‘I Went On Ozempic After Deciding Against Gastric Bypass Surgery’

erin birtwistle
How Ozempic Helped Me Stave Off Type 2 DiabetesCourtesy of Erin Birtwistle

My name is Erin Birtwistle. I'm a 44-year-old mom of two who lives in Ontario, Canada.

I never had any issues with my weight when I was younger—I was always an average-sized child. But I started to gain weight after my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

I was coming out of high school at the time, and it was a lot on my mom, my dad, my sister, and myself. Our life completely changed. Suddenly, we were all rallying around my mom and loving her as much as we could. All of us got depressed, and my dad, sister, and I slowly began to put on weight. Eventually, I topped out at 318 pounds.

I didn’t have one moment where I woke up and thought, “How did I get here?” but I was aware over the years that my size was changing. Still, I’ve always been super confident in my skin.

Everything changed when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during my first pregnancy.

I was 35 when I got pregnant with my daughter Beatrice. I was so excited to be a mom, but when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I got in my own head about it. Luckily, I had a great doctor who reassured me that my condition wasn’t because I was plus size. I was told that even athletes develop gestational diabetes and that the odds were high it would go away once I gave birth.

Even with this reassurance, I struggled with controlling my blood sugar levels, especially in the morning, and I was put on metformin, an anti-diabetic medication designed to help bring blood sugar under control. Luckily, my blood sugar went down to normal levels after I had my daughter in 2015.

At that point, I made a decision to try to be healthier, But it wasn’t easy. After my mom died in 2011, I would just eat even though I wasn’t hungry. I would try WeightWatchers and lose 10 or 15 pounds. But after a few months, I'd fall off it and gain double or triple the weight back.

During my second pregnancy, my doctor prescribed me insulin.

When I was 39, I became pregnant with my son George and was diagnosed with gestational diabetes again. I had a severe panic attack over the news. Metformin wasn’t working, so my doctor also put me on insulin, an injectable hormone to help regulate my blood sugar.

I remember bawling at the news that I needed to go on insulin. It seemed so scary to me, but I did it and hoped for the best.

I was 318 pounds at the time, and I was horrified. I remember calling my sister and bawling when my weight reached over 300 pounds. I just thought, “How did I get here?” We had a great conversation about it—she has always been one of my biggest supporters. But we also both agreed that mentally it was a scary number to see on the scale. She reassured me it was because I was pregnant and I would be able to get back on track once my son was born.

George was born in 2019, a few months before my 40th birthday. I vowed that I was really going to take my health seriously. I met with a cardiologist to have a workup done and was told I performed as well on a stress test as his 62-year-old patients—I was 40. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s not great, but at least I’m not dead.”

My doctor encouraged me to try to lose weight, but he had a really good perspective about it. He said, “I believe in doing what’s realistic for each person. Even if you got down to 250 pounds, it would make the world of difference for you and reduce a lot of health risks for you.” It was a wakeup call.

I want to be here a long time for my children, and I also want to be healthy enough to keep up with them during playtime. I want to run and kick a ball with them—and due to my weigth, that just wasn’t happening as much at the time.

I went on Ozempic after deciding against gastric bypass surgery.

I eventually approached my primary care doctor about my weight, and she recommended having gastric bypass surgery. But that’s major surgery and it gave me anxiety. So, we talked about Ozempic.

My doctor did bloodwork for me in July 2022 and determined that my A1C, which is a blood sugar test, was 6.4%, putting me in a prediabetic range and 0.1% under the benchmark for type 2 diabetes. I knew my risk of developing type 2 diabetes was high—I had gestational diabetes twice, after all—and I was toeing the line. I didn’t want to be there.

So, in July 2022, I started on Ozempic. I began at 0.25 milligrams, went up to 0.5 milligrams, and I’m now at 1 milligram. My A1C is now 5.5%, which is considered a normal range—and I’ve lost 70 pounds. Do I have a ways to go? Yes, but Ozempic is working for me.

Ozempic's side effects are real.

My Ozempic journey hasn’t been seamless. I’ve learned that I can’t overeat—I’ll get extremely sick if I do. I once had a Frosty at Wendy’s with my kids, and it was coming out both ends soon after. I don’t by any means think Ozempic is the easy way out for weight loss, but it’s jumpstarted me to be healthier.

I’ve adjusted my diet on Ozempic. If I treat the kids to McDonald’s, I’ll get a Happy Meal for myself instead of a Big Mac meal. When I eat dinner with my family, I’ll eat off of the small plate. I’ll go for ice cream and frozen yogurt with them and, if we go to the movies, I’ll get a small bag of popcorn vs. an oversized one.

I've come a long way in a year and a half on Ozempic.

I look at photos of myself from before I started taking Ozempic and now, and I notice that I don’t have much of a double chin anymore. I gave a lot of my old clothes to my sister. I don't want to hold onto them—it feels like a safety net if I do.

My doctor and I have talked about increasing my Ozempic dose, but we haven’t done it yet. It can also be hard to find Ozempic right now. My pharmacy had a waitlist of 15 people, but I found a new one that consistently has it in stock—they just give out one box at a time.

I’ve asked the pharmacist about what happens if I stop taking Ozempic due to a shortage, and I was told I’d have to start again from the beginning with a lower dose. I don’t want to do that. It seems like it would be so hard on my body. I’m also worried about what would happen to my health if I couldn’t get Ozempic. My doctor said she guarantees I would develop type 2 diabetes.

As of right now, the plan is for me to be on Ozempic long term, unless my doctor's advice changes. My hope is that I can continue on this journey, so that one day I no longer have to be on Ozempic. But I also embrace being on weight loss medication—it is working for me.

erin birtwistle
Erin Birtwistle shows how her body has changed after taking Ozempic.Courtesy of Erin Birtwistle

There’s so much negativity surrounding using Ozempic, and people have such strong opinions about it. I even had a falling out with a friend who told me, “You’re one of the reasons there’s a shortage.” If I was solely on it for weight loss, that would be a choice between me and my doctor, but I’m not. People are so quick to attack, and I think some people on Ozempic are nervous about being open about taking the medication because of this backlash.

Ultimately, Ozempic is a tool that’s helping me live a healthier life.

I now have more energy and have more of a “let’s get up and go” attitude. I sleep better, and I’m more active with my kids. I also make healthier choices.

I don’t know where the journey is going to take me, and I don’t really have a goal weight in mind. Would it be nice to get under 200 pounds, or even 220 pounds? Yes, but right now, I’m happy knowing that I’m doing what I can to be as healthy as possible.

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