Claudia Stearns, who battled obesity for most of her life, once dreaded Thanksgiving—a holiday centered around food and marred by the perennial struggle over what to eat. However, after shedding nearly 100 pounds through the use of medications, including the potent anti-obesity drug Wegovy, Stearns now describes the mental “food noise” as remarkably 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 a new generation of weight-loss drugs becomes more accessible to millions of Americans grappling with obesity, experiences like Stearns’ are becoming increasingly common. These medications not only alter what users eat but also reshape their perceptions of food, particularly during times of festivity such as Thanksgiving, Passover, and Christmas.
For some, the medications provide enhanced mental control over their meals. Others report a reduction in the enjoyment of social situations, especially during food-centric holidays.
The latest anti-obesity drugs, originally designed for diabetes treatment, include semaglutide in Ozempic and Wegovy, and tirzepatide in Mounjaro, recently approved as Zepbound. Now repurposed for weight loss, these drugs, administered weekly through injections, function differently than traditional diets. They mimic potent hormones that regulate appetite and the sensation of fullness after eating, potentially resulting in weight loss of 15% to 25%, according to studies.
“This is 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.
Stearns, who commenced treatment in 2020, attests that weight-loss medications allow her to savor a few bites of her favorite Thanksgiving pies without feeling overly full.
Yet, the broader impact of this shift extends beyond individual experiences, touching on both religious and cultural dimensions as it alters the essence of festive and religious holidays traditionally centered around food.
Joe Sapone, a retiree from Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, who shed about 100 pounds with Mounjaro, acknowledges the adjustment required to disconnect enjoyment from excessive eating during holidays. “Am I still going to have fun if I don’t eat that much?” he reflects.
While some users appreciate the increased control over their food choices during emotionally charged holidays, others on these drugs lose their appetites entirely or endure side effects that diminish the pleasure of eating. Dr. Katherine Saunders, an obesity expert at Weill Cornell Medicine, notes that most people using weight-loss medications have spent years grappling with the physical and mental burdens of chronic obesity, ultimately finding relief in decreased food cravings and shedding pounds.
However, studies indicate that when individuals cease taking the drugs, their appetites return, and weight is regained, often at a faster rate than it was lost. The high cost and ongoing supply shortages may contribute to this trend, but it raises a larger question about the implications of altering a fundamental human drive like appetite. Dr. Jens Juul Holst of the University of Copenhagen, one of the researchers behind the development of these drugs, posed a philosophical critique of their real-world impact during an international diabetes conference this fall.