by Oskar Cadena and Alyssa Paulsen

Gym culture, weight loss efforts, and body image obsession are trends often subjective to residents of the United States.

Every few blocks you walk in a given US city, you will most likely see a fitness center or weight loss facility. When walking down the street, joggers and bikers working hard to maintain a specific physique may pass you. This obsession with physique has even pushed the United States to lead the rest of the world in the usage of diet pills and supplements. Often times, women are the ones swallowing diet pills, and men use weight-gain supplements.

Why is it that Americans so strongly desire to maintain a specific physique, usually entailing low levels of body fat? What drives the intense motivation, and sometimes obsession, to maintain perfect muscle tone and definition? For the every day millennial, advertisements of stick-thin models in the media covered by minimal clothing prompt a desire for thinness among women. Many men are plagued by a similar pressure, feeling pushed to gain muscle and lose fat, male athletes especially. Rarely, if ever, is someone with a remote amount of body fat glorified for their physique in the media.

Only the individuals with perfect muscle tone and minimal body fat are praised for their size.

Digital Citizen Alliance said that one in five males ages between the ages of 18 and 25 said that taking APEDs (steroids) is “the only way to make it in professional sports” and that 77 percent of males surveyed said that APED usage in professional sports “puts pressure on young athletes to use drugs to get ahead.

By the age of 17 years old, 78 percent of American teenagers are unhappy with their bodies. This could be paralleled to common conceptualizations of how athletes should look. In fact, there is so much pressure on college athletes to fit this standard of expectation that they turn to supplements far more often than the rest of the population.

As of July 2013, 100 percent of body-builders admitted to taking supplements. Sports that prompt unhealthy relationships with weight loss supplements include gymnastics, figure skating, ballet, wrestling, jockeying, rowing, diving, and swimming. As many as 60 percent of ballerinas and other athletes whose performance requires leanness practice disordered eating and dieting.

Dr. Peter Walters, an Applied Health Science Major at Wheaton College with a Ph.D. in Kinesiology, says that the worst side effect of supplementation use and diet pills is that the user is wasting a lot of money. “Individuals waste huge sums of money on weight loss and muscle gaining products that simply do not do anything. To me that’s the real tragedy.”

Americans spend an estimated $40 billion each year on weight loss products and programs, and most of them gain at least one third of the lost weight back within a given year. As of 2008, muscle-building supplements consisted of a $2.5 billion industry. Outside of the wasted money spent, many individuals who have fallen into the trap of these supplements and diet pills will admit they are nervous that they do not know exactly what is being put in their bodies.

One 20-year-old male from the University of South Caroline expressed his anxiety after spending $1,000. over the course of a single year on protein supplements, “It’s frustrating to not know exactly what I am putting in my body.” Some specialists say that many supplement companies do not recommend the same dosage that a doctor would recommend, resulting in harmful side effects such as muscle cramps, jitters, and stomach pain.

Supplements that might not reap side effects on one individual might cause negative side effects for another.

Green tea pills, for example, were a major trend among women as a way to drop water weight before a special occasion or event. One model reported after using green tea pills before a job, “Many of my friends who used them had nothing but good to say about them. For some reason when I took them, my heart could not stop racing and my hands shook terribly.”

In a generation where we are obsessed with instant results and see time as precious, weight loss pills and muscle-building supplements may seem like a great option to achieve personal fitness goals. However, the most efficient way to lose weight and keep it off or gain weight an keep it on is by simply changing your lifestyle: either eat more and lift more, or eat less and move more.

This lifestyle change is also free of the dangers that come along with using more supplements than what is recommended, and it also saves money.