health

"It's not a cop out": 7 women on what it's like to take prescription weight loss medication.

“I didn’t tell people, mainly because I felt people would think it was a cop out for healthy eating and exercise,” Alex told me when I asked her if she’s ashamed about taking prescription weight loss medication.

The 34-year-old was one of several women who responded to my call out asking for candid experiences of seeking professional treatment for weight loss and management.

I’m not talking about seeing a dietitian or a personal trainer, or working through a health and fitness program with friends or using healthy meal delivery services. These are all positive and effective ways to manage your weight, but I wanted to hear from the people who have tried all of that, and much more, without success.

The reality is, losing weight is hard. 63 per cent of Aussies aged 18 and over are overweight or obese, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports – that’s nearly-two thirds of us. We know being overweight and obese, which the World Health Organisation defines as having a waist circumference of 80 cm or more, or a BMI between 25-29.99 and 30-40 plus respectively, is a risk factor for many serious and chronic health conditions.

We also know people who are overweight or obese are judged for their appearance, and face stigma and discrimination in their daily lives simply for taking up space in the world.

As Endocrinologist Associate Professor Katherine Tonks told Mamamia, there are a number of reasons a person might struggle to lose weight, and therefore seek medical treatment.

“Our weight is strongly genetically determined, so most of the time it is unfair to tell people who are overweight that they were just not disciplined enough. People feel hunger and fullness differently,” A/Prof Tonks said.

“There is no right or wrong time to see an endocrinologist, we can go through strategies for weight loss, check for hormonal contributors to weight gain, and check for the metabolic complications that can occur when your weight is higher. We can also prescribe medications that can assist with weight management, and discuss surgical weight loss options as well.”

Prescription weight loss medication in Australia.

A/Prof Tonks said there are a range of TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) approved weight loss medications in Australia, including Saxenda, Contrave, Duromine and Orlistat. Two of the most commonly prescribed drugs are Saxenda and Duromine.

Saxenda, a drug which patients inject themselves with once a day, is a medication that “enhances a naturally occurring hormone called GLP-1 which is usually secreted by our gut when we eat,” which essentially improves fullness.

“Unlike a diet, where you need to consciously choose everything you eat or drink, this changes what you feel like eating and drinking without you even noticing it. Weight loss is therefore seemingly without effort,” A/Prof Tonks said.

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The second drug, Duromine, works differently because it is an appetite suppressant. Often labelled ‘legal speed’, A/Prof Tonks said she rarely use this medication as it can only be used for three months due to the potential for cardiac/heart health side effects.

A/Prof Tonks added, “The stigma associated with weight is due to most people’s understanding that a person with increased weight has “done it to themselves”, or that it is their own fault. This just isn’t the case.”

I spoke to women who’ve chosen to go on weight loss medication to find out what prompted them to consider seeing their GP or endocrinologist, which medication they were prescribed, if there were any side effects, and how it made them feel physically and emotionally.

Everyone’s experiences are different. These are their stories.

Amy C, 26.

When I first started taking the prescription weight loss medication Saxenda, I felt like a had a secret. In my handbag on the train, under my desk, and in a little box in the fridge I made up a lie about when my housemates asked what it was. I decided to see an endocrinologist after my dad told me he was worried about my health because of my weight. I’m currently the heaviest I’ve been in my life – I’ve been ‘dieting’ since I was about 12, losing and gaining weight in two-year cycles that always result in me putting on more weight than the time before. One day, I realised I couldn’t do up my seatbelt on a flight, that was a shocking moment for me.

Under the guidance of my endocrinologist, I’ve been taking Saxenda for four months, working my way up to a 1.8mg dosage which you administer by injecting yourself. I experienced extreme nausea in the third and fourth week, and instantly noticed I was able to feel full on smaller portions. One binge-eating session broke that bubble, and now that I’ve realised I can physically eat larger amounts of food, it’s a lot harder to stay on track, but essentially, the medication helps me not mindlessly crave food. The medication is also really expensive, which helps me to stay on track.

When I first thought about taking weight loss medication, I felt like a pig, pathetic that I’m not able to just ‘control myself’ and ‘eat less’ like I’ve been told in the past. I didn’t tell anyone other than my partner and parents because I felt like people would think I was taking the ‘easy way out’. After a few months, I told a few friends and they were all very supportive. I only had one experience with a friend who made me feel judged. I feel like I’ve spent the last 15 years thinking about food, what to eat, what I weigh and how clothes fit me. It had gotten to the point where I didn’t know what else I could try, and I didn’t want to live the next however many years still trying to solve this problem.

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As much as I want to be the kind of person who can love my body at whatever size it is, I know I’m not making healthy choices, so I’m proud that I’ve taken a real step towards trying to do better. This is what’s working for me, and I’m not embarrassed about it any longer.

Alex, 34.

I’d just turned 30, was working horrendous hours in a highly stressful job and my health became a second priority. I have always been a bit overweight and I was living off takeaway and convenient food options, and exercise wasn’t even on my radar. I’d started to develop gall bladder issues due to my bad eating, and the only way to mitigate it was to lose weight. As I couldn’t see my work situation changing, I went to see my doctor who talked me through my options.

I was prescribed 30mg Duromine, which I took on and off over an 18 month period. I was advised by my doctor to take it first thing in the morning when I woke up (7am-ish), but I quickly realised I needed to take it a lot earlier than that if I ever planned to sleep! I started setting my alarm for 3am, so I could take it and then go back to sleep.

Besides having a constant bunny rabbit heart, I would experience bouts of overwhelming emotion and it started to have an impact on my moods, I became very snappy. I also learnt very quickly that I couldn’t do F45 cardio sessions whilst taking it, as it literally felt like I was having a heart attack. I was also incredibly thirsty most days, but it did its job in helping me lose almost 10kg.

I didn’t have an issue taking it myself, but I knew the stigma around it and how there was such a black market for the drug. I didn’t tell my family, mainly because the side effects of Duromine are pretty extreme and to be honest, I didn’t want to feel judgement (particularly from my sister, who is a psychologist). My family did find out about it, as I decided to have two glasses of wine whilst on Duromine and I ended up in a semi-unconscious state. I didn’t advertise to people I was on the drug, mainly because I felt people would think it was a cop out for healthy eating and exercise.

Amy M, 33.

I was 18 when I was first prescribed Duromine. At the time, I was considering joining the Navy, I was already kind of fit, but I needed to drop some weight. I was under 90kgs at the time (I’m quite tall, so I wasn’t obese). My doctor prescribed me 100mg of Duromine, which is an extremely potent dosage and very similar to taking recreational drugs that are stimulants. I now know I definitely should not have been prescribed this straight up.

Doctors are supposed to start you on a lower dosage, check your progress, see if you have any side effects and then move you up a dosage if needed. I was on 100mg for one month. The first week, I didn’t sleep at all, and the other three weeks, I was getting to sleep at around 3am, then getting up at 5am to take the Duromine as I knew I wouldn’t get sleep that night if I took it any later. My mother had to encourage me to eat each day because I was just not hungry. I was also power walking around the neighbourhood for up to three hours per day. I became easily agitated, but had no other side effects.

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I lost 14kg in a month and kept it off (because my stomach had shrunk so much!) until I was 24 and had a birth control implant inserted, which caused me to gain 20kg in eight months. I don’t regret taking Duromine and I am not ashamed of doing it, because it helped me get where I needed to be. I was quite open with everyone about what I was doing, weight loss medication isn’t openly talked about, which I think is the problem.

Jess, 26.

I have ALWAYS struggled with my weight. I am 26 but it has always been such an issue in my life. Always going up and down and continually affecting more than just my body. When I was 18, I started taking Duromine. I lost so much weight but I was incredibly unhappy, it made me so angry and depressed. I would wake up and cry, the mood swings were intense. Although I looked great, I was a mess and I wouldn’t touch the drug again. I almost look back and feel the doctor was a little reckless prescribing this to me without a seriously strong warning.

I was very secretive and embarrassed about taking about weight loss medication. Not one person knew I was taking the medication, which I very much regret. It caused so much tension in so many relationships because I was so depressed. Years later, my best friend passed away suddenly. After her passing, I basically ate my way through my grief. I turned to weight loss medication because I just couldn’t really get my shit together. The doctor was very understanding of my circumstances and prescribed Saxenda.

I was on Saxenda for around three months and my experience was very positive. It’s a daunting process as you have to inject it, but after a couple of times, I just got over it. I had no side effects on this drug,but if I eat a lot or if I eat really greasy food, I feel nauseous. I had very successful results with the medication and it has really put me back on track with my eating, exercise and lifestyle in general.

Although I am very embarrassed and ashamed that I needed to take a drug to lose weight, I do feel like I needed the support. At the time, I felt pathetic having to ask for help, but I know that everyone deals with things differently. Eating was my way of coping. I wasn’t mentally strong enough to stay in control, so it really helped my get back on track. I also started working out with a personal trainer who has really helped, I now feel so much more confident. I still have a way to go until I have reached my goal but I feel positive about reaching it, which I did not prior to taking Saxenda.

Carley, 27.

When I was 24, I was unhappy with the way I looked and felt, and wanted to start taking control of my weight. But even after seeing a dietician and PT, the weight wasn’t coming off. During my weight loss struggles, I was also diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) which explains why it was so difficult for me to shift the weight. I have taken the Duromine multiple times and each time, it’s been different.

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The first time, I had horrific dry mouth, sore gums and my hair started thinning. Currently, I’m three weeks into a cycle and only have a dry mouth. That said, I also only sleep around five hours a night, but I’m not tired. I wake up fresh which is good, as I can fit in a workout before work. Duromine has a track record of being ineffective long term and a lot of people put back on everything they’ve lost, and more. I have a fairly healthy lifestyle and clean diet anyway, but my PCOS makes it hard for me to shift weight, so I use Duromine closely monitored by my GP (I go for check ins once a week so she can check my blood pressure etc.), so feel safe using it.

I don’t go out of my way to keep my weight loss medication a secret, but I don’t openly discuss it unless it comes up. Duromine has a stigma for being ‘legal speed’ due to its chemical makeup, but I’m being closely monitored by my doctor and in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, I see it’s benefits. It’s tiring having to defend it constantly, which is why I don’t discuss it.

I feel like it’s so important to get across that I still count calories and I still train four to five times a week. I don’t see this as a miracle drug, I know I have to put in the work to see results.

Laura, 35.

I have been prescribed Duromine over the years by my GP, and more recently, Saxenda injections. The first time I took Duromine I was 18. To be completely honest, I think I may have gotten it from a friend then. I was 23 when I was prescribed by my doctor.

I have always been chubby, and my body does seem to want to go back to its default weight. My doctor has always been quite prepared to tell me that I could lose a couple of kgs, and also open about weight loss medications so it was easy to have the conversation with her.

The side effects I’ve experienced on both medications – other than the one you want, which is a suppressed appetite – have varied. On Duromine, it was a dry mouth, an amphetamine-like feeling of energy, insomnia and emotional irritability. On Saxenda, it’s mainly nausea. I’ve found the side effects get better the longer you’re on the medication, but for me, the medications also becomes less effective the longer I’m on it.

When taking Duromine, I have tended to keep that between myself and my partner as there is a stigma associated with Duromine being ‘legal speed’. But I have been much more open about my Saxenda use with people as it works completely differently on your hunger hormones. Obviously lots of people were asking me what I was doing when I lost weight taking the medication, and I was happy to tell them. The fact it was injections really freaked a lot of people out though.

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Ultimately, taking weight loss medication does make me feel better about myself because they help me to lose weight. I do wish I found it easier to lose weight without them, but it is a real struggle for me. I do struggle to maintain weight loss and tend to put weight back on once I cease the medication, so it’s a cycle of losing and gaining weight.

Something that I think people overlook is that even though the medication can give you a helping hand, you do still have to put in the hard work. If you don’t change your habits, you won’t get results on the medication.

Libby, 26.

What prompted me to try weight loss medication was unhappiness within myself and my body as a whole. I was much younger, around 20, and had tried fad diets but could never really stick with anything, I struggled to keep going at anything really. I talked to my GP about it, said how I wanted to lose some weight and had tried this and that. I swayed that conversation towards medication and pretended like I didn’t know why I just couldn’t lose weight.

I was prescribed Duromine after being advised it was expensive and that I could only do it for a number of months. The physical side effects were the main reason I stopped taking  it. My GP told me it might disrupt my sleep and to take it early in the morning so resting at night was easier, but I couldn’t sleep at all. My eyes were wide open for majority of the day and night, I was very alert, very awake. I remember being slightly jittery, not shaking, but not feeling strong in my movements throughout the day.

I was on high alert, unable to eat, sleep and function. During my treatment, the thought of food was far from my mind. I went back to my doctor and went on a lower dosage, but this didn’t do anything for me. I felt like a normal functioning human being, waiting for something to kick in that never did. I still had an appetite and ate my normal meals, I stopped taking the medication all together after a month or so.

I definitely don’t feel ashamed about taking Duromine. I didn’t have a wonderful experience while taking the medication, but I know what works for some, doesn’t work for others. I am open about my experience with it but only with close people in my life or if someone sparks up a conversation about their own experience. I wouldn’t personally take the medication again, but if medication is what helps you, then medication is what helps you.

These are the individual experiences of women who spoke to Mamamia and should not be substituted for professional, personalised medical advice. If you’re concerned about your health, or wish to discuss weight loss, please consult your GP or a medical professional.

Have you had an experience with prescription weight loss medication? Tell us in the comments.

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