Weight loss drugs have to be a lifelong commitment if someone wants to keep the weight off, health experts have said.
People taking drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy will still experience weight loss plateau and may require further lifestyle changes to continue to lose weight, according to those working in this field.
Experts say that in a similar way to other weight loss techniques, someone taking Ozempic or Wegovy (with active ingredient semaglutide) will eventually stop shedding pounds and their body will settle at a certain weight, which may not be the individual’s target weight.
These weight loss drugs work by mimicking a hormone which tells the brain that the body is full, slowing down digestion.
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However, when someone stops taking the medication, the weight will return, meaning that people need to take the medication for their whole life.
For someone starting on this treatment plan at a younger age, the long-term effects of the drugs are still relatively unknown.
The weight loss plateau experienced by people taking the semaglutide-based drugs could be addressed by increasing the dose or making exercise or dietary modifications. However, even making these changes may not tackle the plateau.
Dr Mir Ali, medical director at the MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center in California, said: “The studies I’ve seen say that patients tend to plateau with semaglutide at 60 weeks. So it’s over a year, which is pretty good.
“The plateaus tend to happen after the patient loses a significant amount of weight and is getting closer to a healthy weight.
“The body is tending to hold on to calories to preserve itself.”
Endocrinologist Dr Jason Ng, from University of Pittsburgh, went on to say: “Weight loss plateau happens when your body’s energy burn equals energy being added through food.
“Initially, with weight loss, when you significantly decrease energy intake, the body will get energy needs through other sources such as glycogen. This triggers weight loss. Over time, as you lose weight, your metabolism will slow down to compensate.
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“The point at which your metabolism is equal to how much energy you intake through food is when the plateau hits.”
Dr Ng said that increasing the amount of exercise or reducing food intake could alter this energy balance to help overcome this plateau.
Focussing on a target weight may not be beneficial, experts say, especially when the goal weight is different to what is a healthy weight for an individual.
Dr Ali said: “There are patients who are very focused on the scale. They weigh themselves every day, and get upset if they go up a pound or down not as much as they want.
“My advice to them is to try to focus on doing the right things – eating healthier, exercising – and not weight.
“You know, the goal is to get you to have better health, not necessarily focus on a number. Maybe the scale isn’t changing as much as they’d hoped, but their body composition is changing, their clothes are fitting better, they’re feeling better, their health is improving.”