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Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people struggle with their weight in the UK. According to a 2021 Parliamentary report, 28% of UK Adults are Obese and 36% are overweight, meaning in total, 64% of the population are NOT a healthy weight. This is a big problem considering that 67% of men and 60% of women admitted to hospital in 2013-2014 were obese or overweight, with their weight being a factor for their admission according to the NHS.
This isn’t a new problem. The percentage of overweight and obese people in the UK has been steadily creeping up since records began, the problem is bigger than ever, yet there is more information and help out there on than ever (including my own weight loss coaching!).
So what’s going wrong?
Anyone can lose weight, but many will try for a few weeks then revert back to old habits. One of the biggest issues people face is their appetite. The short-term drive to eat often overcomes the longer-term desire to lose weight, well, there’s now a drug available on the NHS that can help with this. It’s called Wegovy, manufactured by Novo Nordisk.
In early February 2022, Wegovy was approved for use in the UK by NICE (The National Institute for Healthcare Excellence).
WHAT IS WEGOVY?
Wegovy (Also called Semaglutide) is a weight loss injection that mimics the glucagon-like-peptide (GLP1) hormone that sends signals to the brain that the stomach is full and helps prevent overeating. Some people do not produce this hormone, don’t produce enough of it to give the brain a strong enough signal to stop eating, or simply experience a long delay between eating and production of the hormone.
All of this leads to overeating, being in a calorie surplus (eating more calories than you use) over long periods of time, and as a result, weight gain. For many, weight gain is a vicious circle that’s impossible to escape
HOW DOES WEGOVY WORK?
Wegovy is administered via a pen-style injection once per week.
Just like bariatric weight-loss surgery like gastric bands, it drastically limits appetite but without the invasive and expensive nature of surgery. Reduced appetite means a reduced calorie intake, which means a much higher likelihood of successful weight loss
The drug is for obese or overweight people in the UK via the NHS and needs to be prescribed. Ir can be used for up to two years and is prescribed along with help from other professionals, like weight loss coaches.
WHO QUALIFIES FOR WEGOVY?
In the UK, any adult with a BMI of 35 and a weight-related condition (such as diabetes) will be able to access Wegovy, and in exceptional circumstances (this may be due to mental health-related issues), people with a minimum BMI of 30 may be able to access the drug. This means that only people classed as obese or severely/extremely obese will be able to use it.
The exception to this rule is for people of Black, Asain or Chinese heritage who may qualify for Wegovy at a BMI of 25. This is because people in these groups may be more susceptible to weight-related issues and diseases.
Is the BMI scale perfect? No. There are exceptions, for example, people with an unusually high muscle mass may be classed as overweight or even obese despite having relatively low body fat, but this is a very small percentage of the population so these broad guidelines will suit most people.
HOW MUCH IS WEGOVY?
Wegovy is £73.25 per pack (4 pens), but may be available to many free of charge via the NHS.
WHAT WEGOVY DOESN’T DO
While the release of this new drug is a ray of hope for many that have struggled with weight loss for years or even decades, it isn’t magic.
Just using Wegovy doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to eat ad infinitum, and whatever the hell you like. The rules of thermodynamics still apply, and you’ll still need to be in a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you use) for a significant period of time in order to lose weight
Wegovy doesn’t automatically create a calorie deficit for you, but it does help you achieve it by reducing your appetite and therefore your drive to eat.
So, you’ll still need to ensure that you’re keeping an eye on your calories, and not eating calorie-dense foods that can pack a ton of calories without filling you up. Some examples of these foods are;
- Cooking oils
- Peanut Butter and Almond Butter
- Cream-based sauces (e.g. mayo)
- Oil-based dressing (e.g. Ranch)
It would technically be possible to use Wegovy and not lose any weight, or even gain weight, so building good weight loss habits alongside the use of this drug is essential. People taking Wegovy should eat a healthy, nutritious diet and exercise several times per week.
WHO WON’T IT WORK FOR?
The key thing to remember with Wegovy is that it is designed to suppress or reduce appetite, so it will work particularly well for people with big appetites that find it difficult to stop eating after a big meal, or people that continuously snack throughout the day.
Appetite however isn’t the only reason that people overeat.
Overeating can happen for all kinds of different reasons, including;
- Eating out of boredom
- Emotional eating
- Mindless eating (while watching TV, for example)
- Eating as a result of social pressure (e.g. work events, family dinners)
- Eating as a ‘hobby’ (e.g. eating out)
- Overeating to fuel exercise (e.g. having 5 donuts before a 20 minute run)
If you overeat for any of these reasons, Wegovy may not help you.
If you’re taking Wegovy and it reduces your appetite, but you still overeat because you’re sitting your desk at 3pm and you’re bored of staring at spreadsheets, the effects of the drug will be undermined because you’ll still likely be in a calorie surplus.
So, if you feel like your weight problems are NOT appetite-related, then Wegovy may not be the drug for you.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU STOP USING WEGOVY?
This is the big question.
No one really knows what the outcome will be for someone that’s been on Wegovy for let’s say, 2 years, then stops using the drug.
You could argue that their appetite will rebound back to normal levels after ceasing use of the drug, which means there would be a high risk of weight regain.
On the other hand, if the drug is successful at producing weight loss, metabolism will reduce, and theoretically, appetite will be lower than it was previously.
If users of Wegovy have built up healthy eating habits throughout their use of the drug (e.g. eating more satiating foods, low-calorie density foods, and more protein ) then they may be in a much better position to maintain all the weight they lost using the drug.
The truth is, no one really knows, and we probably won’t have any meaningful data for another two years when the first batch of users have gone through a course of the drug.
Wegovy is a new weight drug that will soon be available in the UK on the NHS, it’s administered via an injection pen. It works by limiting appetite which is likely to help those who struggle to lose weight because of hunger issues. It may not work so well however for people that overeat for other reasons like boredom or depression.
In order to lose weight, a calorie deficit still needs to be created, and working with a weight loss coach or other professional is still a good idea so healthy habits can be developed that will help keep the weight off for food.