- People say the popular weight-loss drug semaglutide makes it hard to stomach their favorite foods.
- Not only do they get fuller faster and for longer, but some say their taste buds have changed.
- Experts aren’t sure what’s going on, but it could involve how hormones and taste buds interact.
Staci Rice had been a daily coffee drinker since the seventh grade. A marketing professional and mom in Georgia, she likes the taste, the routine, and how it makes her feel: awake.
But about six months ago, she walked into the kitchen to make a pot — and poured it out. “All of a sudden,” she said, “I had no desire for it.”
Rice, 40, had recently gone on the popular weight-loss drug semaglutide, which has since helped her lose nearly 50 pounds. She’s now wearing pants she shelved 16 years ago, and seeing results she could never sustain on diets like Weight Watchers and Optavia.
But Rice still isn’t able to stomach her morning coffee. “Every morning, I would try to make coffee, thinking that one day it would just taste good to me again.” No such luck. “I miss having energy,” she said.
Rice has lost her taste for other food and drinks she once loved, and acquired a few new ones. Long a fan of Chick-fil-A’s “Number 1” — a 440-calorie fried-chicken sandwich served on a white buttered bun — she now describes the chain’s kale salad as “delicious.”
Ground beef is off the dinner rotation (“my husband and son are kind of upset,” she said), and chocolate’s lost its appeal, too.
When Rice tried a Kit-Kat, which she believes is the superior chocolate bar, for Halloween, she winced. “I can’t even describe what kind of flavor it had,” she said. “I just didn’t want it.”
Others on the drug have reported similar experiences. They anticipated that semaglutide would decrease their appetite, but in some cases, it seems to have hijacked their taste buds, turning french-fry fiends into kale enthusiasts and coffee snobs into smoothie kings.
And while many people say the trade-off is worth it, the unexpected hit to their identity and social lives can be tough to swallow.
“Food is so much more than just fuel. Culturally, we have rituals around food that bring us joy and fond memories,” Rachel Goldman, a New York City psychologist who specializes in weight management, said. “What do you do to fill the void?”
Semaglutide is making people miss their favorite foods
Semaglutide, sold under the brand names Wegovy and Ozempic, is an injectable drug that boosts the production of insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. While semaglutide was originally developed to help manage diabetes, Wegovy was approved as a weight-loss drug in June 2021.
Some obesity-medicine experts have called the drug a “game changer.” Research has found it can lead to a 15% to 20% reduction in body weight over 68 weeks when paired with a reduced-calorie diet and regular exercise.
Semaglutide works in part by increasing satiety and slowing digestion, which can mute cravings. It also affects the brain’s reward circuit, dulling the dopamine hit someone might otherwise get from a greasy french fry, hot-fudge sundae, or dirty martini, Dr. Joseph Volpicelli, a psychiatrist and addiction-medication researcher in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, previously told Insider.
“Things that are pleasurable are no longer so pleasurable,” he said.
And life with less pleasure can take some adjusting to. “I miss eating. I miss going out to restaurants. I miss ordering a normal plate of food,” Kait Morris, who’s on Ozempic, said in a September TikTok video.
Morris, also a former Chick-fil-A fan, has developed a meat aversion, too. “No part of me wants chicken. It can be fried, it can be grilled, it can be slathered in barbecue sauce,” she said in the video. “Don’t want it.”
“The only thing I do crave is smoothies,” she added.
When what was salty or sweet is now bitter
It makes sense that a drug intended to make you feel fuller faster and for longer would naturally limit your intake of heavy foods. “It’s almost like having a lap band without the surgery,” Rice said.
If you try to eat like the old you, you may pay the price: nausea, bloating, and digestive distress that sets in right away and can last for days. As a result, the next time you even look at that burger or milkshake, you recoil.
“If your ancestors started to feel nauseous or dizzy, it was probably something they ate,” Adam Wenzel, a psychologist at Saint Anselm College who’s taught a Harvard Course on the psychology of eating, told Insider. “That conditioned taste aversion is wired in us.”
But what’s more curious is the people who report their taste buds have changed. On one Reddit thread for semaglutide users, someone who’d vehemently defended In-N-Out Burger’s fries as “the best” said they now tasted bitter.
“They’ve never tasted like that to me before, ever. I may have nearly cried,” she wrote. “I love those stupid things, and suddenly they taste like potato-shaped metal chunks.”
The poster also said a doughnut was bitter. “Chubby girl over here never met a donut she didn’t like,” she wrote. “I’m in hell. Send soup. Something that isn’t bitter. Maybe tomato? Scream.“
There’s no research yet on exactly what might be going on, but Lynnette McCluskey, a neuroscience professor at Augusta University who studies taste regeneration, said it could have to do with the fact that both taste cells and the nerve fibers woven through them release GLP-1, the hormone semaglutide mimics and activates.
“So you’re really messing with the signals that are going to the brain, telling you what’s in your mouth,” McCluskey said. “Once you start messing with all those signals — and it may be different from day to day, or when you took the drug — you really have a lot of potential for dysgeusia, or taste distortions.”
The adjustment to semaglutide can be emotional
People who are distraught by their new taste buds could see if a lower dose of semaglutide helps minimize the unwanted side effect, Goldman, the New York psychologist, said.
Wenzel also pointed out that food aversions can generally be overcome through repeated exposure. Who’s actually liked their very first taste of beer?
But mostly, Goldman suspects, people with taste aversions on semaglutide will need to work through the emotional adjustment of suddenly disliking universally agreed-upon delicious foods.
“It’s the same conversation I have with clients before they have bariatric surgery, and there is a sense of loss,” Goldman said. The difference is that many semaglutide patients say weren’t expecting, or counseled on, this potential effect. “It’s OK to be grieving food,” Goldman added.
The key is to work on finding a healthy replacement, she said. That could be knitting when you used to pick at potato chips or ordering food that’s doggie-bag friendly instead of skipping meals out with friends entirely.
Rice, who used to turn to food for comfort, said she’s now found herself more invested in work, spring cleaning, and even posting about her weight-loss experience on TikTok. “My confidence has increased a lot,” she said.
And that, she said, she’ll take over coffee any day. “What scares me,” she added, “is that as soon as I come off this, I’m gonna go straight to where I was before.”