For Meredith Schorr, a registered nurse who has worked in the medical field during the coronavirus pandemic, it has taken both an emotional and physical toll.
“I wasn’t thinking about how to incorporate vegetables and fruits into my diet, but how to save this person’s life,” Schorr, 25, told Good Morning America.
After gaining about 50 pounds, Schorr said she tried making changes to her diet and exercise routine to lose weight. When that didn’t work, Schorr said she sought professional help and saw a nurse help patients lose weight.
Schorr said the nurse recommended that she try semaglutide — the active ingredient in drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy.
Semaglutide is a drug that was originally approved for type 2 diabetes, but is now legal for weight loss.
“My nurse made it clear to me that this drug shouldn’t just be a crutch you rely on to lose weight,” Schorr said. “You should improve your health and lifestyle habits, such as improving your exercise and diet while using this medication.”
Mounjaro and Ozempic are approved to treat type 2 diabetes, but some doctors prescribe them “off-label” for weight loss. Wegovy is specifically approved for weight loss in people who are obese or overweight.
The drugs help people produce insulin and lower blood sugar levels, which is why they help treat type 2 diabetes. They also work by slowing the movement of food through the stomach and curbing appetite, leading to weight loss.
Schorr said she started injecting semaglutide once a week in February 2022.
While people can take Semaglutide under the brand names Ozempic or Wegovy, some people have also accessed the drug through pharmacies, which make their own version from the raw materials. So Schorr says she understood.
There are risks associated with administering semaglutide through this route as it can be altered and in many cases it is not clear where the drugs come from.
Shortly after starting Semaglutide, Schorr said she experienced side effects including severe nausea, a common side effect of the drug, along with constipation. But she learned to manage the side effects and began losing weight soon after starting the medication.
“Within about two weeks I had already lost a few kilos,” said Schorr. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh, you look like you’re losing weight for the first few days.'”
Schorr said she lost 50 pounds over the course of 11 months. However, she decided to go off the medication in January in preparation for trying to conceive.
The class of drugs containing semaglutide is not recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. The Food and Drug Administration, in its safety profiles of drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, says they shouldn’t be taken during pregnancy, noting that “inadequate data” are available.
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When Schorr stopped taking semaglutide, she said she noticed she was gaining weight again, but called the weight gain a “wake-up call.”
“I didn’t realize how hungry I would get after about five to six weeks of abstinence,” Schorr said. “I gained about 10 pounds to start with, but it kind of woke me up, oh yeah, I need to stick to my healthy lifestyle habits and all these changes.”
“I just refocused and made sure I was making healthy choices,” she said, describing how she’s maintained her health after taking Semaglutide.
Schorr said that despite the weight gain she experienced, semaglutide changed her life and that she is sharing her story to help remove some of the stigma on the drug.
In recent months, semaglutide-containing drugs have surged in popularity, in part due to reported celebrity use.
“I definitely look at Semaglutide as the way I got my life back to being healthy,” Schorr said. “I’m in a completely different place.”
What you should know about weight gain and semaglutide
Medical experts say it’s important to remember that semaglutide is meant to be part of a comprehensive approach to wellness that also includes a healthy diet and exercise.
dr Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, told GMA that stopping semaglutide can cause weight gain again because the drug is no longer working in the body.
“Obesity is a chronic disease, just like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol,” Aronne said. “If you don’t take the drug regularly, the effects wear off.”
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dr Darien Sutton, an ABC News medical associate and board-certified emergency medicine physician, said providers might consider different options when prescribing semaglutide to help prevent the weight gain some patients are seeing.
“This drug has resulted in significant weight loss, but when it stops, patients have reported gaining up to two-thirds of that weight back,” Sutton said, citing published research. “We ask the question, do we need to change the dose? Does it have to be phased out, or do people have to stay on it indefinitely to get that benefit?”
Additionally, Sutton said people both on and without semaglutide need to maintain a healthy wellness routine, including diet, exercise, daily exercise, and good sleep.
Sutton said the success many people have seen using semaglutide is also an important reminder that obesity is a chronic condition.
In the United States, obesity is a condition that affects nearly 42% of the population and is associated with over $170 billion in medical costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 90% of the more than 37 million Americans with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, a condition associated with obesity, according to the CDC.
“It brings about a broader understanding of obesity as a condition and not as an individual or moral failure,” he said. “There are some [people] who might have difficulty losing weight despite all of these measures, and for those I recommend speaking to a provider to review the variety of medications and interventions that might help.