- Basketball star recently made headlines after he announced he had lost over 60 lbs in six months while on weight loss medications.
- While that is a significant amount of weight, experts warn each person is different and could have a different reaction to the drug.
- Experts warn that there is a lack of long-term data when it comes to these drugs.
Charles Barkley, an NBA Hall of Famer and current broadcaster, recently talked about the fact that he dropped a significant amount of weight after he started taking the medication Mounjaro.
Mounjaro is a medication initially intended for the management of diabetes but Barkley is taking it in part to help him lose weight.
Barkley joins a number of celebrities, including Elon Musk and Chelsea Handler, who have used Mounjaro and medications like it such as Ozempic to lose weight.
Barkley talked about his weight loss on the Dan Patrick show in May saying he had dropped from 352 lbs in January to about 290 lbs.
“At some point, I’ve got to get off the drug, but I feel so good physically I’ve got to make sure I don’t get fat again. You don’t even realize how crappy you feel until you start losing weight,” Barkley said on the show.
Mounjaro, generic name tirzepatide, is part of a group of medications called GLP-1 receptor agonists. They work by reducing the rate that your stomach empties and shifting how your body processes your appetite.
This group includes the brand name medications, Ozempic and Wegovy. Only Wegovy is currently FDA-approved for weight loss.
According to physician-nutrition specialist Dr. Michelle Pearlman, these medications are increasingly becoming part of the conversations she has with patients about losing weight.
“Today, people come to my clinic, and they say, ‘I want the injections, or I want Ozempic.’ They come asking for the medication as opposed to maybe starting out with a conversation of, ‘I’m struggling with my weight, I would like to discuss all the options.’
Kate Regan (RDN) says that the increasing notoriety of these medications is changing conversations being had by dietitians as well.
“I have a lot of clients who do still desire to lose weight. So we do have plenty of conversations about the pros and cons of going on a drug like that. And my job really is to provide information and support them in making a decision that they feel is best for themselves.”
Pearlman said that Barkley’s weight loss was significant, but not necessarily unhealthy.
“I think it really just depends on where’s the person starting from. So, if we have a patient who is 150 pounds and they lose a third of their body weight in a short period of time then that’s very drastic,” Pearlman said. “But if someone has a lot of weight to lose then the absolute number may sound like a lot, but really for their particular body, may not be as much as we think it is.”
Pearlman pointed out that every person is different and they may react differently to weight loss drugs.
“So, 60 pounds in six months is definitely fairly rapid. But really, what we tell people is the goal is to lose one to two pounds per week, fairly consistently, but everyone’s body is different,” Pearlman said.
Pearlman is quick to point out that just because you’ve heard about these medications doesn’t mean that you’re inherently a good fit.
“If I have a patient who wants to have a bottle of wine, and eat a huge steak dinner and have 2,000 calories at 10 o’clock at night, and [they] think the medication is going to make them feel well and still lose weight, and not change those sorts of dietary habits, they’re not a good candidate.”
Side effects, in Mounjaro’s case, can include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, and a host of similar symptoms. Even among those who do take medications like Ozempic for their original purpose of treating those with type 2 diabetes there are specific strategies dietitians, including Regan, suggest.
“If you’re taking this drug for blood sugar management, you still are going to experience a lot of the same side effects. But we need to kind of focus more on practical eating and making sure you’re still eating enough food, even if your appetite is decreased, even if you’re not feeling super hungry, because this drug is altering the way that you are experiencing hunger and fullness cues.”
Without looking more broadly at your health, sustained weight loss will be difficult. Dr. Mir Ali says that what fits best will depend on your lifestyle and your needs.
“There are multiple options for weight loss: surgery is most effective for those who meet criteria; there are also other medications besides Ozempic available for weight loss; nutritional counseling to help people change to a healthier lifestyle may also be effective for some patients, especially those who have only a modest amount of weight to lose.”
Availability is another issue he sees, with insurance companies rarely covering these medications, shortages, and the associated costs. That lack of attainability and affordability is also something Pearlman is seeing in her Florida practice.
“If they’re paying $1,500 a month, there’s a big difference between using it for six months and then taking it for 10 years… [and[ there’s a huge supply demand issue. So, sometimes I have patients where there’s delays in therapy, because we literally can’t find them the medication from pharmacy.”
Pearlman also says that the lack of long-term data when it comes to drugs like these does have to be considered.
“We have data when it comes to Ozempic and diabetes, but most of those patients aren’t taken off the medication because they still have diabetes. Weight is a little bit different. We just don’t have the long term data to see how long do people need these medications? And is it going to be an indefinite thing or several years? We just don’t know.”