Oh-Oh-Oh, Oprah! (and Zepbound, Month 2)

Before I get to Oprah (and I intended that headline be sung to the tune of “Oh-oh-oh, Ozempic!”): my second month on Zepbound has been disappointing. In the first month, I lost a little over seven pounds on the “starter” dose of 2.5 mg weekly. Like all the other similar weight loss injectables on the market, the dose increases (with Zepbound, every month) until you reach the maximum dose (in this case 15 mg). So given that I lost about seven pounds with the lowest dose of this stuff, I assumed I’d continue to lose at about the same rate.

Well, not so much; instead, I stalled. My weight jumped around a bit so that at one point this past month, I was down another two pounds (for a total of nine), then I ended up gaining a pound or two, then losing again, etc. A month later, I’m where I was after month one. This is a bummer, especially since there are are lots of people in Reddit forums and the like posting about losing 20 pounds in the first month or two. Of course, besides the fact that the anonymous posts in discussion boards aren’t exactly peer reviewed, it seems like a lot of the people claiming these huge losses also have a lot more weight to lose.

But there is some good news. For one thing, I’ve got a long ways to go to get to the maximum dose– or whatever dose I land on as being the right dose. In the discussions, a lot of people talk about staying on a lower dose than longer, and that’s especially true for folks who have had a hard time with the side effects. Plus I’ve stalled but not bounced back up to where I started, which was what usually happens when I try to just “diet and exercise.” So I’m looking forward to see what happens when I ramp up from 5 mg to 7.5 mg.

Anyway, about Oprah:

As was reported in numerous sources the other day, O and Weight Watchers have decided to part ways. The New York Times (like this story) and similar outlets reported this was an “amicable” split. “‘Her decision was not the result of any disagreement with the company on any matter relating to the company’s operations, policies or practices,’ WeightWatchers said in the filing.” Also, she’s not profiting from selling her stock: “The company said in the statement that Ms. Winfrey would donate the value of her holdings in WeightWatchers to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington in part to ‘eliminate any perceived conflict of interest around her taking weight loss medications.'” In other words, the story that both Oprah and Weight Watchers want to tell is this is just one of those things, we’re all happy about this, let’s let bygones be bygones, etc.

This could all very well be true. But it doesn’t take much picking at this to make me think this isn’t the whole story.

I have some personal experience with Weight Watchers, believe it or not. I can’t remember exactly when this was (maybe the late 2000s? the early 2010s?), but for about three or four years, I was a dues-paying member. I joined up with Annette, who, maybe 35 years ago and before we met, was on Weight Watchers and successfully reached her goal weight– which is to say it did work for her, at least at one point. The whole premise and purpose of Weight Watchers back then was quite straight-forward: eat less and maybe kinda/sorta exercise. The support meetings were mostly people talking about the challenges of dieting, along with celebrating the successes that some folks had, and perhaps a little shaming for the folks who weren’t as successful. For me, it didn’t work because success on Weight Watchers (at least back then) hinged on fastidiously keeping track of everything you ate with a system of points, and I’m just too lazy to do that. I’m pretty sure that when I stopped going to meetings, I was at the same weight as when I started.

Like I said, I don’t remember exactly when this was, but I do know it was before 2015. That’s when Oprah bought a 10% stake in what was already becoming a less profitable company. Her investment got her a seat on the board, and she became the primary public face/spokesperson for the company. That’s also when Weight Watchers started to rebrand itself as the more abstract WW. Instead of being all in on limiting calories, WW tried to pivot become a more “body positivity/acceptance” and healthy lifestyle kind of enterprise. They focused a lot more on exercise, a new line of WW cook books and new recipes (remember cauliflower crust pizza?) and food products, and more emphasis on apps for tracking food and online discussions, and a lot less emphasis on f2f meetings. For a while, this seemed to help the company. According to this May 2018 article in Money, Oprah’s $43.5 million investment ballooned quickly to more than $400 million. Sometime in 2018, she sold $110 million worth of her stock, and she also donated to her charitable foundation another $22.6 million from stock.

There’s nothing wrong with someone making a lot of money from what turned out to be a smart investment, so kudos to Oprah, at least back in 2018. But after reaching a high price mark of $101 a share in June 2018, the stock fell to $17.70 a share in April 2019. WW shares bounced up and down like a yo-yo dieter for a few years until falling even further by 2022. The day after Oprah announced she and WW were parting ways, the stock was $3.30 a share. In other words, that donation to eliminate any “perceived conflict of interest around her taking weight loss medications” is just a tax write-off.

Oprah has also significantly changed her story about weight loss medications. Back in September 2023, Oprah hosted a panel discussion for Oprah Daily (which is a subscription-based website of all things O) called “The Life You Want Class: The State of Weight.” It featured Oprah and a panel of experts on obesity and weight loss, and for the most part, the emphasis was on characterizing obesity as a disease, not about “willpower” per say, and also on body acceptance. But as People reported back then, when the discussion turned to Ozempic and similar drugs, Oprah was resistant:

“Shouldn’t we all just be more accepting of whatever body you choose to be in? That should be your choice,” Winfrey said during the panel. “Even when I first started hearing about the weight loss drugs, at the same time I was going through knee surgery, and I felt, ‘I’ve got to do this on my own.’ Because if I take the drug, that’s the easy way out.'”

In the same discussion, Oprah went on to explain that when she had surgery on both of her knees, she specifically decided against using any weight loss drugs, instead sticking to diet and a lot of hiking as exercise. It’s worth noting that as soon as Oprah said the drugs were the “easy way out,” the other panel members jumped in to emphasize that we need to think of obesity as a disease, it’s not about willpower, and so forth.

Still, the “mixed messages” from Oprah was problematic, particularly in terms of Weight Watchers’ (oops, I mean WW’s) efforts to get into the semaglutide and tirzepatide business themselves. As this little video snippet from Yahoo! finance makes clear, the only positive moment in Weight Watcher’s stock price in the previous year was the announcement that they were going to start offering these meds along with diet, exercise, and lifestyle. So for the company’s most famous stake holder, board member, spokesperson, and (for many WW customers) most inspirational persona to be skeptical of these new drugs was not the company line.

The other thing is Oprah was pretty explicit at this event that she had not herself taken Ozempic or similar drugs. As recent as early November, the “secret” to Oprah’s latest weight loss was being reported as being about following the WW diet and exercise. But by December, Oprah admitted she had been using these meds, but she still has not said what drug she’s been taking and when she started taking these drugs, and she describes the meds as weight “management” (rather than a weight loss) tool.

I have no doubt that Oprah did lose a lot of weight with the dieting and exercise she did after her knee surgeries a couple years ago. But I also have to think that she started whatever drug she’s on earlier than November– maybe even while she was claiming that taking a drug was the easy way out. In the stories back in December— when she first revealed she had been taking meds– she spoke about how she had “released the shame about it.” I suppose that means the shame of being overweight in the first place, but I also wonder if she was “releasing shame” about lying about being on these drugs.

I suppose Oprah had to bail on WW in part because of the story of her own weight gains and losses– an aspect of her celebrity image she’s cultivated for decades. After resisting them, Oprah seems to now recognize that these drugs do make a difference that simply cannot be matched by diet and exercise alone. That’s a pretty big shift from the story she’s been selling with WW as the weight loss plan where you can eat what you want and not being on a diet, including eating lots of bread.

But ultimately, business is business. Oprah cashed out of WW a long time ago, and at this stage, she’s leaving a sinking ship.

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