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Telehealth companies are helping people achieve long-term weight loss with online programs that combine one-on-one coaching with prescription drugs like Ozempic. Wagner Okasaki/Getty Images
  • Telehealth company Calibrate is offering a weight loss program that prescribes a weight loss drug and one-to-one coaching.
  • Ozempic is a drug used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but it’s recently grown in popularity as a weight loss tool.
  • Experts say it can provide a motivating kickstart for people who are trying to lose weight.
  • One-to-one coaching may help people to understand and improve their eating habits, which could lead to weight loss.

Shifting unwanted body fat can be difficult for a number of reasons, both physical and mental. On the one hand, you must create a calorie deficit through diet and exercise, and on the other, you’ll need to address unhealthy eating habits and understand why you eat the way you do.

A telehealth company has devised a program that claims to help you with both the physical and mental aspects of sustainable weight loss.

Calibrate says it takes a multi-pronged approach to weight loss by offering one-to-one coaching sessions with an obesity doctor and a weight loss coach, and prescribing GLP-1s, a kind of medication that’s said to curb cravings and make you feel fuller faster.

The medications on offer include brand-name GLP-1s such as Wegovy, Saxenda, Mounjaro, and Ozempic.

If the latter name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been heralded as a weight loss wonder drug and has grown in popularity as a weight loss tool in recent years. Ozempic is a brand name of semaglutide, an injectable drug that is used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

The company claims that, according to research, combining GLP-1 medications (like Ozempic) with coaching and small lifestyle changes is the “safest and most effective long-term option for weight loss.”

Used in tandem, are these methods really a fail-safe weight loss approach?

“Initially, this drug was devised for people with type 2 diabetes as it regulates your blood sugar levels,” says Anne Iarchy, a weight loss and healthy lifestyle coach. “It was never intended to be a weight loss drug.”

Ozempic works by lowering your blood sugar levels after eating. It stimulates the same effect of insulin secretion in a healthy person.

“Your blood sugar levels after a meal are reduced, which then makes you feel full. And when you feel full, you don’t have any craving for food,” Iarchy explains.

As well as improving satiety, there are claims that the drug makes certain foods repulsive as well. This is said to be down to the body’s insulin reaction, which causes you to crave different foods.

So, is combining Ozempic and one-to-one coaching an effective recipe for consistent and sustainable weight loss?

Iarchy believes that the drug may be a good starting point for some.

“Obese people who have tried many diets before can easily get disheartened if they don’t see results immediately. Their mindset has been shot over the years of trying, and sometimes a boost with a certain drug can help you get over that first hurdle,” she says.

While Iarchy says she hasn’t heard that the drug makes food taste terrible, she does worry that it could encourage people into the habit of relying on drugs without taking ownership of their own behavior and lifestyle.

Iarchy says she believes that, combined with prescription medications, coaching is a good addition to the Calibrate program if it’s done properly.

“Coaching has to encompass education on nutrition, awareness around current habits and patterns, and a reset of someone’s mindset around food, exercise, and lifestyle,” she surmises.

For Iarchy, addressing why people overeat, why they eat certain foods, and what they need to do to change is crucial for long-term results.

With the convenience of grabbing processed foods, Iarchy says Calibrate would need to educate their members on what a healthy meal looks likes and how they can prepare it during these sessions.

“The meds do come with quite a lot of potential side effects, so that has to be taken into consideration as well,” Iarchy adds.

Among the possible side effects are fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Add to that, if the drug really does ruin your enjoyment of food, there is a risk that it could lead to disordered eating.

Losing interest in the foods you normally love – or being able to only eat a few bites of them – could create an unhealthy and unsatisfying relationship with food that could do more harm than good in the long run.

Shaheen-Zaffar, a coach and counselor, says this is a potential risk with any weight loss drug. But adds that, the emotional support you receive through one-to-one coaching may help you with these challenges.

“[Coaching] can help you identify if that is happening and allow you to raise your concerns,” she notes.

Like Iarchy, Shaheen-Zaffar believes that drugs like Ozempic can act as a kickstart, and provide motivation while people begin to heal their relationship with food through coaching or counseling.

Having tried the drug herself several years ago, Shaheen-Zaffar can attest to the fact that it can cause weight loss. However, she notes that she regained weight as she wasn’t exploring the emotional reasons she had gained weight in the first place.

“There was no emotional or nutritional support at the time, and so I went back to the same old habits,” she explains.

Weight loss aside, there are also concerns that the increased demand for the drug is causing shortages for people who rely on it to manage type 2 diabetes.

The FDA has reported intermittent supply disruptions of semaglutide injectables, which it expects to continue until at least January 2023. So, there is also a moral quandary to consider when selecting a program like this.

However you choose to lose weight, be it through a program like Calibrate, or some other means, Shaheen-Zaffar believes realistic goals need to be at the heart of your endeavors.

“Setting unrealistic goals is setting yourself up for failure. Look at your eating patterns at a deeper level and take one day at a time,” she suggests.

Whether going it alone or enlisting the help of medication and coaching support, both experts agree you shouldn’t neglect the basics like good nutrition and regular exercise.

“Look at weight loss as a way to be healthy,” Iarchy advises. “You’ll lose weight as a by-product of it, and your life and energy levels will be much improved.”