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No more Thanksgiving `food orgy`? New obesity medications change thinking
Nov 20

AP Health Writer

For most of her life, Claudia Stearns dreaded Thanksgiving. As a person who struggled with obesity since childhood, Stearns hated the annual turmoil of obsessing about what she ate __ and the guilt of overindulging on a holiday built around food.

Now, after losing nearly 100 pounds using medications including Wegovy, a powerful new anti-obesity drug, Stearns says the "food noise" in her head has gone very, very quiet.

"Last year, it felt so lovely to just be able to enjoy my meal, to focus on being with friends and family, to focus on the joy of the day," says Stearns, 65, of Somerville, Massachusetts. "That was a whole new experience."

As millions of Americans struggling with obesity gain access to a new generation of weight-loss drugs, Stearns' experience is becoming more common __ and more noticeable at the times of year when cooking, eating and a sense of abundance can define and heighten gatherings of loved ones and friends. Medical experts and consumers say the drugs are shifting not only what users eat, but also the way they think about food.

For some, it means greater mental control over their meals. Others say it saps the enjoyment from social situations, including traditionally food-centric holidays like Thanksgiving, Passover and Christmas.

"It's something that really changes a lot of things in their life," says Dr. Daniel Bessesen, chief of endocrinology at Denver Health, who treats patients with obesity. "They go from food being a central focus to it's just not."

The new obesity drugs, originally designed to treat diabetes, include
semaglutide, used in Ozempic and Wegovy, and tirzepatide, used in Mounjaro and
recently approved as Zepbound. Now aimed at weight loss, too, the drugs
delivered as weekly injections work far differently than any diet. They mimic
powerful hormones that kick in after people eat to regulate appetite and the
feeling of fullness communicated between the gut and the brain. Users can lose
as much as 15% to 25% of their body weight, studies show.

"That's how it works __ it reduces the rewarding aspects of food," explains Dr. Michael Schwartz, an expert in metabolism, diabetes and obesity at the University of Washington in Seattle.

For Stearns, who started treatment in 2020, using the weight-loss medications means she can take a few bites of her favorite Thanksgiving pies __ and then stop.

"I would not feel full,`` she says, "but I would feel satisfied."

Yet such a shift can have broader implications, both religious and cultural, because it alters the experience of festive and religious holidays that are often built around interactions with food __ and lots of it.

"I'm Italian. For us, it's like going to church, going to a table," says Joe Sapone, 64, a retiree from Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, who lost about 100 pounds with dieting and Mounjaro.

By The Associated Press, Copyright 2023

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