Oprah’s use of a weight-loss drug comes after years of dieting and exercise

Oprah Winfrey sparkles in a form-fitting purple gown at the Academy Museum Gala

Oprah Winfrey sparkles in a form-fitting purple gown at the Academy Museum Gala

Published Dec 19, 2023


By Amber Ferguson

“Oprah: Tragic reason why her weight is out of control” – one tabloid published on its cover in 1992, showing an unflattering image of the then-rising TV icon.

The following year, the same publication ran a headline calling the talk show host a “weight loss cheater” after she quickly lost weight.

For more than three decades, Oprah Winfrey’s body has been the subject of unrelenting media fascination, in part because of her candidness about her weight-loss struggles and triumphs.

In the 1990s, she publicly acknowledged yo-yo and fad dieting, and this week, she revealed to People magazine that she took prescription weight-loss medication “as a tool to manage not yo-yoing”.

Winfrey, 69, said that after knee surgery in 2021, she “worked so damn hard” to control her weight with exercise and counting points on WeightWatchers. Winfrey has a stake in the wellness company, known as WW, and is also a board member.

She added a weight-loss medication to her holistic health and fitness regimen after a panel discussion with health-care experts in July, she told People.

Winfrey said she realised then that she has “a predisposition” to putting on weight “that no amount of willpower is going to control”.

“Obesity is a disease,” she said. “It’s not about willpower – it’s about the brain.”

Weight-loss medications

Winfrey didn’t name the weight-loss medication she takes, but drugs such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro have become household names, in part because of savvy marketing and promotion on social media and in pop culture over the past couple of years.

Originally approved for the treatment of diabetes, semaglutide (Ozempic) and tirzepatide (Mounjaro) were also effective in reducing weight in patients taking them.

Wegovy, a higher dose of semaglutide, was approved for “chronic weight management in adults with general obesity or overweight” along with diet and exercise, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Research indicates that the self-administered weekly injection medications lead to an average body-weight reduction ranging from 15 to 22%.

Winfrey has not said how much weight she has lost since starting on weight-loss medication, but she told People that she weighs 76kg.

Oprah’s diagnosis of hypothyroidism

Winfrey has documented the number of kilos she has lost and gained, writing in her O magazine in January 2009 that she weighed 107.5kg in 1992 and 72.6kg in 2005, and that her weight has fluctuated over the years.

In the article, she wrote that she was diagnosed, in 2007, with hypothyroidism, a condition where the body produces too little thyroid hormone, and which has varied symptoms, including sluggishness and weight gain.

She wrote that hypothyroidism and obesity felt “like a prison sentence”.

At one point, Winfrey was on three medications for high blood pressure, heart palpitations and hypothyroidism, but was still gaining weight.

“I felt completely defeated,” she wrote. “I thought: ‘I give up. I give up. Fat wins.’”

Dieting and exercise for weight loss

Winfrey has said she has tried many ways to lose weight, including dieting and exercise.

On her website, she’s said she had “fallen prey to just about every diet scam known to womankind – anything that represented a quick fix”.

She has admitted to starving herself at certain points in her life and being addicted to food to cope with sadness.

In 1988, in a famous move, which she later regretted, Winfrey hauled out a red wagon filled with 30kg of animal fat to represent the amount of weight she had lost quickly in preparation for her producer’s wedding.

She told audiences of her talk show that she did “a liquid protein medically supervised fast”.

She talked about not cheating on her fast for six weeks and said: “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Winfrey has also tried exercise to reduce her weight. On various platforms, including her website and “Super Soul” podcast, she has talked about her cardio workouts and strength training.

Winfrey ran her first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, in 1994, with a time of 4 hours, 29 minutes and 15 seconds, and was 8 210 of 12 716 finishers.

But, as the years progressed, her weight fluctuated, and despite her personal trainers, private chefs and team of doctors, she said she “felt like a big fat failure”.

File Image: Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes 2018

Turning to medication

People magazine has a running list of celebrities, including Elon Musk, Chelsea Handler and Sharon Osborne, who have talked positively and negatively about the newly classified weight-loss medications.

Winfrey is the only black female celebrity on the list to say she uses this kind of medication, too.

Obesity specialists say African-American women have the highest obesity rates in the nation.

Although some people might use the medications for vanity purposes, there’s a real medical need for the medications that can be life-changing and lifesaving for black Americans, according to TheGrio.

Winfrey says the prescription medication she takes “feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift”.

She drinks 4 litres of water a day, hikes and is able to eat in moderation without starvation, thanks to the drug. She said it was one part of what she used to live a healthy lifestyle.

“I know that if I’m not also working out and vigilant about all the other things, it doesn’t work for me,” she told People.

Winfrey said she had “released my own shame about it”.