For Meredith Schorr, a registered nurse, working in the medical field during the coronavirus pandemic, has had both mental and physical consequences.
“I wasn’t thinking about how to incorporate vegetables and fruits into my diet, but more about how I’m going to save this person’s life,” Schorr, 25, told ‘Good Morning America.’
After gaining about 50 pounds, Schorr said she tried changing her diet and exercise routine to lose weight. When that didn’t work, Schorr said she sought professional help and saw a nurse practitioner who helps patients lose weight.
Schorr said the nurse practitioner recommended she try semaglutide, the active ingredient in drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy.
Semaglutide is a drug originally approved for type 2 diabetes, but is now allowed to be prescribed for weight loss.
“My nurse practitioner made it very clear to me that this drug shouldn’t just be a crutch you rely on for weight loss,” Schorr said. “You should always improve your health and lifestyle habits, such as improving exercise and nutrition while using this drug.”
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 obese or overweight people.
Medications help people produce insulin and lower the amount of sugar in the blood, which is why they help manage type 2 diabetes. They also work by slowing the movement of food through the stomach and by reducing appetite, thus leading to weight loss.
Schorr said she started taking a weekly injection of semaglutide in February 2022.
While people can take semaglutide under the brand name Ozempic or Wegovy, some people also access the drug through pharmacies that create their own version using the raw ingredients. That’s how Schorr says she got it.
There are risks associated with obtaining semaglutide through this route, as it can be changed and it is not clear in many cases where the drugs come from.
Shortly after starting semaglutide, Schorr said he experienced side effects such as severe nausea, a common side effect of the drug, as well as constipation. But she learned to manage the side effects, and soon after starting treatment, she started to lose weight.
“In about two weeks, I had already lost a few pounds,” Schorr said. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh, you look like you’re losing weight already in the first few days.'”
Schorr said she lost 50 pounds in 11 months. However, she decided to stop taking the drug in January with a view to trying to get pregnant.
The class of drugs that includes Semaglutide is not recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. The Food and Drug Administration states in its safety profiles of drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy that they should not be taken during pregnancy, noting that there is “insufficient data” available.
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When Schorr stopped taking semaglutide, she said she started noticing she was gaining weight, but called the weight gain a “wake-up call.”
“I didn’t realize how hungry I would be after five to six weeks out,” Schorr said. “I initially gained about 10 pounds, but that kind of gave me the scare of like, oh yeah, I need to get into my healthy lifestyle habits and all these changes.”
“I just centered myself and made sure I was making healthy choices,” she said, describing how she maintained her health after semaglutide.
Schorr said that even with the weight gain she’s experienced, semaglutide has changed her life, and she’s sharing her story to help remove some of the stigma of the drug.
In recent months, drugs containing semaglutide have grown in popularity, in part due to reported use by celebrities.
“I definitely consider semaglutide to be how I rebooted my life back to healthy living,” Schorr said. “I’m in a completely different place.”
What to know about weight gain and semaglutide
Medical experts say it’s important to remember that semaglutide is meant to be part of an overall wellness approach that also includes healthy eating and exercise.
Dr. Louis Aronne, director of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Comprehensive Weight Control Center, told “GMA” that rebound weight gain can be common after stopping semaglutide because the drug no longer works 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 medicine regularly, the effect wears off.”
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Dr. Darien Sutton, an ABC News medical contributor and board-certified emergency physician, said providers could consider different options when prescribing semaglutide to help prevent the weight gain some patients are seeing.
“This drug caused significant weight loss, but when it was stopped, patients reported regaining up to two-thirds of that weight,” Sutton said, citing published research. “We ask the question, do we need to change the dose? Does it need to be reduced, or do people need to stay on it indefinitely to get this benefit?”
Additionally, Sutton said people on and off semaglutide should maintain a healthy wellness routine, including diet, exercise, daily movement, and quality 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 disease that affects nearly 42% of the population and is associated with more than $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 disease associated with obesity, according to the CDC.
“It brings a better understanding of obesity as a condition rather than an individual or moral failure,” he said. “There are some [people] who, despite all of this, might struggle to lose weight, and for those, I recommend speaking to a provider to review the variety of medications and interventions that might help.”