no longer inseparable. She had gotten married, and we were off on our own. She turned to exercise. I turned to meth. Over the years I’ve questioned if for me, Fen-Phen was a gateway drug to meth. If so, why didn’t my sister turn to meth? I don’t know. But what I do know is Phen (phentermine) is a type of amphetamine, and methamphetamine (also known as meth) is also a type of amphetamine. 


I was almost thirty. What started as a summer turned to fall. Fall to winter. A year, two, three. I knew I was killing myself, but I was thin. Dying to be thin. More than thin, skinny. I thought I looked great, but I didn’t. And I was scared. Scared of not stopping and scared of stopping. I just knew if I stopped, I’d keep eating and eating and maybe never be able to stop eating. 

I tried Adderall. Another stimulant. Not as prescribed, but as a substitute for meth. And just like Fen-Phen and meth, the amount increased. My tolerance grew. 

Diets, liposuction, Phen-Fen, meth, Adderall. 


Approaching 40, I kept imagining the little girl I once was and how disappointed she would be. 

No longer could I keep doing what I was doing. I knew I needed help, and that I could not do it on my own. I had tried. At first, I turned to therapy until that therapist introduced me to 12-step recovery. It was there I began connecting with people who understood. Who, like me had struggled with drugs, food, dieting, all forms of addiction. What I identified with most was the feelings they shared. The shame, desperation, and loneliness.  

The process was and continues to be slow. But over time, I’ve learned to eat a little more normally. 

Well, "normal" for me. I’ll probably never be a normal eater. I can’t have certain foods in the house — I’ll eat them. Ice cream, no. Cookies, no. Chocolate, anything dessert or bready, no. If I dog sit for a friend, I do so on one condition: no sweets in the house. One friend left ice cream in the freezer. I scooped the ice cream into the toilet and never took care of his dog again. Another time a friend sent me a box of See’s chocolates. One after the other I ate them until the whole top row was gone. I threw the rest in the garbage pouring dish soap over them. Two hours later I rummaged into the garbage, took them out, and washed them off. After eating two, I threw the rest out my bathroom window. 


A lot of my friends get it, they can’t live with certain things like sugar in the house either. But the ones that can, I envy them. I wish I could but at least there’s a solution: Not to have it around. More importantly, because I do have sweets on the weekend, is that I'm off meth, I'm off diets, and I'm off diet drugs. I have to be careful though. Very careful. With a new diet drug on the market, I must not entertain the idea of taking it. I have no judgment toward people who do. I have friends who it has worked for. I just know for me, with my history of drugs and dieting, it's too dangerous.

What isn’t so dangerous is, once in a while, treating myself. Like tonight. I’m meeting my sister for a sister's date. We are going out for chocolate malts with extra whipping cream, just like when we were kids.

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Hannah Sward is the award-winning author of Strip: A Memoir which has received critical attention from authors such as Melissa Broder, Ben Stein, and Nobel Prize in Literature, J.M. Coetzee. Sward has appeared on NBC CA Live, C-SPAN BookTV and in dozens of podcasts and panels. Her work can be read in publications such as the LA Times, Recovery Today, and HuffPost (forthcoming). Sward lives in Los Angeles where she is working on her next book.