Some people opt to pause drugs used for weight loss over the holidays. Is it safe?

Some users are taking a vacation from the drugs amid the holiday season.

ByKatie Kindelan, Karolina Rivas, and Lindsey Kril via GMA ABCNews logo
Wednesday, December 20, 2023
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For many people, the holiday season is a time of holiday feasting, from dinners to cocktail parties and special desserts.

Amid all the celebrating, some people like Julie Kelly, a 41-year-old from North Carolina, are opting to hit pause on the medications they take to help them lose weight, drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro.

Kelly, who has lost 38 pounds by taking semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy, told "Good Morning America" that she skipped her dose of semaglutide over the Thanksgiving holiday, and is doing the same around Christmas. She said the break helps her feel less uncomfortably full at meals and brings up fewer questions from friends and family about what she is, or is not, eating.

MORE: Poison centers see high quantity of calls related to overdoses by injectable weight-loss medications

"What I noticed was I was still able to eat the things that I really wanted, to indulge a little bit," Kelly said of her experience over Thanksgiving. "I just had to be really conscious about how I was feeling, what I was eating, how fast I was eating it."

Over the past year, use of drugs that can lead to weight loss has skyrocketed in popularity.

Both Ozempic and Mounjaro are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat Type 2 diabetes, but some doctors prescribe the medication "off-label" for weight loss, as is permissible by the FDA.

Wegovy is FDA-approved for weight loss.

Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro require a prescription and are not sold over the counter.

In November, the FDA approved another drug, known as Zepbound, as a weight loss management treatment for people with obesity, or those who are overweight with at least one related underlying condition, such as high blood pressure. As a diabetes drug, it is sold under the brand name Mounjaro, as the two medications contain the same active ingredient, tirzepatide.

Clinical studies show users of the medications can lose between 5% and 20% of their body weight on the medications over time.

Caley Svensson, a 39-year-old from New Jersey, said she has lost 90 pounds on Mounjaro. During the holiday season, she said she is also opting to cut back on the medication, but for financial reasons.

MORE: Diabetes patients struggle to find Ozempic due to its popularity as weight loss drug

Svensson said her prescription is not covered by insurance, so she pays more than $1,000 out-of-pocket total for four single-use doses. Over the holidays, Svensson said she is stretching her doses beyond the usual week so that she can use the money for other expenses, including Christmas presents.

"If I can stretch it for 10 days instead of every week, that helps me push off, you know, the expense a little bit," Svensson told "GMA," adding that by stretching out her doses, she can save a few "hundred extra dollars."

On the flip side, when Oprah Winfrey revealed earlier this month that she is using a medication to help her maintain her weight loss, she said she took the medication strategically prior to Thanksgiving to help her eat less.

"I knew I was going to have two solid weeks of eating, and instead of gaining eight pounds like I did last year, I gained half a pound," she told People magazine. "It quiets the food noise."

Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro are all injectable medications that are typically prescribed to be taken once per week.

Side effects of the drugs can include severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation

Dr. Veronica Johnson, an obesity medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine, told "GMA" that while there are no known long-term side effects of pausing and restarting the medications, doing so may lead to increased side effects such as increased appetite and nausea, as well as weight gain.

"If a patient skips their medication for one to two weeks, there is a potential for them to have some increased side effects," said Johnson, who does not treat Winfrey, Svensson or Kelly. "They might not see those improvements in their hunger and appetite, and so they'll inevitably eat more and that may contribute to some weight gain."

It is advised to consult a physician before stopping weight loss medications to minimize the risk of side effects.