Get Informed, Stay Inspired

Users' Perspective on Holiday Meals Shifts with Introduction of New Obesity Drugs
Science & Health

Users’ Perspective on Holiday Meals Shifts with Introduction of New Obesity Drugs

Claudia Stearns had a long-standing aversion towards Thanksgiving. Being someone who has battled obesity since childhood, Stearns despised the yearly stress of fixating on her food choices and feeling guilty for indulging on a holiday centered around feasting.

After losing almost 100 pounds with the help of various medications, including Wegovy, a potent new medication for obesity, Stearns claims that the constant thoughts about food in her mind have significantly decreased.

Stearns, a 65-year-old from Somerville, Massachusetts, reflects on the previous year and recalls how pleasant it was to simply savor a meal, spend time with loved ones, and appreciate the happiness of the day. It was a completely new and enjoyable experience for her.

As more and more Americans who struggle with obesity are able to try out new weight-loss medications, similar experiences to Stearns’ are becoming increasingly prevalent. This is especially evident during times of the year when cooking, eating, and feelings of abundance are emphasized and can amplify gatherings with family and friends. Health professionals and individuals report that these drugs not only influence their food choices, but also alter their perception of food.

Some people believe it gives them better control over their eating habits, while others argue that it takes away the pleasure from social gatherings, such as traditional food-focused holidays like Thanksgiving, Passover, and Christmas.

According to Dr. Daniel Bessesen, head of the endocrinology department at Denver Health and a specialist in treating obesity, this has a significant impact on their lives, shifting food from a primary focus to a secondary one.

Undermining the festivities?

The latest medications for obesity, which were initially intended for diabetes treatment, are semaglutide, found in Ozempic and Wegovy, and tirzepatide, found in Mounjaro and recently approved as Zepbound. These drugs, now also used for weight loss, are administered through weekly injections and have a completely different mechanism of action compared to traditional diets. They imitate potent hormones that are released after eating to control appetite and the sensation of fullness, which is communicated between the stomach and the brain. Studies have shown that users can lose up to 15% to 25% of their body weight.

Dr. Michael Schwartz, a specialist in metabolism, diabetes, and obesity at the University of Washington in Seattle, explains that this process diminishes the gratifying effects of food.

Stearns, who began treatment in 2020, found that taking weight-loss medications allows her to indulge in a few bites of her beloved Thanksgiving pies before stopping. She shares, “I may not feel full, but I do feel content.”

However, this change can have significant consequences, not just in terms of religion and culture, but also in the way we celebrate and observe holidays that typically revolve around food and abundance.

Joe Sapone, a 64-year-old retiree from Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, who lost around 100 pounds through dieting and Mounjaro, compares the Italian tradition of gathering around a table to attending church. He admits that he no longer indulges in the “food orgy” of holidays, but it took some getting used to.

He suggests that a key aspect of success is separating your enjoyment of food from what you consume.

Changes in enjoyment

A large number of users appreciate the increased level of control they have over their food choices, especially during the emotionally-charged holiday season.

Tara Rothenhoefer, 48, from Trinity, Florida shared that she has become more discerning when choosing what to eat. She credits her weight loss of over 200 pounds to participating in a clinical trial for Mounjaro in 2020. Despite still enjoying her favorite foods, she has reduced her focus on consuming bread.

However, some individuals who take these medications experience a loss of appetite or unpleasant side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which can decrease the enjoyment of eating.

Dr. Katherine Saunders, an obesity specialist at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-founder of Intellihealth, a company specializing in obesity treatment, has encountered several patients in her career who were unhappy due to their lack of enjoyment in food.

However, she mentioned that the majority of individuals who have resorted to using weight-loss medications have faced long-term challenges with the physical and psychological effects of severe obesity. They are often grateful to experience a decrease in appetite and are thankful for the weight they have lost.

Studies have shown that when individuals discontinue use of weight-loss medications, their appetites return and they often regain weight at a quicker rate than they initially lost it. An initial study revealed that after one year, two-thirds of patients who began taking weight-loss drugs were no longer taking them.

One reason for this could be the expensive price and continuously limited availability. However, Dr. Jens Juul Holst from the University of Copenhagen believes that we must also consider the implications of changing a fundamental human desire like hunger. Dr. Holst, along with other researchers, was one of the first to identify the gut hormone GLP-1, also known as glucagon-like peptide 1, which paved the way for the development of new obesity medications.

Holst delivered a philosophical evaluation of the practical implications of the new medications at an international diabetes conference this autumn.

Holst asked his coworkers why they had lost weight. He explained that it was due to a decrease in their appetite and enjoyment of food and its rewards. He then posed the question of how long they could continue living in this way.