The drugs ― the first of which is intended to treat diabetes and the second of which is used for weight management in adults with obesity or who are overweight ― have been a hot-button issue since the beginning of the year. Their popularity led to a national shortage of Ozempic for diabetic patients due to off-label use for weight loss.
Semaglutide is the active ingredient in both Ozempic and Wegovy, so both drugs work roughly in the same way: By boosting the body’s levels of the hormone GLP-1, the drugs slow digestion in the stomach, and also send signals to the brain that you’re full.
GLP-1 medications are prescribed safely for weight loss when somebody has a body mass index of 30 or greater, or 27 or greater with a weight-related medical complication, said Dr. Rekha Kumar, the chief medical officer at the medically assisted weight loss program Found and a practicing endocrinologist in New York City.
Ozempic and Mounjaro are sometimes prescribed off-label for weight loss by doctors, nurse practitioners or med spas; that’s all perfectly legal and not uncommon ― you’ve no doubt heard rumors of celebrities taking the drugs to slim down.
“There is also a lot of inappropriate use of medications like Ozempic and Wegovy by people who don’t qualify, which got people talking,” Kumar told HuffPost.
The initial outrage over celebrities’ use of semaglutides and the national shortage was back in January. What’s kept the conversation going is something else: We live in a fatphobic society, and Ozempic and Wegovy give us another opportunity to pass judgment on those we deem overweight, Kumar said.
“People feel at liberty to comment on GLP-1 medications like Ozempic or Wegovy for weight loss because they may not understand that obesity is a disease,” she said. “These medications are a treatment option for people who may not have found effective treatments prior.”
But when the accepted thinking is that obesity is a choice and consequence of a lack of willpower, it allows people to form opinions on others’ behavior, Kumar said.
“Those who continue to comment are likely not fully informed about the biological aspects of body weight,” she said.
That’s not the only misconception about weight and this new class of drugs. Below, people who’ve actually taken Ozempic and Wegovy as prescribed share some of the most common mistruths they’ve heard about the drugs.
Myth 1: People who use semaglutide for obesity are lazy and just need to eat less and exercise.
Miranda Mossberg, a 35-year-old mom of three from Minnesota, began taking Wegovy in February 2023. Mossberg has polycystic ovarian syndrome that causes her to have insulin resistance: “Unfortunately due to my insulin resistance my body does not process sugars, carbs and nutrients the way it should,” she told HuffPost.
“I’ve tried everything outside of a very invasive body altering surgery to lose weight,” she said.
She posts about her progress on TikTok, and often hears from people in the comments who think taking GLP-1s like Wegovy is the “lazy” way out or not sustainable.
“I get many comments that say ‘just eat less and move more’ or ‘that sounds miserable, I don’t understand why anyone would take that,’” Mossberg said.
“This amazing, life-changing medication for people with chronic obesity, insulin resistance or who are prediabetic has quickly become the latest diet fad, and it is so frustrating.”
– Patsy Wieler, 58
Others wrongly assume that simply by taking Wegovy “the weight will just magically fall off,” Mossberg said.
“The truth is, you have to change your lifestyle, which this medication makes easier to do,” she said. “It turns off that ‘food noise’ that so many have: That constant thought of food, snacks and your next meal. The need to fix your next craving.”
Thanks to Wegovy, Mossberg said she no longer ruminates on her next snack or when she’ll get to have a big comfort meal.
“I eat better, I drink more water, I work out 5-6 days a week and I overall just feel better,” she said.
Could she do that without medication? “I’m honestly not sure,” she said. “The working out, absolutely. The water, absolutely. But that food noise is real, and it can be all-consuming. The binge that can happen after a ‘good’ day, and the guilt that follows puts your head in a bad place. It’s a tailspin almost impossible to get out of.”
Myth 2: It’s a quick fix.
Patsy Wieler, 58, was put on Ozempic for both diabetes and obesity in May 2019. At the time, she weighed around 346 pounds.
“Although I was morbidly obese, I was an avid hiker, climbing 450m elevation mountains, and consistently walking,” said Wieler, who lives in Calgary, Canada.
“I even walked a half marathon in February 2017,” she told HuffPost. “I was active and ate like everyone else but no matter what I did, I just kept getting heavier. At that point in 2019, I was utterly hopeless.”
When Wieler’s doctor told her about Ozempic, she was apprehensive. “I didn’t believe in weight loss medications,” she said. But her doctor convinced her that obesity was a chronic complex condition that needed management, just like any other chronic disease.
“Ozempic brought my chronic hunger under control, significantly lowered my food noise which was constant prior to Ozempic, and has helped me maintain every pound I lost since I have been on it,” said Wieler, who runs the YouTube channel Big Girl Talking.
Given her experience, it bothers her to hear people talk flippantly of Ozempic, as if it’s just another fad diet or quick fix for those looking to fit society’s standard of beauty.
“I want to scream this from the rooftops: Ozempic is not a weight loss drug! Ozempic is not the ‘skinny shot’ or any other inane label it has been given,” she said.
“This amazing, life-changing medication for people with chronic obesity, insulin resistance or who are prediabetic has quickly become the latest diet fad, and it is so frustrating and upsetting because it is minimizing its incredible efficacy for those of us who suffer from diabetes or obesity,” she said.
Watching people like Bravo host Andy Cohen “congratulating” celebrities who have lost weight likely due to Ozempic doesn’t sit well with Wieler.
“Those of us who suffer from obesity have so many complicated issues we have to deal with on a daily basis,” she said. “As someone who has suffered from obesity for 40 years, watching everyone celebrate our medication as an easy way to become skinny again leaves me feeling unseen, misunderstood and alone.”
Myth 3: Access to Ozempic isn’t a problem.
Anthony, a 36-year-old from Philadelphia has been on Ozempic to treat his Type 2 diabetes for two years. (He asked to use his first name only for the sake of privacy.)
“My experiences with this medication have been really good,” he said. “My results have been weight loss and appetite control with a well-balanced diet and exercise.”
When Ozempic became a popular topic of discussion on TikTok back in January, Anthony experienced the supply shortage firsthand. He’s worried that the increased use of the drug among the “healthy overweight” (or just those looking to lose just five or 10 pounds) will cause another shortage and impact those who need it the most.
“Those on it for diabetes have already had difficulty obtaining the medication for ourselves because of insurance and the high cost,” he said. “If you don’t need it, don’t deplete the inventory for the rest of us.”
Myth 4: It’s an ideal medication for anyone who wants to lose weight.
Not everyone who uses Ozempic has a good experience. Laura Burns, a 41-year-old from Houston, took Ozempic for about six months to manage her diabetes. Despite telling her doctor about concerns she had due to old eating disorder behaviors, Burns’ doctor said it was the best treatment for her health condition.
“I felt that she actually mostly cared about me losing weight, and told me so, even though I told her it was not a priority of mine,” said Burns, a body liberation activist and author of “Big and Bold: Yoga for the Plus-size Woman.”
The half a year Burns was on Ozempic was “incredibly challenging,” she told HuffPost.
“While it did ultimately help me bring my A1C down to below diabetic levels, taking Ozempic caused weight loss even on the lowest dose,” she said. “Coupled with the loss of appetite and reemergence of my old disordered eating and exercise issues, the drug created a perfect storm for me to lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time.”
“For me, the medication worked for my diabetes, but at what cost?”
– Laura Burns, 41
Burns wishes that prescribing doctors would speak about the side effects the drugs can cause, including nausea, vomiting, constipation, gas and heartburn. More serious, long-term reactions like thyroid tumors, pancreatitis, gallbladder problems and kidney issues have also been reported. (Earlier this month, a personal injury law firm filed a lawsuit against Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly and Co., the manufacturers of Ozempic and Mounjaro, claiming the drugs can cause gastroparesis, a paralysis of the stomach.)
Burns also wishes doctors would give some consideration to how drugs like Ozempic may affect body image issues for those who’ve had eating disorders.
“Everyone’s experience on these medications is different, and I often hear sweeping generalizations about the experience, efficacy, and side effects of taking them,” Burns said.
“For me, the medication worked for my diabetes, but at what cost?” she said. “I am still dealing with working through ED issues that I had already dealt with and living free from their influence.”
Myth 5: Semaglutide is an easy way out.
Mila Clarke, a health coach and founder of Hangry Woman and the Glucose Guide app, began taking Ozempic in late 2020 for blood sugar management. (Clarke has latent autoimmune diabetes, a slow-progressing form of Type 1 diabetes typically diagnosed in adulthood.)
Nine months in, she’s seen progress in both her blood sugar and weight management. “I see it as an awesome addition to diabetes management because it’s a once-weekly injection, it’s easy to inject, doesn’t hurt, and it relieves some of the burden of diabetes.”
While it may be easy to inject, it’s not an “easy” drug to take, as many believe. “The side effects are sometimes completely insane: I know I dealt with tachycardia (fast heartbeat),” Clarke said. “Oftentimes, I felt dizzy or faint in the very beginning, with some nausea, too.”
Clarke said she’s heard people say things like, “How does it feel to spend a thousand dollars to take the easy way out?” but that doesn’t mesh with her experiences.
“When you hear that, it’s kind of like, well, that’s not what I’m doing. I’m working really hard alongside that as well,” she said.
Clarke thinks that misconception is tied to a bigger one about people living with obesity in general.
“People with diabetes or obesity care about their health,” she said. “We’re not in a position where we write our health off,” she said. “Actually, we’re some of the most health-conscious people on earth, especially with diabetes.”
Type 1 diabetes requires constant care, Clarke said: You’re constantly measuring your food, constantly taking care of your blood sugar, monitoring your blood sugar, wearing devices on your body, and going out in public to keep up appearances, even when you don’t feel well.
“That’s why I think people should have more grace about all this,” she said. “In general, don’t comment on someone’s health when it’s none of your business. If someone is taking these drugs to help their health, your opinion is not needed about it.”