Opinion: Can we cut Oprah Winfrey some slack? The struggle to lose weight is real.


Leave Oprah alone.

Yes, Oprah Winfrey is in the news again — in this case, for her decision to sell her stake in WW International

(otherwise known as WeightWatchers) and exit the company’s board. The decision came after Winfrey announced, to considerable backlash, that she was taking a weight-loss drug to help her in her longtime battle to lose some pounds and keep them off, in addition to hiking, drinking plenty of water and other methods.

The company’s stock fell in the aftermath of the news.

At issue was largely the fact that Winfrey had previously said using such a drug was “the easy way out.” And indeed, as the public face of a company that touted a more traditional diet-based approach to battling obesity, one could see why Winfrey might have made such a remark.

But now, she was being labeled a hypocrite on social media for saying otherwise. And surely some saw Winfrey’s announcement as opportunistic and self-serving given that it followed WW’s acquisition of Sequence, a company that provides access to such popular fat-fighting medications as Ozempic and Wegovy

Either way, Winfrey was bound to face some criticism if for no other reason than the fact many view the new wave of drugs as the lazy person’s solution to shedding pounds. It’s the whole why-don’t-you-just-have-more-willpower? stigma that has always been part of the weight-loss discussion.

It’s unclear if and how any of this may have played a part in Winfrey’s decision to leave WW. Winfrey issued a statement, saying, “I look forward to continuing to advise and collaborate with WeightWatchers and CEO Sima Sistani in elevating the conversation around recognizing obesity as a chronic condition, working to reduce stigma, and advocating for health equity.”

But as someone who has spent all their adult life dealing with a weight problem, I go back to what I said up top: Leave Oprah alone.

‘It’s never fun being fat’

It’s never fun being fat. It drains you physically. It subjects you to all sorts of verbal and emotional abuse — crass remarks from strangers at a bar, sneering looks from airplane passengers when you try to squeeze into your assigned seat.

And perhaps worst of all, it forever leaves you thinking it’s all your own fault and forever has you searching for a solution in turn. More often than not, you don’t want to do things the “easy” way because you want to show the world you can beat this thing.

Until you finally realize it’s not, well, so easy.

At my heaviest about 15 years ago, I weighed nearly 300 lbs. and had roughly crossed the line into the “morbidly obese” category. Now, at age 60, I’m down around 90 pounds. I’m happier and healthier, even if I recognize my journey is far from over. Obesity is very much a chronic disease and it must be treated as such, medical experts increasingly note.

But to get to where I am, I also had to stop thinking that relying on my own sheer will, as in sticking to any of the gazillion diets I’ve tried, could be the solution. In my case, that involved making two key decisions.

To be fat is to live with a constant mirror, real or imagined, in front of you, asking yourself, “Why am I this way?”

First, I had weight-loss surgery — specifically, the gastric-band (or LAP-Band) procedure that restricts the amount of food you can easily consume. That got me about halfway there. And when the new weight-loss drugs came on the market, I followed a doctor’s advice and went on one of them — namely, Mounjaro — and dropped the rest.

How do I relate my story to Winfrey’s? Like I said, I was long skeptical of solutions that didn’t align with some preconceived notion about the right way to lose weight. But it’s also because I know how confusing it all is: To be fat is to live with a constant mirror, real or imagined, in front of you, asking yourself, “Why am I this way?”

I’m hardly alone, of course. Oprah and I have lots of people in our camp. (For the record, nearly 40% of U.S. adults are obese.) And I suspect most of us live with a degree of shame — the very shame Winfrey spoke about when she revealed she was taking a weight-loss drug after years of struggle (she has yet to reveal which one she’s been prescribed).

And it’s all compounded by a society that questions if our weight-loss is “earned” if it’s via drugs.

Just listen to the story of Anne Ahola Ward, a 45-year-old resident of Austin, Texas. Like me, Ward has struggled with a weight problem her whole life, but has lost 63 pounds in the past year after being prescribed Wegovy. Still, she feels the stinging judgment of others in her decision to go the drug route.

“How is it anybody’s business the choices I’ve made?” she told me.

Plus, there’s an important context here: Most of us fighting to get thinner aren’t doing this so we can enter some beauty contest. We’re literally fighting for our lives, given all the medical issues — heart disease, cancer, you name it — associated with obesity. The weight-loss drugs then become those lifesavers.

Dr. Michael Glickman, a Washington, D.C.-based physician who specializes in obesity medicine, said we need to see the weight-loss medications in the same way we look at cancer treatments, like radiation or chemotherapy. What’s needed is needed.

“You would never tell a friend who has cancer, ‘Why don’t you go out and get more exercise?’” Glickman told me.

The irony to all this is that weight-loss drugs should not be viewed so much as a solution, but rather as a tool.

That is, you don’t magically shed pounds when you’re on them. But they help with reducing cravings — I can certainly attest to that — so it’s easier to maintain a proper diet. In the end, you still need to do the work, which typically means being on a sensible eating plan, such as that promoted by WeightWatchers, and getting in some exercise.

As Winfrey herself explained last year of her regimen: “It’s not one thing. It’s everything.”

Let’s respect Winfrey for finally finding that “everything” and being frank about her weight-loss journey. I, for one, wish her nothing but the best.


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