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Oprah Winfrey reveals the reason she decided to start using a weight-loss drug

Winfrey opened up about her decision to use a medication to help her lose weight in an interview with People. Her new TV special focuses on the drugs.
/ Source: TODAY

Oprah Winfrey is opening up about why she decided to start using a weight-loss drug in a new interview.

The media mogul, 70, has been candid in the past about the criticism and shame she's faced for her weight over the decades, most recently in a new TV special, titled “Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution,” that aired March 18 on ABC.

But when she finally understood that obesity is a disease, everything changed, she said in a March 20 appearance on CNN's "King Charles," where she reflected on the special.

“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," Oprah recalled of deciding to get some extra help with maintaining her weight.

Since starting a weight-loss medication and better understanding how her body works, she struggles much less with blaming herself.

“There is now a sense of hope, No. 1, and No. 2, you no longer blame yourself," Winfrey said. "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.”

“The one thing I hope people come away with is knowing that (obesity is) a disease and it’s in the brain,” she added.

The special comes three months after Winfrey announced she was taking a weight-loss drug, though she hasn't specified which one.

"The Color Purple" Premiere - Red Carpet
Oprah Winfrey at the premiere of "The Color Purple" held at The Academy Museum in Los Angeles.Christopher Polk / Variety via Getty Images

What weight-loss drug did Oprah take?

Winfrey confirmed that she is taking a weight-loss drug in an interview with People published in December, but did not confirm which medication she is taking. Many have speculated it's Ozempic, a brand name medication that's been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat Type 2 diabetes. Weight loss is a famous side effect.

Prior to Winfrey sharing that she’d been taking a weight-loss medication, rumors were already swirling that she was doing so as she walked the red carpet at the premiere for the remake of “The Color Purple” in December 2023.

"I now use it as I feel I need it, as a tool to manage not yo-yoing,” she told People.

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

Winfrey said she took the medication before Thanksgiving “because I knew I was going to have two solid weeks of eating,” she told People, and “instead of gaining eight pounds like I did last year, I gained half a pound. ... It quiets the food noise.”

Winfrey revealed she once thought taking a weight-loss drug would be “the easy way out.”

“There’s a part of me that feels … I’ve got to do it the hard way. I’ve got to keep climbing the mountains. I've got to keep suffering. I’ve got to do that because otherwise I somehow cheated myself,” Winfrey said in September 2023 during a panel on Oprah Daily, called “The State of Weight.”

It was after that discussion that she changed her mind about using a weight-loss drug, Winfrey told People, calling it her "biggest aha" moment: “I realized I’d been blaming myself all these years for being overweight, and I have a predisposition that no amount of willpower is going to control.”

Frustration with her weight has “occupied five decades of space" in her brain, she noted.

Obesity is a disease, she added: "It’s not about willpower — it’s about the brain.” It was then that she “released my own shame about it,” she noted, and was prescribed the weight-loss medication by her doctor.

How did Oprah lose weight?

Winfrey has lost her latest weight using a weight-loss drug and with a healthy diet and exercising. She told People the weight-loss medication is just part of her regimen for maintaining a healthy weight.

“I know everybody thought I was on it, but I worked so damn hard. I know that if I’m not also working out and vigilant about all the other things, it doesn’t work for me,” she said.

The talk show host added that she eats her last meal at 4 p.m., drinks a gallon of water a day and uses the WeightWatchers principles of counting points.

She's also been hiking 3 to 5 miles every day and doing a 10-mile hike on weekends, noting that she's been feeling "stronger, more fit and more alive" than she’s felt in years.

When asked about her transformation at the "The Color Purple" event, Winfrey didn’t even mention a weight-loss drug.

“It’s not one thing, it’s everything,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “I intend to keep it that way. … I was on that treadmill today.”

Studies show that weight-loss drugs need to be part of a holistic approach, with some of the strongest results in patients who are also eating a healthy diet and exercising.

Can you get Ozempic from WeightWatchers?

Yes, WeightWatchers offers prescription weight-loss drugs and diabetes drugs, like Ozempic.

Oprah
In 1988, Winfrey showed off her weight loss on her TV show, but soon began regaining. "What I didn't know was that my metabolism was shot," she later wrote.AP

Why did Oprah quit Weight Watchers?

In February, Winfrey confirmed she’ll step down from the board of directors of WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers.

The media mogul has been a spokesperson for WW and on the company’s board since 2015, but will not put herself up for re-election at the May shareholder meeting.

Winfrey said in a statement that she plans to donate her WW shares to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which the WW board said would “eliminate any perceived conflict of interest around her taking weight-loss medications.”

WW confirmed it would be offering medications such as Wegovy and Ozempic in the spring of 2023.

Winfrey shared in the March ABC special that she cut ties with WW to prevent speculation that she had a conflict of interest when creating the special.

Oprah's weight loss history

Winfrey has struggled with her weight for decades, famously losing 67 pounds with a liquid diet in 1988 then regaining the weight as soon as she “returned to real food,” she recalled on Oprah.com.

In the March 18 special, she said that she essentially "starved" herself for five months before gaining it all back.

In 1992, Winfrey reached 237 pounds, the most she ever weighed, she said during the “The State of Weight” panel discussion. She recalled feeling frustrated that no matter what she did, her body always wanted to go back to a certain weight.

In 2019, Winfrey revealed she was diagnosed with pre-diabetes before doing WW. She then lost 42 pounds with the program, getting her blood sugar and blood pressure back into normal ranges.

Her goal weight now is 160 pounds, though she told People it’s “not about the number” but about living “a more vital and vibrant life.”

As she approached her 70th birthday, her No. 1 concern was her health, Winfrey said, noting she doesn’t live with a fear of death, but with “a conscious acknowledgment that it’s possible at any time.”

“(I) recognize what an absolute miracle it is that 70 years on, that heart’s still pumping,” she added.

Oprah Winfrey speaks during Oprah's 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus Tour presented by WW (Weight Watchers Reimagined) at Barclays Center on February 08, 2020 in New York, New York.
Oprah Winfrey speaks during Oprah's 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus Tour at Barclays Center in New York.Theo Wargo / Getty Images

How do weight-loss drugs work?

Ozempic and similar 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.

Wegovy and Zepbound are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for people with obesity or those who have complications from being overweight. Ozempic and Mounjaro are approved to treat Type 2 diabetes.

The most common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and constipation. People self-inject the drugs once a week and have to keep taking them to maintain weight loss.

Patients can expect to lose 15% to 20% of their body weight, says Dr. Christopher McGowan, a gastroenterologist and obesity medicine specialist who runs a weight-loss clinic in Cary, North Carolina.

Using a weight-loss medication is “in no way the easy way out,” he notes.

“You still have to improve your nutrition. You still have to stay active. You really have to stay quite consistent over time to achieve the results that are seen in the clinical studies,” McGowan tells TODAY.com.

“The reason these new medications are such game changers is they really are effective, and it’s quite remarkable to help someone who’s tried oftentimes for years, decades, maybe their entire adult life, to lose weight.”

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