Oprah Winfrey opens up about why she started using a weight-loss drug: ‘Nothing else I can do’

Oprah Winfrey is sharing some of the powerful lessons she learned after hosting a TV special on Monday night about obesity and the growing popularity of weight-loss drugs.

Appearing on CNN’s “King Charles” alongside co-hosts Gayle King and Charles Barkley, Winfrey got candid about some of the more surprising moments during the ABC News special, titled “An Oprah Special: Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution.”

The “greatest reward” from doing the special, she said, was learning how weight stigma impacts men, as well.

“It’s interesting to me because, being a woman all these years and having suffered myself up and down yo-yoing, I never think about the men, because I always thought men were treated differently,” Winfrey explained. “I always thought … if you’re 100 pounds overweight and you’re a guy, you’re not going to be ostracized in the same way (as) … women being overweight 100 pounds.”

“So, to hear from so many men who also feel a sense of freedom and liberation to now make a choice that they feel is healthier for them has been the most rewarding for me,” she added.

An expert on the special also taught Winfrey a metaphor that helped her better understand how obesity is a disease that makes people gain weight and requires medical treatment — something she struggled with until she started taking a weight-loss medication.

“When the doctor said on (the special) that (obesity is) like holding your breath underwater and trying not to rise, to me, that is the greatest metaphor,” Winfrey said.

“All these years, I realized that’s what I have been doing. You go on the diet, you’re trying not to rise, and then you rise again, and you can’t even understand why. And before you know it, you’re 10 pounds, 20 pounds, 30 pounds. And all of us (who have obesity) have done this.”

“You have your limit. … I’m not going to go over a certain number. Then you go over that number. Then you say, I’m not going to go over 5 pounds over that. And … you’re always going to go back because if you have the propensity for it, if you carry the marker for it, that’s what’s going to happen in your body.”

Winfrey also gave a glimpse at why she ultimately decided to start using a weight-loss medication: “I couldn’t work out anymore. I can’t climb any faster or run any faster. I was down to eating one meal a day. There’s nothing else I can do.”

“If you feel like being in a bigger body is great, and you don’t want to do anything about that, and you feel fine, that is beautiful. I really admire people who really believe that,” she continued. “Whatever works for you. One of the reasons I wanted to do (the special) is (to) let people make their own choices for their health and well-being.”

Oprah TV’s special on weight-loss drugs

Winfrey’s prime-time special, “An Oprah Special: Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution,” aired March 18 and was recorded in front of a live audience in a studio that looked similar to the set she used for “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which ended in 2011.

“Let’s stop the shaming and blaming,” Winfrey, 70, said as she talked about the obesity epidemic with patients and doctors. “The one thing I hope people come away with is knowing that it’s a disease and it’s in the brain.”

About 42% of Americans have obesity, which can lead to heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The special examined how the anti-obesity drugs could stop the epidemic and improve the health of this population, not just change the number on the scale. But there’s also concern about the drugs’ side effects, cost and weight regain after people stop taking them.

Toward the end of the one-hour program, Winfrey got emotional when she recalled how she used to think of herself and her weight for most of her life, before she understood that obesity is a disease.

“You no longer blame yourself,” she explained. “When I tell you how many times I have blamed myself because you think, ‘I’m smart enough to figure this out,’ and then to hear all along, it’s you fighting your brain.”

She also recalled how she “starved” herself for five months before bringing out the infamous wagon of fat on her talk show in 1988.

“After losing 67 pounds on liquid diet, the next day, the very next day, I started to gain it back,” Winfrey said.

But now, Winfrey said she’s learned so much about the shame and stigma that come with having obesity, and how she wants to fight it.

“All these years, I thought all of the people who never had to diet were just using their willpower and they were for some reason stronger than me,” she said.

“But now I realize y’all weren’t even thinking about the food,” she quipped. “It’s not that you had the willpower. You weren’t even thinking about it. You weren’t obsessing about it.”

The media mogul confirmed in December 2023 that she’s taking a weight-loss medication, though she didn’t specify which one.

Winfrey, who has appeared visibly slimmer in recent months, has said she’s also eating a healthy diet and exercising, including hiking 3 to 5 miles a day or running.

Oprah’s weight loss journey

Winfrey, who has been open about her own struggle with excess weight for decades, calls it “a very personal topic for me.”

In 2023, the former talk show host said she once thought taking a weight-loss drug would be “the easy way out.” But she changed her mind after hosting a panel discussion with obesity physicians and realizing she has a predisposition for being overweight “that no amount of willpower is going to control,” she noted.

Like other patients taking a weight-loss drug, she found the medication quiets constant thoughts about eating, a phenomenon known as food noise.

“For the people who think that this could be the relief and support and freedom that you’ve been looking for your whole life, bless you because there’s space for all points of view,” Winfrey said during the program.

As she approached her 70th birthday, her No. 1 concern was her health, Winfrey told People in December 2023.

“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,” she said.

“I’m absolutely done with the shaming from other people and particularly myself.”

How weight-loss drugs work

Ozempic and Mounjaro are Type 2 diabetes treatments that come with weight-loss as a side effect. Many people have been using them off-label for that purpose.

That led to versions of those medications — Wegovy and Zepbound — which are specifically approved for the treatment of obesity.

The drugs work by mimicking the hormones the body releases when a person eats food, as TODAY.com previously reported. People have reduced appetite, and when they do eat, they feel full sooner.

Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy, targets one hormone, known as GLP-1.

Tirzepatide, the active ingredient in Mounjaro and Zepbound, targets two different hormones, GIP and GLP-1, which can lead to even greater weight loss, research shows.

Patients can expect to lose about 15% to 20% of their body weight, based on results from clinical trials funded by the pharmaceutical companies. But the treatments come with side effects, most commonly nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. Much more serious side effects including pancreatitis are also possible.

People self-inject the drugs once a week and have to keep taking them to maintain weight loss.

They’re expensive without insurance — more than $1,000 per month. Weight-loss drugs are not covered by Medicare and often not covered by commercial health insurance.

How to stream Oprah’s special on Ozempic and other weight loss drugs

Winfrey’s new TV special on obesity and weight-loss drugs, titled “Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution,” is available to stream on Hulu.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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