Weight loss hacks always seem to be trending, but prescription, injectable medications, like Mounjaro, are changing the game when it comes to helping people shed significant pounds. Most of the news focuses on what happens when you start taking Mounjaro, but what happens when you stop?
First, the basics: Mounjaro is an injectable medication prescribed to improve blood sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes, says Jihad Kudsi, MD, an obesity medicine specialist and bariatric surgeon. “It is not primarily intended as a weight loss medication, but it can have the added benefit of helping individuals shed excess weight,” he explains. “It reduces appetite and enhances feelings of fullness, and this combination of effects leads to improved blood sugar management and can result in weight loss.” The drug works similarly to Ozempic (more on that soon!) but affects the body in slightly different ways, he adds.
Mounjaro is typically a long-term solution to manage blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes, but you may wonder what will happen if you stop the medication. Here’s what obesity medicine physicians have to say.
Meet the experts: Jihad Kudsi, MD, is an obesity medicine specialist and bariatric surgeon in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and the author of Sleeve Gastrectomy Surgery Unleashed. Katherine Saunders, MD, is an obesity medicine physician, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, and co-founder of Intellihealth.
What is Mounjaro—and how is different from Ozempic?
Mounjaro (also known by its generic name, tirzepatide) is a once-weekly injectable medication that is FDA-approved for treating type 2 diabetes, reiterates Katherine Saunders, MD, an obesity medicine physician, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, and co-founder of Intellihealth. Mounjaro itself is not specifically FDA-approved for weight loss, but it’s often prescribed “off-label” since it’s extremely effective for that purpose, she explains. Doses start at 2.5 mg, according to the Mounjaro website.
To break it down a bit more, Mounjaro activates GIP (glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide) and GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) receptors, which are naturally occurring hormones found in the gut that signal fullness to your brain, says Dr. Saunders. The medication then works by helping your body release more insulin (a hormone that decreases your blood sugar levels) to suppress your appetite, ultimately decreasing your food intake, adds Dr. Kudsi. There’s a “synergy action” when both the body’s GIP and GLP-1 receptors are activated, leading to greater weight loss, one study published in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity found.
Additionally, Mounjaro has been shown to target areas of the brain that control appetite and influence eating decisions, which may further support weight loss efforts, says Dr. Saunders. Plus, those taking Mounjaro generally feel fuller sooner and remain fuller for longer since the medication also slows digestion, which can help with hunger and portion control, she explains.
Now you may be wondering, are Mounjaro and Ozempic the same thing? Simply put, no. The active ingredient in Ozempic, semaglutide, is a GLP-1 receptor agonist, which means it mimics the GLP-1 hormone and triggers insulin to make you feel less hungry, says Dr. Kudsi.
The active ingredient in Mounjaro, tirzepatide, acts on two receptors (GIP and GLP-1), which means it may offer an extra weight loss boost, he explains. Mounjaro is also associated with fewer side effects, even though they affect the body in similar ways, adds Dr. Saunders.
Both Mounjaro and Ozempic are FDA-approved to treat type 2 diabetes but used off-label to treat obesity, explains Dr. Kudsi. When it comes to which medication doctors prescribe, Dr. Kudsi and Dr. Saunders agree it often comes down to individual factors including cost, insurance coverage, availability, and patient tolerability.
Side Effects Of Mounjaro
Like most medications, Mounjaro may come with a slew of side effects. In addition to significant weight loss, common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, reduced appetite, vomiting, constipation, indigestion, and abdominal pain, says Dr. Kudsi. Severe side effects are rare but can also include pancreatitis, gallbladder problems, allergic reactions, severe stomach issues, and kidney problems, he explains.
That said, any side effects are typically mild and should always be discussed with your doctor if they become severe, adds Dr. Saunders.
What happens when you stop taking Mounjaro?
Your blood sugar may spike.
Mounjaro works to lower blood sugar in those with type 2 diabetes, so stopping the medication can spike your glucose (blood sugar) back to pre-Mounjaro levels, explains Dr. Saunders.
Additionally, since Mounjaro reduces appetite, stopping the medication can lead to increased hunger which may cause you to eat more, further spiking those blood sugar levels, Dr. Kudsi explains. Sugary drinks, processed snacks, and simple carbs like white rice, bread, and pasta are especially known to spike your blood sugar faster and higher.
Your appetite may increase.
Mounjaro slows digestion which reduces appetite and enhances feelings of fullness, so when you stop the medication, your hunger may come back, says Dr. Kudsi. After all, part of the reason the medication works for weight loss is because it reduces your appetite, in turn, managing portion control and decreasing your caloric intake, adds Dr. Saunders.
You may regain some weight.
Mounjaro triggers weight loss because it limits your appetite and signals to your brain that you’re full, so it’s possible to regain some weight if the medication is stopped, explains Dr. Kudsi.
“To maintain weight loss after discontinuing Mounjaro, adhere to a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting processed foods, sugary drinks, and unhealthy fats,” he explains. Adequate sleep, stress management, and a regular exercise routine are also key to weight management, he adds.
You may have digestive issues.
Once you stop Mounjaro, it may take a few days for your body to adapt to the absence of medication, says Dr. Kudsi. As a result, you may experience digestive upset like vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation, he explains.
Luckily, most side effects subside after a few days to a week, he adds.
How long should you take Mounjaro?
To keep things simple, that’s a discussion for you and your doctor. “The duration of Mounjaro treatment varies from person to person, and individuals typically continue taking Mounjaro for as long as needed to maintain their blood sugar levels, much like other diabetes treatments,” says Dr. Kudsi. “We prepare patients to be on the medication long-term for their chronic disease, which is only controlled for the duration of time they’re on the medication,” adds Dr. Saunders.
In other words, there is no strict time limit for how long Mounjaro can be used, so it’s best to talk with a doctor about your individual needs, notes Dr. Kudsi.
Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.