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How Ozempic is Affecting Eating Disorders

It seems like Ozempic, the semaglutide that has been traditionally used to treat people with Type II diabetes, is now the diet drug du jour. Celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Sharon Osbourne have been open about using the drug, and many have touted the benefits of the medication for quick weight loss. 

In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have witnessed a growing interest in the potential intersection between medication and the treatment of eating disorders. Ozempic use outside of Type-2 diabetes treatment is still in its infancy but is already influencing the eating disorder landscape.

Ozempic’s effect on eating behaviors is still being explored. However, as discussions around medication-assisted therapies gain traction, understanding the relationship between Ozempic and eating disorders becomes increasingly vital in navigating comprehensive treatment options, risk factors, behaviors, and a better understanding of eating disorders as a whole. 


Myths surrounding eating disorders 

Many people struggle with their weight and seek ways to maintain a healthy weight. Many people strive to lose weight for various reasons. People with eating disorders often grapple with an array of mental health issues including body dysmorphia, that manifest themselves in unhealthy or life-threatening eating patterns or weight loss attempts. 

When one mentions “eating disorders,” they often picture someone who simply doesn’t eat and is extremely thin, but this is just one of the many myths that surround eating disorders. 

Eating disorders are a complex issue that is rooted in emotional, psychiatric, and physical components,” shares Heather Baker, LCSW-S, CEDS-S, Founder of Prosperity Eating Disorders and Wellness Center. “People of all body sizes can have an eating disorder.”

While anorexia nervosa — characterized by abnormally low body weight and fear of gaining weight — is a well-known eating disorder, there are also people on the other side of the spectrum who have binge eating disorders. Those with binge eating disorders often also engage in periods of severe dietary restriction then consume large amounts of food in a short period, and often report feeling unable to stop eating, even when painfully “full.” 

The rise of Ozempic 

Ozempic and similar drugs were developed to treat diabetes and as a side effect, were found to produce weight loss results in many people. While medication for weight loss is nothing new, the run of popular weight loss drugs such as Fen-Phen was eventually found to be problematic. The medical community has praised Ozempic and other semaglutide medications for their overall safety, giving people comfort in choosing them for weight loss.

Ozempic works by imitating hormones called incretins, which control the amount of sugar made by the liver and slow down digestion, making the body feel fuller for longer. Some experts suggest that Ozempic also works with brain chemistry to affect food cravings, and this effect may indicate that Ozempic could be a benefit for those with binge eating disorders. 

“Like all mental illnesses and diseases, eating disorders are not a choice,” says Baker. “Recovery from an eating disorder requires an incredibly courageous step into the unknown.” 

Those suffering from binge eating disorder often have a highly complex physical and psychological relationship with food that goes past relying on physical hunger and fullness to choose when and what to eat and how much to consume. Individuals with binge eating disorder are often entrenched in a food scarcity mindset and histories of weight cycling which requires therapeutic and nutritional support to work through to heal their relationship with food and body and to bring the body and mind out of a state of malnourishment.

Ozempic for binge eating disorder

“It was observed that some individuals using Ozempic for diabetes management experience reduced appetite, potentially leading to decreased food intake,” Baker says. “For those with binge eating disorder, this might contribute to a reduction in the frequency or intensity of binge-eating episodes.” 

However, we must keep in mind that those with eating disorders suffer from complexities that go far beyond efforts to control weight. We must also address the mental, emotional, and physical experiences of each person. As in all eating disorders, it is ultimately not about food or weight. It is about healing the underlying psychological complexities that drive a person to engage in restriction and/or binge eating.

Some of those struggling with binge eating disorder may also struggle with higher-than-average weight gain. Nevertheless, Baker cautions that Ozempic is not a fix-all. 

“Eating disorders have complex psychological components,” she says, “and Ozempic won’t address the underlying psychological triggers or behavioral patterns associated with these disorders. While some patients might experience changes in their in eating behaviors, others might find the psychological aspects largely unaffected.”

The possible dark side of Ozempic 

Given the attention that Ozempic has received in the last year, it’s hard to find someone who has not heard of the drug and its ability to help people shed pounds. This includes those with anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders that are marked by extreme dieting and weight loss.

Ozempic, when stopped, can lead to a bounce back in weight gain — sometimes more than what was initially lost. Gaining and losing also known as weight cycling can be hard on a body and lead to a negative self-image or depression as well as medical complications. It may also drive people to attempt more unhealthy ways to lose weight to keep it off. 

Moreover, Ozempic can also be turned to as a crutch for people who have unhealthy dieting patterns to begin with. Since they have an overwhelming fear of gaining weight, they may turn to weight-loss drugs as a way of keeping their weight low. 

According to Baker, it’s paramount to have a medical team’s guidance if enlisting Ozempic for any reason. 

“The potential of Ozempic to impact eating behaviors, particularly in individuals grappling with binge eating disorder, opens a doorway to discussions within the medical, psychological, and counseling community,” Baker says. These discussions must be nuanced, informed, and forward-thinking, recognizing that these disorders encompass intricate psychological, emotional, and behavioral elements that go far beyond weight.

As research evolves and understanding deepens, the quest for effective treatments for eating disorders continues. The potential role of medications like Ozempic provides a new area of research that underscores the need for comprehensive, patient-centered care in navigating the landscape of eating disorder management.