What Happens to Your Body on Ozempic?

Experts caution against using the medication as a quick solution to weight loss.

  • Semaglutide, sold under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy, has steadily increased in popularity within the wellness space.
  • Ozempic is intended as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. Wegovy is to be used as a weight management solution for adults with obesity who have at least one weight-related condition, like high blood pressure.
  • Experts recommend individuals avoid semaglutide as a means for quick weight loss.

The medication semaglutide, sold under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy, has become a national talking point.

Current buzz around semaglutide namely stems from its off-label use, primarily for weight loss. Celebrities and influencers have been cited as using these expensive medications in an effort to be thinner. This use drastically strays from the medication’s intent.

“The purpose of these medications is not to provide a quick fix and they should not be used for appearance issues only,” Amy Warriner, MD, told Health. Warriner is a professor of medicine and the director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham weight loss clinic. 

A surge in popularity for the sake of weight loss doesn’t just cause side effects on the individuals taking it to shed a few pounds, but that trend will also make the drugs less available for people who need them for medical reasons. The Food & Drug Association cites Ozempic and Wegovy injections as “currently in shortage.” 

“People can go online, fill out a couple of questions, make up their BMI and co-occurring medical conditions and if they are willing to pay out of pocket they can get semaglutide very, very easily,” Jennifer Derenne, MD, vice president of medical care at Equip, told Health

Critically, the effects of these medications on people without excess weight or diabetes have not been studied. Further, there is tension between the potential benefits these medications can confer and possible negative consequences, including the development of an eating disorder. 

"The act of restriction can trigger a person who is biologically vulnerable and lead to really unhealthy behaviors,” explained Dr. Derenne, who specializes in eating disorder research and recovery. 

Person using a bathroom scale

Getty Images / Sellwell

What Is Semaglutide?

Semaglutide is the synthetic version of a human hormone called glucagon-like peptide one, or GLP-1. The natural version of this hormone is secreted in our gut and signals to the body that we’re full. Semaglutide is injected as a clear solution. 

After injection, semaglutide increases insulin production and lowers blood sugar. This causes the stomach to empty more slowly, reduces appetite, and makes people feel full.

The Difference Between Ozempic and Wegovy

Semaglutide is sold under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Ozempic as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. Wegovy was approved for chronic weight management in adults with obesity or overweight with at least one weight-related condition, like high blood pressure, in 2021.

Ozempic can be useful for people with type 2 diabetes because of its effect on blood sugar levels. When people have type 2 diabetes their body either doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use it properly. This can result in high blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes; some can control their high blood sugar levels with diet and exercise, while others need medication to manage it.

Wegovy is intended to be delivered alongside a low-calorie, low-fat diet, and exercise program. It slows the movement of food through the stomach, can decrease appetite, and cause weight loss.

Physical Side Effects of Ozempic and Wegovy

The most common adverse reactions to Ozempic are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and constipation. While patients are advised to speak with their doctor before discontinuing use, the FDA also says people should stop semaglutide injections immediately and seek medical help if they have a severe allergic reaction.

Rarely, Ozempic can cause more serious side effects, including inflammation of the pancreas, changes in vision, and serious allergic reactions.

Wegovy is associated with several common side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, stomach pain, headache, fatigue, dizziness, gas buildup, belching, and low blood sugar. It can also cause gastroenteritis, an intestinal infection, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, a digestive disorder. It has not been studied in patients with a history of pancreatitis and is not recommended for people with gallbladder problems. 

Wegovy also contains warnings for suicidal behavior or thinking. 

Semaglutide and Eating Disorders

A growing interest in semaglutide injections as a “quick fix” for weight loss is “giving me a little bit of a pit in my stomach,” said Dr. Derenne. She’s concerned about potential eating disorders and a toxic desire to change bodies for aesthetic—not health—reasons. Further, because these medications can cause discomfort after meals, that can create a negative relationship to food, she added. 

Before prescribing either Ozempic or Wegovy, Dr. Warriner screens patients for anorexia nervosa. She also talks to patients about their goals, to ensure the targets they are setting together are realistic. In addition, lifestyle modifications that are not medication-relation, like diet and exercise, are prioritized.

“We shouldn’t be using these medications without considering food behaviors and the possibility of disordered eating habits,” said Dr. Warriner. 

Because some people are mischaracterized as unhealthy based on their body mass index (BMI) alone, Dr. Derenne is also worried that “these medicines run the risk of being overprescribed.” BMI is not a perfect measure of health. 

Expectations around the use of semaglutide medications can also lead to poor mental health. While some choose to use these because they want to feel happier and healthier, those changes are not guaranteed.

“I think sometimes people end up feeling depressed and anxious because they were pinning their hopes on this as a life-changing intervention, but they are still who they are and their relationships are still what they are,” Dr. Derenne explained. “The weight loss alone doesn’t change everything.” 

Starting Ozempic

Semaglutide causes a delay in a process called gastric emptying.

“When you eat food, it stays in your stomach for a little bit but then it starts getting pushed out into your intestines and moves through your intestinal tract,” explained Dr. Derenne.

Semaglutide changes this process and can cause individuals to get full faster, stay full, and experience a decrease in hunger. This is why its use can result in weight loss. 

In research on people with type 2 diabetes, semaglutide was also found to lower blood sugar. 

Continuous Use of Ozempic

There is little research on the use of Ozempic and Wegovy by people not prescribed these medications for diabetes or obesity, so it is difficult to say what these drugs to do those individuals, noted Dr. Warriner. 

Since Wegovy has only been on the market as an anti-obesity drug since 2021, there’s some uncertainty about its long-term effects. So far, it seems that people’s bodies get used to the medication over time, and “the robust effect does start lessening the longer a person uses these medications,” said Dr. Warriner.

Because the use of the drug for weight loss is so new, data on the long-term effects is unavailable.

But Dr. Warriner said a good comparison point could be liraglutide, another injectable medication used to treat type 2 diabetes. With liraglutide, over time patients will have “a more blunted, muted effect in regard to hunger reduction and appetite satiety,” she explained. 

Stopping Ozempic

Stopping semaglutide, like any medication, is not without its side effects. And, as is the case with many other weight loss methods, once an individual goes off Ozempic, it’s likely they’ll gain weight back.

In a 2022 study funded by Novo Nordisk, which manufactures Ozempic and Wegovy, people who stopped taking semaglutide after 68 weeks of use regained two-thirds of their lost weight.

Meanwhile, these are “not medications that our body becomes addicted to, there are no significant withdrawals and no significant major rebound effects,” emphasized Dr. Warriner. In her patients with diabetes, Warriner has also observed a return of increased appetite over time.

Ultimately, the medication is intended to be used consistently, due to the benefits they confer to people with needs identified by their physicians. It is not intended to be used in short spurts, like the month before an event.

“The goal is to improve overall health, reduce morbidity, and reduce mortality,” Dr. Warriner concluded. “There is a huge number of people who could potentially benefit from medications like semaglutide.”

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Yale Medicine. Can new weight-loss drugs really treat obesity?.

  2. National Library of Medicine: DailyMed. Ozempic—semaglutide injection, solution [drug label].

  3. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Semaglutide injection.

  4. National Library of Medicine: DailyMed. Wegovy—semaglutide injection, solution [drug label].

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Type 2 diabetes.

  6. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Type 2 diabetes.

  7. Blundell J, Finlayson G, Axelsen M, et al. Effects of once‐weekly semaglutide on appetite, energy intake, control of eating, food preference and body weight in subjects with obesityDiabetes Obes Metab. 2017;19(9):1242-1251. doi:10.1111/dom.12932

  8. Aroda VR, Bain SC, Cariou B, et al. Efficacy and safety of once-weekly semaglutide versus once-daily insulin glargine as add-on to metformin (With or without sulfonylureas) in insulin-naive patients with type 2 diabetes (SUSTAIN 4): a randomised, open-label, parallel-group, multicentre, multinational, phase 3a trialLancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2017;5(5):355-366. doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(17)30085-2

  9. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Liraglutide injection.

  10. Wilding JPH, Batterham RL, Davies M, et al. Weight regain and cardiometabolic effects after withdrawal of semaglutide: the STEP 1 trial extension. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2022;24(8):1553-1564. doi:10.1111/dom.14725

Related Articles