Ozempic® and Eating Disorders: Can Ozempic Trigger or Worsen Eating Disorder Behaviors?

Ever wonder how an injectable diabetes medication semaglutide (better known by the brand names Wegovy® and Ozempic®) could find itself at the center of a discussion about eating disorders? When used beyond its intended purpose, the line between helpful and harmful can blur, causing unexpected and potentially concerning results. In this blog, we’ll explore the connection between Ozempic and eating disorders, and examine the reasons why this medication’s increase in off-label use has medical experts worried.

The Basics: What is Ozempic?

Ozempic, scientifically known as semaglutide, is a medication designed to aid in the management of type 2 diabetes. As an injectable drug, it operates by regulating blood sugar levels in the body, making it a vital asset for individuals dealing with this chronic condition. Aside from its core function, Ozempic also exhibits an appetite-suppressing effect, which, while beneficial for some, has seen it repurposed for off-label uses such as cosmetic weight loss. This is one of the main reasons why Ozempic has been gaining popularity, not just in the medical field, but also on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

The Weight Loss Trend of Off-Label Prescription Drug Use

A wave of weight loss trends is sweeping across social media, powered by popularized celebrity endorsements of drugs like Ozempic.

For example, comedian Chelsea Handler opened up about previously taking Ozempic and how she believes the recent trend of using the diabetes drug for weight loss is going to “backfire.” Business magnate Elon Musk said semaglutide helped him get “fit, ripped, and healthy.” NBA star Charles Barkley said he lost over 60 pounds in six months after taking another diabetes treatment drug called Mounjaro®, also known as tirzepatide, while eating healthily and exercising.

Although these drugs—Ozempic and Wegovy—use the same active ingredient, semaglutide, their approved usage varies. Numerous posts feature Ozempic under hashtags like #ozempic and #ozempicweightloss, garnering tens of millions of views and numerous Ozempic weight loss stories. These posts often promote Ozempic as a magic bullet for quick and easy weight loss, reflecting a growing trend of using this medication beyond its approved uses.

The misuse of these drugs for cosmetic weight loss—unrelated to health concerns—has raised some eyebrows in the medical community. This behavior reinforces the perpetuated ideal of model-thin beauty standards, contributing to toxic diet culture and potentially triggering or worsening eating disorders.

Although recent studies have found that Ozempic does have the potential to effectively combat obesity, it is still not approved by the FDA for treating weight loss. We’ve already covered the connection between social media and eating disorders, but does Ozempic hold this same potential?

When Weight Loss Triggers Obsession

There is a potential risk of off-label weight loss drugs triggering an eating disorder in vulnerable individuals. Once the drug-induced weight loss begins, it can morph into a compulsion, making it challenging to cease the medication, which can eventually lead to a formal eating disorder. This risk is elevated by the fact that eating disorders come with a genetic predisposition and are far from merely being about aesthetics or lifestyle choices. They are complex mental disorders with a substantial burden.

Connecting the Dots: Can Ozempic Trigger or Worsen Eating Disorders?

As we peel back the layers of complexity surrounding mental health and medication, we find ourselves faced with a poignant question: Could Ozempic inadvertently be a trigger for eating disorders or exacerbate existing conditions? While extensive research in this area is still needed, it’s crucial to examine existing evidence and the associations that suggest such a link.

First, Ozempic’s role in weight regulation could potentially fuel an unhealthy fixation on weight loss, leading to disordered eating patterns. Additionally, suppressing appetite may inadvertently promote restrictive eating, a hallmark behavior in conditions like Anorexia Nervosa.

While Ozempic has proven its worth in addressing certain health conditions like type 2 diabetes, its appropriateness for those without weight-related illnesses remains largely undetermined. This is one of the main reasons why the rising apprehension among healthcare providers regarding the potential for Ozempic to catalyze eating disorder symptoms shouldn’t be ignored.

Embrace the Journey: Weight Loss is a Marathon, not a Sprint

Living a full and active life often involves vibrant and enriching food experiences, which may be jeopardized by the unnecessary use of medications like Ozempic. Embracing a comprehensive perspective on health is vital, encompassing all facets of your well-being, from the physical to the psychological. To delve into mental health aspects, feel free to explore our other blog entries focusing on enhancing body image.

Conclusion: Balancing Medication and Mental Health

While medications like Ozempic play a crucial role in managing physical health conditions, it’s equally important to consider their potential psychological impacts. On your path to improved health, we strongly recommend embracing a holistic perspective that acknowledges the inseparable nature of physical and mental health.

It’s important to always bear in mind, using any medication “off-label” inherently comes with a significant amount of risk. At LifeStance, we advise having in-depth talks with your doctor or healthcare provider about officially recognized and approved treatment options you can use, rather than making health choices driven by trending social media narratives.

While the off-label use of Ozempic for weight loss has become extremely common and increasingly popular due to its prevalence on social media, it’s important to bear in mind that the approved use of Ozempic is for managing type 2 diabetes. The FDA has still not approved the drug for casual weight loss. In this regard, it’s important to remember that there are no magic short cuts to healthy weight loss, and using medications or other treatment methods can sometimes have negative effects.

LifeStance: Your Partner in Health

If you or a loved one is using Ozempic and experiencing potential Eating Disorder symptoms, know that there is support available. Treatment for Eating Disorders can be complex and usually involves a mixed approach consisting of psychological therapy, nutritional education, and in certain cases, medication treatment.

At LifeStance, we aim to provide compassionate and meaningful health care. We understand that your wellness isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience, and we’re dedicated to meeting you where you are, and guiding you to where you want to be. Whether you’re struggling with eating disorder symptoms, off-label drug use, or navigating the side effects of Ozempic for diabetes, we are here for you.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.