How to lose weight safely as doctor warns of Ozempic misuse

weight loss Cropped shot of young barefoot woman in casual blue jeans step on the floor scales to check her weight at home. Concept of bmi control and keeping the body in shape
A doctor has warned against the misuse of weight loss jabs. (Getty Images) (brizmaker via Getty Images)

A doctor has warned of the ‘dangerous’ side effects of so-called weight loss drugs as people look to them for a ‘quick fix’.

The jabs, such as Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro, were designed to help manage and treat type 2 diabetes, but can lead to weight loss as a side effect.

“These are powerful medications that have side-effects and complications — and can in certain circumstances, be dangerous,” Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said at a conference last week as per the BBC.

“They need to be used under medical supervision. They are absolutely not quick fixes for those who are otherwise healthy, who just want to lose a few pounds.”

He added that these injections should “only be used by people prescribed them for obesity or diabetes – I’m worried about reports that people are misusing them – they are not intended as a quick fix for people trying to get beach-body ready”.

Semaglutide is the active ingredient found in the medications which can help to control blood sugar by causing users to feel full and eat less.

However, a recent investigation from the BBC found that online pharmacies are selling the drugs for between £100 and £200 without prescriptions and little checks to see if the drug is needed.

Semaglutide injecting  pen with lid on a white plate
Drugs designed to treat type 2 diabetes are being 'misused' as weight loss quick fixes. (Getty Images) (Douglas Cliff via Getty Images)

Nutritionist Robbie Puddick from Second Nature tells Yahoo UK that these drugs are safe to use – but only when clinically appropriate.

“Individuals with a BMI of over 30 or who are living with type-2 diabetes [can use this effectively],” he says. “They can be used as a tool to kickstart weight loss for individuals living with obesity who have struggled to lose weight previously and need a bit of extra support.”

However, Puddick adds that these jabs should only be used when prescribed, and that they be sourced from a trusted pharmacy where clinical assessment is available.

If you are looking to lose weight and don’t want to use the jabs, as they can lead to side effects like constipation and diarrhoea and may not work for everyone, there are other safe avenues to weight loss.

“A safe approach is one that is not too drastic with no major restrictions or changes to your lifestyle,” Stephanie Gregory, registered associate nutritionist and Head of Coaching at Embla, says.

“We’d always recommend working with a professional if you can, who can look at your current lifestyle and make small and achievable modifications tailored to your body and your requirements. It’s really important not to copy someone else’s diet or approach as everyone’s needs are different.”

Gregory adds that the maximum weight loss people should aim for is 0.5kg, or 1lb, a week – as anything over this could mean that you are losing muscle mass which isn’t healthy or sustainable.

“Looking at your weight loss in a holistic way by taking into account movement, diet and nutrition is the most effective way to reach your goals,” she adds.

“Don’t get too caught up in calorie counting and aim for at least half an hour of movement a day in a way that feels good to you, from walking in nature to weight lifting. The more you enjoy the changes you are making, the more likely they are to stick in the long-term.”

One of the biggest mistakes people make when losing weight is having unrealistic expectations, and thinking that the weight will drop off quickly.

Woman with curly hair running
Sustainable and safe weight loss takes time. (Getty Images) (Nastasic via Getty Images)

“The most unrealistic expectation we often have with weight loss is that it will be a linear race to the bottom. We often expect that it will continue once we start losing weight, and we'll simply keep losing it until we reach our goal,” Puddick says.

“Unfortunately, our body is designed to survive and conserve our energy stores and will fight to maintain our fat tissue to promote survival. However, if we're consistent with our healthy habits and nourishing our bodies with a diet rich in whole foods, this process relaxes over time, and we can start to lose weight again as the brain adapts to our lower level of body fat.”

Gregory adds that the narrative that there are ‘quick fixes’ when it comes to weight loss is untrue and needs to be changed.

“Weight loss is complicated because people are,” she explains. “It’s tied to genetics, personality, lifestyle, hormones, habits, relationships and psychology. The weight loss industry is addicted to over-simplification and misinformation which often leads to short-term approaches. Anything from demonising whole food groups or pushing extreme exercise or movement regimes, these should all be avoided and can oftentimes be harmful.”

Instead, Gregory believes that the conversation surrounding weight loss needs to focus on how you’re fuelling your body instead of numbers on a scale.

“The best approach for weight loss is the one that will stick,” Puddick says. “The core focus of any weight-loss journey should be to focus on 'the why'. Why do you want to lose weight? Research shows that those of us who are externally motivated by physical appearance or social status may struggle to maintain weight loss compared to those who are internally motivated by things like health, independence, and family.

“If we can align our motivations for weight loss with our core values, we're more likely to find an approach that will stick in the long run.”

Gregory recommends working with a professional who can tailor a weight loss programme to your needs.

“Being able to be honest and open with them about your current lifestyle, habits and pain points is crucial to developing a programme that is both achievable and sustainable,” she adds.

“You must also be mindful of anyone peddling extreme approaches. If something tells you to eliminate a food group, to restrict, to fast, or take extreme measures that take you away from your current lifestyle, step away. It’s also important to follow guidance that is backed by science and to recognise that weight loss is a journey with no quick fix.”