Oprah Winfrey is now taking a weight-loss medication to help maintain progress she’s made in her decades-long journey, according to People.
The 69-year-old media mogul shared that she’s been using a prescribed medication “as I feel I need it, as a tool to manage not yo-yoing” since just before Thanksgiving. And after five decades of struggling with her weight, experiencing body shaming by the media and acting as a spokesperson for WeightWatchers’ behavioral weight-loss program, she has a different perspective on her relationship with food and her body.
“I realized I’d been blaming myself all these years for being overweight, and I have a predisposition that no amount of willpower is going to control,” she said. “Obesity is a disease. It’s not about willpower — it’s about the brain.”
It’s a position that she began to take after hosting a conversation called the “State of Weight” in Sept. as a part of Oprah Daily’s The Life You Want series. There, she and a panel of medical professionals addressed not only the function of weight-loss medications, but also the shame and stigma surrounding the conversation about obesity and weight loss — one that Winfrey has experienced firsthand.
“It was public sport to make fun of me for 25 years,” she said in her People cover story. “I have been blamed and shamed, and I blamed and shamed myself.”
As conversations about weight-loss medications like Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro spread across the industry, Winfrey still had her reservations about using such a medication. Although she shared that she had been “recommending it to people long before I was on it myself,” Winfrey chose to continue relying solely on the lifestyle changes she had already made.
“I eat my last meal at 4 o’clock, drink a gallon of water a day, and use the WeightWatchers principles of counting points. I had an awareness of [weight-loss] medications, but felt I had to prove I had the willpower to do it,” she said.
The discussion she hosted on the topic changed that. “I had the biggest ‘aha’ along with many people in that audience,” she said. “The fact that there’s a medically approved prescription for managing weight and staying healthier, in my lifetime, feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift, and not something to hide behind and once again be ridiculed for.”
Winfrey said that, for her, the medication “quiets the food noise.” But she still engages in healthy lifestyle routines. “I know that if I’m not also working out and vigilant about all the other things, it doesn’t work for me,” she said.
As she embarks on this latest chapter of her body journey, she’s set on blocking out noise from critics as well. “I’m absolutely done with the shaming from other people and particularly myself,” she said.
Why is there shame surrounding weight-loss drugs?
“People think of obesity as more of a lifestyle or behavioral issue rather than a medical issue,” Dr. Melanie Jay, director of the NYU Langone’s Comprehensive Program on Obesity, tells Yahoo Life. “People think [those with obesity] eat too much and don’t exercise enough. And therefore, you know, why do they need a medication if they just do that? This segment was really trying to educate the public on why obesity is a disease.”
Jay — who participated in the conversation with Winfrey alongside fellow obesity specialist Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, psychologist Rachel Goldman and Sima Sistani, the CEO of WeightWatchers — said that the false belief about the role that personal behaviors play in a person’s risk of diabetes has implications on the policy level as well. “Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover these drugs because somehow obesity is not as much of an important disease,” she says. “Some people can lose weight just by really aggressive lifestyle changes through programs like WeightWatchers, but a lot of people can’t do that. They’ll lose a lot of weight and then they gain it back. And it’s not their fault.”
Winfrey addressed the idea that taking medication for weight loss can be seen as “the easy way out.” In reality, Jay says it acts as additional support.
That’s how The Real Housewives of Orange County cast member Emily Simpson used Ozempic, sharing with ABC News that she had also gotten liposuction on her arms and a breast lift following body changes. Most notably, she shifted her eating habits and developed a new workout routine. People on the internet still shamed her for utilizing the drug.
“I hear patients say, ‘No, no, no, I don’t want to try meds, I want to try to do it on my own,'” says Jay. “Patients will say that as if there’s a right way to do it. But really, there are different treatment options. Some treatment options work better for others, and people should have the choice of which treatment options they want to use.”
The shame regarding bodies and weight in general makes the subject more difficult to tackle. “Obesity, because it’s something you see, also becomes part of a person’s identity in a different way than other diseases,” says Jay.
Celebrities who have been rumored to take Ozempic or have admitted taking the drug without the qualifications of obesity could also have an impact on the stigma, according to Jay. “That could sometimes perpetuate it as being a vanity drug and not a real medical drug.”
How can Oprah have an impact on removing shame?
Winfrey is a public figure who also been outspoken about the resources she’s utilized to lose weight — most notably, her longstanding partnership with WeightWatchers — and has proven to have immense influence. A single tweet in 2016 urging followers to join her in her journey with the weight management program led to a 20% increase of WeightWatchers’ stock. An investor herself, Winfrey made money from the sparked interest as well.
Now, she’s shedding light on the possibility that WeightWatchers alone might not be the solution for her own weight management.
“You all have watched me diet and diet and diet and diet. It’s a recurring thing because my body always seems to want to go back to a certain weight,” she said, urging that additional medical treatments for obesity should be available for people to explore. “It should be yours to own and not to be shamed about it.”
Jay believes that Winfrey’s reach makes an impact.
“We’ve been talking about obesity as a disease for many years now, but it has not really gone mainstream. And it’s starting to because now you have a medicine that obviously targets some pathways that reverse it or provide weight loss in a lot of people,” says Jay. “Oprah has the credibility, the platform and the ability to get the message out that obesity is something that is not an individual’s fault and that it’s something that can be treated if people want it to be treated.”