- A patient in a clinical trial has lost 200 since 2020 while taking the drug tirzepatide.
- The drug isn’t a quick fix: The prescription is expensive and she’s faced stigma around taking it.
- With her supply of meds dwindling, she said lifestyle changes were key to keeping the weight off.
A 47-year-old woman who’s lost 200 pounds after participating in a clinical trial for a hot new medication used to regulate appetite said she wasn’t prepared for all the challenges that came with the significant weight loss.
In 2020, Tara Rothenhoefer signed up for a clinical trial of tirzepatide, known by the brand name Mounjaro. Originally designed to treat diabetes, tirzepatide can help with weight management by acting on two different hormones that regulate appetite.
Rothenhoefer went from 342 to 210 pounds during the 18-month trial. She was later able to lose even more weight after getting a prescription for the drug but has since had to conserve her supply after a manufacturer coupon expired and she can no longer afford the $1,000-a-month cost of the medication.
Rothenhoefer said she also wasn’t prepared for the intense weight stigma she would experience along the way.
“It’s frustrating, it’s hurtful. People are making the assumption that I’m taking the easy way out,” she told Insider. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that.”
Some experts and patients believe meds used for weight loss, including Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro, are helping to reduce the stigma surrounding obesity by demonstrating how biology, not willpower, is a major factor in body size. But gossip about celebrities using the drugs and social-media trends have fueled misconceptions and stereotypes about them.
Rothenhoefer said she wishes more people understood the real long-term impact of the medications for people like her, how difficult it can be to access them, and their limitations.
Weight stigma can be a serious barrier to health
Participating in the clinical trial wasn’t an easy choice, Rothenhoefer said.
“I’m not generally a medication person. I don’t even like to take Tylenol. Participating in the clinical trial was a huge thing. It feels like a leap of faith and you’re kind of a guinea pig,” she said. “It took people like me to put myself out there for it to be available to anyone else.”
Rothenhoefer said she ultimately signed up because people’s perceptions of her weight had held her back over the years.
“I was teased and bullied terribly in middle school and high school. I still carry that with me. I can vividly remember things people said to me,” she said.
Rothenhoefer said she’s proud of her involvement in the trial and feels a responsibility to share her experience if it might help other people, particularly in debunking the idea that people who take the medication are looking for a quick fix.
“I don’t think people who have never dealt with this understand what it feels like, of wanting to do anything to lose weight or keep the weight off,” Rothenhoefer said. “But there’s an aspect of feeling bad that you couldn’t do it on your own that really takes a toll on you.”
Research shows that weight stigma can be a major contributor to mental and physical health issues and may even shorten your life. One study found weight discrimination was linked to a 60% higher risk of dying early — comparable to smoking.
That’s true even — or especially — in healthcare settings, where shaming or even medical gaslighting can prevent patients from getting lifesaving care or make them reluctant to see a doctor in the first place.
Healthy habits don’t guarantee weight loss
Conventional wisdom suggests that losing weight is simply a matter of eating less and moving more, but that can be a dangerous misconception since factors like genetics, hormone levels, other health conditions, and environmental factors can play a role in body size, registered dietitians have told Insider.
The misunderstanding leads to the harmful assumption that people with larger bodies must be sedentary or have unhealthy eating habits.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about people who are overweight is that they all sit on the couch and stuff their face with food all day,” Rothenhoefer said. “I can tell you that’s not the case. Even when I weighed 380 pounds, I was a very active person.”
But the relationship between weight and health is far from simple. It’s possible to follow a good diet and exercise routine and get healthier without seeing any changes on the scale, Angie Asche, a registered dietician, said.
And someone’s size isn’t a good indicator of their health or a reflection of their lifestyle, experts previously told Insider.
You can’t change your body or lifestyle overnight
Another misconception about using medication for weight loss is that it’s a “quick fix” that can help people drop the pounds quickly and keep them off.
Rothenhoefer said her weight-loss journey was a gradual process, with the medication supporting small adjustments she made to her routine over time.
“In the first few weeks, I didn’t make a huge change. I just ate less,” she said.
As the weeks went by, she added new healthy habits (sometimes called “habit stacking”) but never relied on extreme measures like cutting out carbs.
Instead, she tried to eat fewer processed foods, cut back on added sugar, and added more movement to her day such as lunchtime walks. She also began doing quick sets of exercises throughout the day, like doing 10 squats every time she went to the bathroom. Eventually, she felt energized enough to hit the gym and try new exercises like wall push-ups to build up to more challenging workouts.
“That’s not something I ever did before,” she said. “All these little changes that you’re making, you’re losing more and more weight and you feel like you’re able to do more.”
Medication doesn’t replace diet or exercise
Rothenhoefer said the biggest thing she wants people to understand about taking tirzepatide and other weight-loss medications is that doing so is a serious, long-term decision, not a magic potion.
When she initially lost access to the medication through the clinical trial, she was terrified of running out and stockpiled a supply in her fridge. Since then, she’s been gradually decreasing her dose as much as possible and said she’s been able to maintain her weight at 142 pounds.
She credits the change to the effort she put in over the years to build a new routine, including being more mindful about fueling her body with nutritious, whole foods and staying active.
“I feel like I’ve done the work. The shot has been a great tool, and I don’t think I’d be here without it, but it’s not all the medication,” she said.
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