Psychiatrists are concerned that the popularity of a diabetes drugs will lead to poor body image, eating disorders.
Eating disorder experts are concerned about the popularity of weight loss drugs such as Ozempic. While these drugs were initially developed to treat Type 2 diabetes, they also lead to weight loss, and many doctors are prescribing them off-label to patients with obesity. The drugs are medically necessary for people with Type 2 diabetes, and the associated weight loss can also have health benefits for some people who are overweight or obese. However, using these drugs for weight loss has led to a trend that could make a recovery from eating disorders harder.
Tracy Richmond, director of the eating disorder program at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that she fears people now believe that anyone can, and should, achieve a particular body shape and size with the help of these medications. This could lead to an even greater drive towards a specific body type, which creates a risky environment for people with eating disorders. Some individuals with EDs are seeking out these drugs themselves, and experts warn that using them without a medical need could lead could only make the disorders worse.
According to Richmond, the conversation around these drugs also risks reversing progress on the idea that there can be optimal health at every size. While weight loss has been proven to help lower the risk of diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol if a person is clinically overweight or obese, weight is not a “one-size-fits-all” measurement. The focus of the conversation around Ozempic and similar drugs is on the weight loss aspects, not improved health, which reinforces ideas that being thin is the only way to stay healthy.
Celebrities and public figures are either taking, or are rumored to take these drugs, as are others who aren’t overweight but have the means to pay for a prescription out of pocket. Telehealth startups are advertising the drugs to anyone who wants to lose weight with little medical oversight. This could lead to people fixating on body size and food, which can develop into disorders.
Dr. Kim Dennis, a psychiatrist specializing in eating disorders and co-founder and CEO of SunCloud Health, said that she’s seeing the trend of individuals seeking out these drugs themselves, especially those who don’t fit the stereotype of a person with an eating disorder, including “folks in larger bodies.” This could include people with atypical anorexia, a diagnosis where someone has all of the symptoms of anorexia but is not underweight, or people with binge eating disorder. A doctor might prescribe them Ozempic or a similar drug because they have a higher BMI, assuming that using the medicine to lose weight would make that person healthier.
However, that is not necessarily the case if the person has an eating disorder. These drugs don’t cause permanent changes, and people can gain the weight back if they stop taking them. Richmond said she’d be concerned about how people might react when the effects plateau or if they’re no longer taking the drug. She warned that people could see a drive for higher doses or more restrictive eating.