WEIGHT MANAGEMENT ∙ 3 minutes read

How semaglutide changes your relationship with food

By Kirsty Mason | Medically reviewed by Rupal Joshi

Semaglutide is a drug that’s been newly approved for weight loss - and it’s already making waves in the industry. With positive reviews and promising results from clinical trials, it’s proving to be extremely valuable for people who are struggling to lose weight. But how does the treatment work and does it change your relationship with food?

When it comes to dieting, the failure rate is shockingly high, with the majority of dieters regaining the weight they’ve lost after a few months. Diets are notoriously hard to stick to, especially when you’re restricting yourself to a very low number of calories per day. Ultimately, hunger can lead to snacking or even a binge.

This is where semaglutide can help. 

Semaglutide helps you to control your hunger and avoid secret trips to the snack cupboard. It makes sticking to your diet plan less of an uphill struggle. But how does it work?

What is semaglutide?

Sold under brand names Wegovy, Ozempic, and Rybelsus, semaglutide is a drug that helps obese and overweight people lose weight. When incorporated into a weight management programme, clinical trials have shown promising results.

Ozempic is an injection that contains semaglutide and is used to treat type 2 diabetes. Rybelsus is effectively the same treatment but comes in tablet form, so is suitable for people who struggle with injections. As well as lowering blood sugar and the risk of cardiovascular disease, the medications also lead to weight loss.

But why?

Essentially, semaglutide mimics a naturally-occurring hormone released by the gut, called glucagon-like peptide-1. This hormone is triggered by food intake and acts on the appetite centres of the brain. In response, you’ll feel full and your body will slow the digestion process. The hormone also stimulates the production of insulin which stores sugar as energy for later. This process of events results in a more manageable diet, where food cravings are reduced and food intake is decreased.

Wegovy, which contains semaglutide, is marketed specifically for weight loss. It’s self-administered by a small injection that goes into the fat tissue in your stomach, arm or leg, once a week. Since the medication only needs to be administered weekly, and many other weight loss medications must be taken daily, it’s a great alternative for people who don’t want to take medication every day.

To be suitable for treatment with semaglutide, you must meet one of the two following conditions:

  • Your BMI exceeds or is equal to 30 (classed as ‘obese’)
  • Your BMI exceeds or is equal to 27 (classed as ‘overweight’) and you also have a weight-related medical condition such as high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes

How will semaglutide change my appetite?

As semaglutide mimics a hormone that signals to your brain that you’re full, the drug will help reduce feelings of hunger. With a reduced appetite, it will be easier to follow your diet plan and avoid eating unnecessary snacks or large portion sizes.

To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit, meaning that you expend more calories than you consume. As it’s much harder to burn a large number of calories than it is to consume a large number of calories, your greatest chance of weight loss success will likely come from consuming a low-calorie diet alongside increased physical activity.

Will semaglutide help me eat healthier?

Clinical trials have proven that semaglutide helps people to make healthier choices. The medication reduces appetite which results in healthier food selections and reduced food intake. After 20 weeks of dosing, participants were asked to eat a meal until they were full. It was found that participants taking semaglutide had an energy intake that was 35% lower than those taking a placebo. The results also showed that semaglutide improved eating control, reduced hunger, increased satiety and led to fewer food cravings for dairy, savoury, sweet and high-fat foods.

So, semaglutide will reduce your appetite and make unhealthy choices less tempting but it’s still important that you get your diet right. With so many contradictory messages regarding healthy food and each new fad diet claiming to shed more pounds than the last, it can be difficult to know if you’re making the right food choices.

A healthy diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, nuts and legumes. You should avoid fatty, sugary and highly processed foods. 

Even if you’re eating healthy food, you should still be wary of portion control. When you feel full, stop eating and save the food for later.

Why can’t I stop eating when I’m full?

If you’re eating a lot of food, despite feeling full, you may be suffering from binge eating disorder (BED) or emotional eating. This is extremely common with around 30% of people who seek weight control treatment being diagnosed with BED. 

For some people, food is intertwined with mood and you may have subconsciously linked sadness to eating. This is why you reach for the snack cupboard when you’re feeling low. There may also be a neurological explanation for your food cravings. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mood regulation. Carb-rich foods are thought to boost serotonin so bingeing on comfort foods may be your way of self-medicating.

If you continue to eat while feeling full then you need to treat your psychological triggers before a treatment like semaglutide will be suitable. Treatments for BED include support groups, guided self-help and cognitive behavioural therapy

The bottom line

Semaglutide is an ingredient that mimics a naturally-occurring hormone in the body. This hormone (called glucagon-like peptide-1) triggers the appetite centres in the brain, making you feel full. This is why the medication has become a valuable treatment for obese and overweight people. Taking the medication weekly will help you to manage your diet plan and reduce food cravings.