Weight loss with Ozempic can lead to quite a transformation.
Patients have been showing off their slimmer bodies, and crediting the self-injected Type 2 diabetes drug for curbing their appetite and eating less.
Ozempic isn’t approved for weight loss but that's a famous side effect, so some doctors have been prescribing it off-label for that purpose. People with obesity seeking to lose weight can also turn to Wegovy, which contains semaglutide — the same active ingredient as in Ozempic — and is approved for weight loss.
The medication comes with side effects. The most common include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and constipation, according to Novo Nordisk, the company that makes both Ozempic and Wegovy. But patients may also experience serious side effects such as pancreatitis, gallbladder problems and kidney failure, it warns.
People have to keep taking semaglutide for the drug to keep working — otherwise, they’ll regain much of the weight, studies have shown. It’s also expensive when not covered by insurance: The list price for a month’s supply is about $900 for Ozempic and $1,300 for Wegovy. Novo Nordisk says it supports a healthcare system that ensures patient access and affordability.
"We recognize that some people in the U.S. find it hard to pay for their healthcare, including our FDA-approved products containing semaglutide, which is why we continue to work to obtain broader coverage and greater access," the company says in a statement to TODAY.com.
Here are patients’ experiences with Ozempic and Wegovy, and their before-and-after photos.
'It makes food less important'
Pepper Schwartz doesn’t have Type 2 diabetes, but says she began using Ozempic off-label in 2022 after her doctor and follow-up medical tests deemed it appropriate for her situation, and her personal physician prescribed it. She has lost about 30 pounds and says the weight loss has now stabilized, stayed close to that number, and she's maintaining it.
“I have really thought about this in terms of health a lot. I’m older. I just don’t think I can afford to (mess) around with weight anymore,” Schwartz, 78, who lives in Snoqualmie, Washington, told TODAY.com in April 2023.
“I love the fact that my blood pressure is low and my cholesterol is low and all those good things. Those are my motivations now rather than trying to fit in a size 4 dress.”
Besides lowering blood sugar, Ozempic is also approved to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke or death in adults with Type 2 diabetes and known heart disease, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes.
Wegovy cuts the risk of stroke and heart attacks, Novo Nordisk announced in August 2023.
Schwartz, a sex and relationship expert, says her weight problems began in her late 30s when she simply began overeating. The main effect of Ozempic is she’s not hungry as much: “It makes food less important,” she notes.
Still requires exercise and a healthy diet
Jamel Corona says she turned to Wegovy in 2021 after she couldn’t lose weight on her own, despite a healthy lifestyle.
She has lost about 60 pounds, but described the process as gradual and still requiring food discipline and regular exercise to work.
“I think social media has made it like rapid weight loss with no effort. That might be the case for some people, but that’s not the case for me,” Corona, a 37-year-old Chicago accountant, tells TODAY.com.
“I work out five days a week and eat super healthy.”
Her weight loss has now stabilized and based on her July 2023 check-in with her endocrinologist, she's set to stay on Wegovy long term.
Corona also discovered an unexpected side effect: She used to enjoy drinking socially, but lost interest in alcohol after starting the medication.
Struggling with side effects
Jeannine DellaVecchia, 40, says she was prescribed Ozempic to treat symptoms related to insulin resistance caused by congenital adrenal hyperplasia and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Weight loss wasn’t a priority although she was intrigued that the drug might also help her slim down. It did just that, with DellaVecchia losing 30 pounds between August 2022 and February 2023. She stopped taking the drug because she couldn’t tolerate the side effects, and has not returned to it, she says.
The hospital worker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says she would sometimes force herself to eat when she was taking Ozempic because of the side effects.
She would have “absolutely no appetite,” was “completely nauseous” and “vomiting all the time,” DellaVecchia told TODAY.com in March 2023.
“You don’t feel like eating… it just wasn’t good for me,” she said.
DellaVecchia says she's been able to maintain the weight loss she achieved with a keto diet.
'You have to do the work'
Barbie Jackson-Williams, 54, of Des Moines, Iowa, says she has lost 180 pounds thanks to Ozempic and working out.
She once weighed more than 400 pounds and started taking Ozempic in early 2021 to slim down and manage her Type 2 diabetes. Since then, Jackson-Williams told NBC News she’s making better food choices, her blood sugar has dropped to prediabetic levels, and she’s much more active and fit.
“People are just taking it just to get skinny and that’s not true,” she said. “You have to do the work, and people don’t realize that.”
Cost is a concern
Wendy Tell says she dreads gaining back the 25 pounds she’s lost with Ozempic, which she takes primarily for Type 2 diabetes, if she stops using the medication. But she’s not sure she can afford to stay on it.
The retired teacher in Yorktown, Virginia, is on Medicare but she told NBC News she pays more than $700 for a 90-day supply because of coverage limits in her prescription plan.
“I’m at a dilemma,” she said. “Am I going to get it again? Because who has that much money?”
How much weight can you lose in a month on Ozempic?
One study found people who received weekly semaglutide injections lost an average of about 15 pounds after three months and about 27 pounds after six months, which translates into about a 5-pound weight loss per month.
What foods should you avoid while taking Ozempic?
To reduce nausea while on semaglutide, registered dietitian Emily Rubin recommends skipping hot, fried or greasy food; and avoiding eating or cooking strong-smelling food.
Don’t eat too quickly and don’t have a large drink with meals, says Rubin, who works at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Can Ozempic kickstart weight loss?
Semaglutide "works by making people not hungry,” Dr. Leigh Perreault, an endocrinologist at UCHealth in Denver, Colorado, previously told TODAY.com.
It mimics a hormone known as GLP-1, which the body releases into the intestine when people eat food and tells the brain you’ve had a meal.
People have reduced appetite, and when they do eat, they feel full sooner, Dr. Louis Aronne, an obesity medicine physician and director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, previously told TODAY.com.
The medication also slows down stomach emptying, which slows down the absorption of calories and may contribute to the feeling of fullness, he added.
Semaglutide for weight loss should be used in addition to a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity, the FDA says.