One third of dieters purchase slimming pills...

When it comes to losing weight, most of us wish we could just snap our fingers and fit into our dream size. So it’s no wonder many of us look for quick-fix products, such as weight-loss shakes and detox teas, to get there faster.

But it’s not this kind of quick fix that’s the problem, it’s the cheap and unregulated pills sold online. With promises to ‘burn through fat’, more than a third of people trying to lose weight in the UK are opting to use slimming pills bought online.

This week, BBC3’s Inside Britain’s Black Market: Who’s Selling Fake Stuff? takes a look at the unregulated labs producing pills on mass.

The diet pill, clenbuterol, for example, can be pumped out up to 5,000 times an hour. But some of these ‘miracle pills’ contain potentially deadly chemicals like DNP (2,4-Dinitrophenol), which has a variety of industrial uses, including as a photographic chemical, a fertiliser and in the manufacturing of explosives and dyes. All available with the click of a button. We speak to one woman who lived to tell the tale…

Elaine Gormley, 30, lives in Northern Ireland

Scrunching up the empty packet of biscuits in my hand, I felt guilty. Without realising it, I’d scoffed a whole packet in one sitting while watching TV. I couldn’t even excuse it as a one- off, because the truth was, eating my way through packets of biscuits, bars of chocolate and bags of crisps – in a short space of time – was normal for me.

I’d always struggled with my weight and growing up I was always the ‘big’ girl in my class. My parents cooked me healthy meals and took me to see dieticians in my teens to help me gain control of my eating, but while Mum packed me salads for lunch, I’d throw them away at school and use my pocket money to buy sweets.

By 21, I was 22st 6lb – huge for my 5ft 7in frame. I could just about fit into a size 26 and I was miserable. It wasn’t until December 2008, when my older sister Donna got engaged, that I realised I had to do something. I didn’t want to be a fat bridesmaid. So when I heard about a Slimming World group that had started nearby, I decided to join.

In 18 months, I lost 10st 7lb and dropped to a size 8-10. Happy and more confident with my new figure I started socialising more, but in 2012, I was struck with severe abdominal pain. At hospital, I was told it was gallstones, and I needed my gallbladder removed. In the six weeks it took to recover, I was in a lot of pain, and turned to food to cheer myself up.

I started piling on weight and when it was time for me to return to Slimming World, I’d jumped back to a size 26. What followed was more binge eating to comfort myself. I knew I couldn’t carry on as I was, only this time, I wanted a quicker fix. I started researching diet pills and read online that they work by provoking a high rate of calorie burn by melting your fat.

I saw the diet pills sold on reputable sites, and some unknown sites for even cheaper. I bought a small bottle of diet pills on a trusted website without reading any reviews.

Admittedly, this was foolish, but I was desperate for a quick fix and at £29.99, they were a bargain. On the first day, I took the recommended two tablets and within just 10 minutes I could feel the effects. I began sweating profusely, even while sitting down. I lost 8lb in three days, but on the fourth day, I took my usual tablet and my whole body suddenly stiffened.

I could feel my heart beating furiously in my chest. I was convinced I was having a heart attack so I forced myself to be sick to get the tablets out of my body, and my heart rate soon returned to normal. I’ve since learned that the pills contained Dexaprine, a fat-burning supplement that was banned in the UK in 2014 for its harmful side-effects.

It’s even been linked to psychiatric disorders, strokes and heart attacks. I thought what I was buying was safe, but the reality is, buying cheap diet pills online is a risk, and one not worth taking.

Words by Emma Rossiter and Emmie Harrison.

Inside Britain’s Black Market: Who’s Selling Fake Stuff? is available to watch now on BBC3 on iPlayer.