Interested in trying out Wegovy or one of the new weight loss medications? Here’s what you should know.
Second possibly only to the search for eternal life is the quest for thinness. Medical doctors and drug companies have for years been vexed by the challenge of making fat people thin. Accordingly, many solutions have been tried and remain with us today—from the diet and exercise that have been promoted since Ancient Greek and Roman times, to diet drugs introduced in the early 1900s, to surgical solutions like gastric bypass and liposuction in the late 1900s and the Aspire Assist device of the 2000s. The fact that there has never been a long-term solution for any significant group of people should tell us a lot about the amazing ability of our bodies to resist attempts to maintain lower weights. Attempts to restrict weight or food are neither normal nor healthy. This was an important protective feature in keeping our ancestors alive when famines were the norm.
Ozempic is one entry in a class of drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists. These drugs work by replicating a hormone our body produces after we eat that lowers blood sugar and creates a feeling of satiety.
Two compounds in this class, originally approved by the FDA for the treatment of type two diabetes, are liraglutide—approved in 2010 and marketed as Victoza—and semaglutide—approved in 2017 and marketed as Ozempic. A few years after initial approval, each compound was repackaged into a higher dosage (Victoza as Saxenda and Ozempic as Wegovy) and approved by the FDA for the treatment of “obesity.”
Saxenda is delivered by daily injection and Wegovy is injected weekly. Drug company Novo Nordisk manufactures and markets both of these drugs. Novo Nordisk is known for a number of problematic practices, including collusion with other drug companies to drive up the price of insulin. For more information about Novo Nordisk’s problematic practices, listen to this podcast.
Before jumping into one of these aggressively-marketed medications, here are some things to consider:
Four Things to Consider about Weight Loss Medications
1. Any Weight Loss is Likely to Be Temporary
You may lose weight while you’re taking it, but as soon as you stop taking it, you are likely to regain most or all this weight (and possibly more). Research has already shown rapid regain after stopping the medication. For example, one study showed that a year after the termination of the drug, people had regained two-thirds of the weight they had lost.
2. These Weight Loss Medications are Very Expensive
It creates a very high ongoing expense. In the US, the cost of the medication is an estimated $1,300 a month, not covered by insurance. That’s about $16,000 you have to pay per year for the rest of your life—as soon as you stop, you will just gain all the weight back. A conservative 20-year plan will set you back about $312,000.
3. The Side Effects are No Joke
The side effects are bothersome and unpleasant. When taken as a diabetes drug, these side effects are weighed against the negative health outcomes of diabetes. When diabetes is not present, the risk calculus is less compelling. Plus, the dosages are much higher than the dosages for diabetes, which means more potential side effects. Common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, stomach pain, headache, fatigue, upset stomach, dizziness, bloating, belching, gas, intestinal infection, and heartburn. The reduction of food intake associated with the drug can cause malnourishment regardless of one’s size.
One user told Newsweek, “There have been nights where I have been kept awake running back and forth to the bathroom, applying warm compress and pressure to my abdomen in hopes for relief. Some days it’s near impossible to drink water. It’s just not something my body can get down…Working out has been on the back burner, as my symptoms impede on my ability to confidently perform physical activity.”
More serious side effects include the potential for thyroid tumors. Research has yet to definitively establish the medication’s long-term safety for the pancreas, in particular the risk for pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.
4. These Weight Loss Medications Can Drive an Eating Disorder
And if the other reasons weren’t enough to deter you, the medication is essentially driving an eating disorder. By reinforcing that weight is a problem and putting you into a state of negative energy and balance and causing weight suppression, these medications replicate the conditions of an eating disorder. Dietary restriction drives most eating disorders. As well, weight suppression and fear of eating maintain eating disorders.
The approach we take to treating eating disorders goes against everything these medications promote. We take the position that it’s not your body or your weight that’s the problem. The real problem is the internalization of and focus on the thin ideal, promoted by none other than these drug companies themselves. We instead encourage the incorporation of all foods. We also help people to stand up to systematic oppression including weight stigma, develop a healthy relationship with food, and learn to tolerate body distress.
Why We’re Concerned About These Weight Loss Medications
These drugs are likely to be the latest in a long history of misguided attempts to find the effortless solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Remember fen-phen in the 1990s? Bodies are diverse and there have always been fat bodies. But that hasn’t stopped companies from preying upon peoples’ naivete. Unfortunately, many of the previous drugs that have been marketed for weight loss were later pulled due to safety concerns.
As always, the problem isn’t with an individual wanting to take Ozempic. The real problem is drug companies preying on peoples’ insecurities in an effort to make money. Accordingly, you do not have to succumb to the pressure to change your body.
Consider Eating Disorder Therapy in California Instead of Focusing on Changing Your Body
For more information and Sources
Adams, Louise, Weight Loss Drugs Part 2: Saxenda and Wegovy, All Fired Up Podcast (January 5, 2023).
Blum, Dani, An Extreme Risk of Taking Ozempic: Malnutrition. New York Times (April 21, 2023).
Chastain, Ragen, Weight Loss Drugs Part 3—Wegovy and Tirzepatide, Weight and Healthcare Substack (August 17 2022).
Dewan, Pandora, ‘I Find Myself Asking… Is It Worth It?’: TikTok’s Weight Loss Drug Ozempic, Newsweek (12/2/22.)
Haslam D. Weight management in obesity – past and present. Int J Clin Pract. 2016 Mar;70(3):206-17. doi: 10.1111/ijcp.12771. Epub 2016 Jan 26. PMID: 26811245; PMCID: PMC4832440.
Mercedes, Marquisele Wegovy Isn’t a “Game Changer,” But an Update. 2023.
Nelson, Elizabeth Laura. Ozempic Side Effects Are “Really Just Eating Disorder Symptoms,” Doctor Says. Best Life, March 2023.
Remnick, David, Jia Tolentino on Ozempic’s Breakthrough Benefits and Risky Downsides, The New Yorker (March 25, 2023)
Smits MM, Van Raalte DH. Safety of Semaglutide. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021 Jul 7;12:645563. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2021.645563. Erratum in: Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021 Nov 10;12:786732. PMID: 34305810; PMCID: PMC8294388.
Schneier, Matthew, Life After Food? The Cut (Feb 27, 2023)
Semley, John, I Miss Eating: The Truth Behind the Weight Loss Drug That Makes Food Repulsive” The Guardian (Nov 9, 2022)
Spotts-De Lazzer, Alli, What Are the Risks and Benefits of Weight-Loss Shot? Psychology Today, April 27, 2023.
Wilding, JPH, Batterham, RL, Davies, M, et al. Weight regain and cardiometabolic effects after withdrawal of semaglutide: The STEP 1 trial extension. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2022; 24( 8): 1553– 1564. doi:10.1111/dom.14725