In the majority of her years, Claudia Stearns had a strong aversion towards Thanksgiving. Being someone who battled with obesity from a young age, Stearns loathed the yearly stress of fixating on her food choices and the remorse of overindulging during a holiday centered around eating.
After shedding almost 100 pounds with the aid of various medications, including Wegovy, a potent new medication for obesity, Stearns reports that the constant thoughts about food in her mind have significantly decreased.
Stearns, a 65-year-old resident of Somerville, Massachusetts, reflects on the previous year and recalls the simple pleasure of savoring a meal while spending time with loved ones without distractions. It was a new and enjoyable experience for her.
As more and more Americans dealing with excess weight are able to use newer weight-loss medications, cases like Stearns’ are becoming increasingly prevalent. This is especially evident during times of the year when food preparation, consumption, and a feeling of abundance tend to define and intensify gatherings with family and friends. According to medical professionals and individuals using these drugs, they not only impact eating habits, but also change the mindset towards food.
Some individuals believe it gives them better cognitive control over their food intake. On the other hand, some argue that it takes away the pleasure from social gatherings, such as holidays that are often centered around food, like Thanksgiving, Passover, and Christmas.
According to Dr. Daniel Bessesen, head of endocrinology at Denver Health, addressing obesity has a profound impact on patients’ lives. It shifts their focus away from food and towards other aspects of their well-being.
The new obesity drugs, originally designed to treat diabetes, include semaglutide, used in Ozempic and Wegovy, and tirzepatide, used in Mounjaro and recently approved as Zepbound. Now aimed at weight loss, too, the drugs delivered as weekly injections work far differently than any diet. They mimic powerful hormones that kick in after people eat to regulate appetite and the feeling of fullness communicated between the gut and the brain. Users can lose as much as 15% to 25% of their body weight, studies show.
According to Dr. Michael Schwartz, a specialist in metabolism, diabetes, and obesity at the University of Washington in Seattle, this is how it operates – it lessens the satisfying elements of food.
Stearns, who began her treatment in 2020, is able to enjoy a few bites of her favorite Thanksgiving pies without guilt thanks to the weight-loss medications she is taking.
She states, “I may not feel completely full, but I would feel content.”
However, this change can have wider consequences, both religious and cultural, as it changes the way festive and religious celebrations, which often revolve around food and abundance, are experienced.
Joe Sapone, a 64-year-old retiree from Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, who lost approximately 100 pounds through dieting and Mounjaro, describes the significance of food in Italian culture as akin to attending church or sitting at a table. While he no longer indulges in what he refers to as a “food orgy” during holidays, he admits that it was a difficult change to make.
“An important aspect of achieving success is separating a pleasant experience from your food consumption,” he explains. “Will I still enjoy myself if I don’t eat as much?”
Numerous individuals appreciate the perceived increase in autonomy regarding their dietary choices, especially during the emotionally-charged holiday period.
Tara Rothenhoefer, a 48-year-old from Trinity, Florida, lost over 200 pounds by participating in a clinical trial for Mounjaro, a weight loss treatment, in 2020. She now chooses her food more carefully and is less concerned about consuming bread, but still enjoys the foods she loves.
However, some individuals who take these medications experience a complete loss of appetite or encounter unpleasant side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea which can diminish the enjoyment of eating.
Dr. Katherine Saunders, an expert in obesity at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-founder of Intellihealth, a company specializing in obesity treatment, has encountered several patients who have struggled with food enjoyment over the years, causing them great discomfort.
However, she noted that many individuals who have resorted to weight-loss drugs have faced prolonged challenges with the physical and emotional effects of persistent obesity. They are often relieved to experience a reduced appetite and grateful to lose weight.
Research has shown that when individuals discontinue use of weight-loss medication, their cravings and weight tend to come back, often faster than the initial weight loss. An initial study revealed that after one year, two-thirds of patients who initially began using weight-loss medication had stopped taking it.
Some of this could be attributed to expensive prices and ongoing lack of supply. However, there is also a bigger issue to consider – the effects of modifying a fundamental human desire like hunger. According to Dr. Jens Juul Holst from the University of Copenhagen, one of the scientists who initially discovered the gut hormone GLP-1 (also known as glucagon-like peptide 1), which eventually led to the development of a new type of medication for obesity.
Holst delivered a philosophical analysis of the practical effects of the new medications at an international conference on diabetes this autumn.
“Can you explain the reason behind your weight loss? It appears that your appetite has diminished, causing you to no longer enjoy eating or appreciate a delicious meal,” Holst stated to his coworkers. “But how long can you tolerate this? That is the true question at hand.”
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group provides support to the Associated Press Health and Science Department. The AP is fully responsible for all of its content.