The “miracle” drug can cost $1,000 a month — but the real cost is much higher.
I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 10 years old. A precocious, social kid, I watched and then copied my babysitter as she dieted, and thanks to what I now know to be my neurobiological and genetic predisposition, this sent me straight into an eating disorder. Thanks to my parents discovering Family-Based Treatment, I finally reached recovery by 15.
The past few years have left me feeling optimistic, thanks to the body neutrality movement, the rise of size inclusivity in fashion, and the seemingly widespread recognition that diets don’t work and are often counterproductive.
And then, as of just a month or so ago, you couldn’t scroll a news or social feed without headlines about the new “miracle” weight loss drug Ozempic. Approved by the FDA to control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, the injectable drug suppresses appetite and slows the rate of gastric emptying, and is increasingly being used off-label by people — often with privilege and deep wallets — looking to lose weight. In some circles (see: Hollywood), Ozempic is practically ubiquitous among celebrities who are already lean and seeking to shrink their bodies even more.
I’ve dedicated my career to fighting eating disorders, and I know that our society’s obsession with thinness often makes recovery feel elusive. When I was a kid in the late-90s, Atkins and South Beach diet books were displayed prominently at my local bookstore; my fridge was filled with fat-free yogurt and 100-calorie muffin tops; Victoria’s Secret Angels were the body role models for young women. The world we lived in was actively making us sick.
This year, on the first day of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, New York magazine ran a cover story about the Ozempic phenomenon entitled “Life After Food”: essentially a detailed portrayal and glamorization of eating disorders. The story is filled with graphic descriptions of how people starved themselves on Ozempic, resisted hunger cues, and ate two bites at dinner and only one meal per day — all for the low price of about $1,000 a month, without insurance.
As the piece illustrates, the Ozempic craze is in many ways a much more dangerous version of the “What I Eat in a Day” food diaries in People magazine (and now, all over social media), which, if we’re being honest, have always been privileged people lying to the public about how they attained thinness. In both cases, restrictive eating is portrayed as an aspirational, even morally superior way of existing. And while Ozempic worship on TikTok and other social platforms is certainly dangerous, what’s even more worrisome is how openly celebrities are using it. In our fame-obsessed culture, where well-known people essentially define norms in society, seeing celebs inject their way to thinness is bound to have repercussions.
Most coverage I’ve read on Ozempic glosses over the serious side effects: Diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, stomach pain, fainting, and even thyroid cancer. (It also typically skips the fact that as soon as you go off the drug, the weight returns.) We’ve always known that restrictive diets are dangerous psychically and mentally. They cause hormone disruption, bone loss, organ damage, irritability, anxiety, depression, and difficulty sleeping and concentrating. And putting this aside, a “life after food” is a life devoid of dinners with friends, holiday meals with families, birthday cake, and long meals marked by discovery and cultivation of true connection. Despite all the progress we’ve made in the past 20 years, as soon as a new quick fix comes to market, we’re once again believers in the idea that, as Kate Moss said was her motto, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
But people who’ve recovered from eating disorders, like me, have learned the hard way that this mindset is dangerous. You may lose weight, but you’ll also lose your passion, your vibrancy, and your mental health. You may even lose your life: Eating disorders are the second deadliest mental health condition.
Recovering from an eating disorder is already challenging in our body-policing world, and the cultural gaze on Ozempic is making it feel near-impossible. The salacious coverage of this drug is putting more people at risk for eating disorders, and likely triggering those in recovery back into the throes of their illness. The majority of people with eating disorders live in larger bodies, and I’ve already had peers in recovery being suggested Ozempic by their doctors. As my friend Maya recently said to me, “Until the world changes the way they view fatness, recovery will be a constant, daily, and difficult act for me.”
The only way we can offer hope to the 30 million Americans who struggle with this isolating, scary, deadly disease is by reexamining how we see weight and health. It’s not a “bio-hack” to fast for 18 hours a day in the hopes of losing weight. It’s a restrictive eating disorder behavior. It’s not a “detox” to inject ourselves with a drug that will force us to stop eating and feel nauseous when we do. It’s an eating disorder behavior. And it’s not OK.
When I finally accessed the ability to eat freely and flexibly — to make peace with food and rediscover it as a way to connect with people I love, to have brain space for things more interesting than just calories and weight — it felt like a miracle. People with eating disorders work their whole lives to unlearn their behaviors so sanctioned by our society.
On the heels of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, let’s think hard about creating a world where young people can grow up feeling safe in their bodies. Where young girls and boys can see their bodies as simply their home for imagination, exploration, and experiencing the full range of human emotions. Let’s internalize the belief (and the proven science!) that body size isn’t an indicator of health or value or worth. And, please, let’s all eat three solid meals a day with sufficient snacks — no injection required.
Kristina Saffran is the co-founder and CEO of Equip, a virtual eating disorder treatment program delivering evidence-based treatment informed by lived experience.