Diet Culture Encourages Unhealthy Weight Loss and Drug Use

Every year the arrival of summer marks the age-old trends of dieting and exercise in the hopes of having a perfect, slim, beach bod. But the prevalence has had many harmful effects on mental, physical, and emotional health.
Every year the arrival of summer marks the age-old trends of dieting and exercise in the hopes of having a perfect, slim, “beach bod.” But the prevalence has had many harmful effects on mental, physical, and emotional health.
Alessandra Ashford

Just one Google search on “summer body,” and millions of results pop up – workouts, diets, supplements, and strategies – all claiming to help you “melt the fat” or achieve the perfect “summer slimdown.” 

Dieting is a prevalent aspect of society, with around 45% of people globally trying to lose weight in 2021, according to a report released by Ipsos. The obsession with dieting can be credited to the existence of diet culture, the social normalization and focus on dieting, weight loss, and body alteration to promote thinness in femme-presenting people, that often peaks in the summer. This happens as a result of the focus on “summer bodies,” or the idea that to go to the beach and wear a tight-fitting swimsuit or bikini, you have to have a slim body.  This is perfectly exemplified in years of magazines and media depicting a slim woman with headers like:  “are you beach body ready?” as part of annual swimsuit campaign, perpetuating the false narrative that weight loss and diets are necessary to be able to wear swimsuits at the beach.

Clothes are meant to fit you, not the other way around. Bodies don’t have to be altered just to fit into a specific article of clothing, or look slim in a bikini or one-piece.

In reality, everyone’s body is a “swimsuit body” – because anyone can wear a swimsuit. Swimsuits are just another article of clothing. Clothes are meant to fit you, not the other way around. Bodies don’t have to be altered just to fit into a specific article of clothing, or look slim in a bikini or one-piece. Unfortunately, these detrimental ideas regarding summer bodies have been present for a long time.

With diet culture’s focus on rapidly losing weight and the ideal it sets for thinness and unhealthy dieting, it is no surprise that many people end up abusing appetite suppressants and similar drugs.

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Ozempic, a common injectable drug used to treat type 2 diabetes, has had an all-time high prescription count recently. Ozempic’s purpose is to help the pancreas make more insulin by slowing the rate at which food passes through the body, resulting in a long-lasting feeling of fullness. After rumors circulated about celebrities using Ozempic to slim down, Ozempic increased in popularity and became a hot new weight loss method in diet culture. However, this has led to the misuse of Ozempic. A report by Trilliant Health wrote that the prescription volumes for Ozempic and Wegovy – a similar drug to Ozempic – increased by 300% between early 2020 and the end of 2022. From 2022 to 2029, Ozempic revenue is expected to more than double over the decade.

Pharmacies, medical spas, and diet clinics have taken advantage of Ozempic’s popularity in the diet community by running thousands of advertisements on social media and television, capitalizing on Ozempic’s weight loss potential – regardless of whether the consumer has type 2 diabetes. 

Perpetuating these harmful ideas can not only trigger those currently battling an eating disorder, but can even create more.

Ozempic and other weight loss drugs are often advertised near summertime as people chase this summer body ideal. While diet culture is present year-round, many people often identify summer as a period of excess weight loss. This stems from society’s harmful idea that to wear certain clothes – for example, a bikini – your body has to be thin, often placing a focus on a flat stomach. As a result, people can struggle to enjoy their well-deserved beach vacation after a long year of working hard, because all that’s on their minds is their appearance. Perpetuating these harmful ideas can not only trigger those currently battling an eating disorder, but can even create more.

At face value, Ozempic is a beneficial game-changer to everyone striving to lose weight; despite not being an FDA-approved weight loss medicine, the sought-after drug has shown ground-breaking results in weight loss and can lower the risk of major cardiovascular events including stroke and heart attack. Furthermore, Ozempic induces a feeling of satiety, which is a far cry from the common diet method of simply eating less, which still results in a constant feeling of hunger.

However, Ozempic has many risks and downsides that are not commonly talked about on social media, especially when the user does not have type 2 diabetes. An article from Medical News Today reported that Ozempic has a variety of negative side effects, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, allergic reactions, abnormally low blood sugar, increased thyroid cancer risk, gallstones, and swelling of the pancreas.

However, while Ozempic suppresses appetite, it is still functionally starving the body. While the body still feels hungry, Ozempic makes your body ignore those hunger cues. This can result in not only a loss of fat but also a loss of muscle mass, contributing to a feeling of weakness. 

In addition, when used for weight loss, Ozempic acts as only a hunger suppressant. Once the consumer is no longer taking the medication, they will regain their weight if they have not made any lifestyle changes to their diet or exercise habits. Furthermore, many patients report that Ozempic effectively stops working at some point, hitting a kind of plateau in effectiveness. This can be seen as developing tolerance to the drug. When this happens, to continue losing weight or maintaining the current weight, the patient would have to increase their dose or switch to a stronger medicine. Both of these options are dangerous, as the body will eventually deplete its hunger cues. Additionally, increasing Ozempic dosage will cause straggling decreases in energy. 

Many Ozempic users have revealed how Ozempic slows down stomach motility, resulting in a constant feeling of fullness. This adds difficulty when trying to eat due to appetite suppression, feelings of nausea, and inability to eat regularly. Despite these side effects, many celebrities are still transparent about their use of Ozempic and other weight loss drugs, including influential figures Oprah Winfrey and Caroline Stanbury. Dolores Catania, the star of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” told Today that she didn’t want to come to the reunion of the reality television show looking “bigger” than her co-stars” so she decided to take Ozempic. She went on to speculate that most Housewives are on Ozempic, and stated she hadn’t experienced any negative side effects.

When a public figure with that much influence and power over people’s opinions encourages or glorifies the use of a drug – especially a weight loss drug – it’s no secret that many people will follow their lead. People naturally look up to celebrities, often idealizing them. As a seemingly easy fix to being overweight, or simply as a quick way to lose weight, the introduction of Ozempic was pivotal to the increase of diet culture’s presence on social media – after all, who wouldn’t want a drug that claims to “melt the fat off your body”?

The job of a celebrity entails knowing that you hold influence over a wide variety of people; it is their responsibility to encourage doing what’s best for their fans, and that should not mean encouraging people to take a harmful drug that has been shown to cause many detrimental side effects.

Further, Ozempic has an “off-label” use as a weight-loss medicine, meaning patients intend to use it in ways that are not FDA-approved, resulting in many physicians prescribing Ozempic to patients with solely weight-loss-based intentions. This is harmful to patients with type 2 diabetes who need Ozempic to treat their condition. Ozempic is an effective and popular drug among patients with type 2 diabetes, but when people use it solely for weight loss, this results in care providers having to take on more work, such as consultations and healthcare infrastructure,  as they struggle to find Ozempic for their patients. According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, there have been Ozempic shortages since 2022, as well as shortages of other appetite suppressant drugs containing the active ingredient semaglutide. 

Overburdening physicians with prescriptions that aren’t necessary to a patient’s survival results in less focus being given to issues that are vital to a patient’s well-being.Meanwhile, numerous patients who desperately need Ozempic to manage their diabetes are harmed by people using Ozempic simply as a weight loss drug; when Ozempic shortages occur, who is directly hurt but the people who need it to survive?

Diet culture constantly promotes harmful ideals. Although Ozempic may cause significant weight loss, it only minimizes hunger, and is a short-term solution that can have harmful effects on not just patients, but practicing physicians. Even if someone wants to lose weight, it can be approached more healthily and safely through healthy eating, exercise, and guidance from a trusted physician. By spreading awareness about Ozempic’s harmful nature, and more importantly, addressing the dangerous effects of diet culture, we can limit its usage and protect more people from harm. Ozempic’s popularity is directly caused by diet culture and its perpetuation of the harmful and potentially life-threatening idea that people need to lose a lot of weight to fit a strict, cookie-cutter ideal.

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About the Contributor
Alessandra Ashford
Alessandra Ashford, Opinions Editor
Class of 2025 When I’m not writing or editing you can find me reading, drawing, painting, listening to music, and ranting. I always love to tell stories and start conversations. I’m so excited to be on Student Press!

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    Pragya SinghJun 25, 2024 at 1:18 pm

    Incredibly well-written and informative!
    The effort put into researching and presenting the information in such an engaging and understandable way is truly commendable. Thank you for providing such valuable insights and making the topic accessible to all readers.