Episode 361: Health Anxiety Rabbit Holes & The Psychology of Weight Loss Drugs

Hello, all!

In this episode, I answer the following awesome listener questions.

I have successfully been treated for cancer, but I can’t stop looking at research and personal accounts online for fear that it may come back. How can I stop?
How do weight loss medications like Ozempic help reduce the psychological addiction to food?
Please give me feedback on the show at this link: https://forms.gle/TGx4puKucMJKjSNz7

As always, you can send me questions to duffthepsych@gmail.com

Today’s episode is sponsored by Mindbloom. Get $100 off your first at-home ketamine treatment for depression and anxiety at http://mindbloom.com/duff with the promo code duff.

Question 1

Hi Dr. Duff,

Just over a year ago, I was diagnosed and treated for cancer. I’m lucky to say that my treatment was successful and I currently have no evidence of disease. However, there is a possibility that my cancer may recur and I am having a hard time mentally with this because I think that that’s inevitable.

I’m spending much of my time reading scientific studies about cancer and other people’s experiences. Some of what I’ve read is really scary. At the same time, I feel like I need to know this information in order to protect myself from the possibility of having a recurrence in the future.

People in my life are concerned that I am stressing myself out too much by reading this and talking about it with them. My husband is concerned that my reading is keeping my fear ever-present in my mind and that my thinking isn’t rational. He says that he has given me all the advice he can and that I should stop reading things that exacerbate my fear, but I can’t stop–I need to know what I’m up against. I don’t know how to live with the idea that this disease may come back in the future.

My doctors have tried to reassure me that my prognosis is good and that my recurrence rate is low, but that hasn’t helped. I still feel like my life is inevitably going to be cut short and I can’t do anything about it. My therapist tells me that I’m just going to have to live with my fear. When I have asked, he has given me visualization exercises, but I’m not a visual person and so that doesn’t work for me.

Do you have any advice?

I enjoy listening to your show and thanks for all you do!

Answer 1

Thank you for this question, and I’m glad to hear that your cancer treatment was successful, leaving you with no evidence of disease. However, I understand the fear and anxiety you are experiencing about the possibility of recurrence. Many individuals who have faced significant health challenges find themselves immersed in researching their condition, seeking answers and reassurance. While it’s natural to want to be informed, I agree with the concerns raised by your loved ones that this behavior may be exacerbating your fear and impacting your mental well-being.

It’s essential to acknowledge that the excessive research might not necessarily help you prevent a recurrence, and it could contribute to chronic stress, which can affect your overall health negatively. Instead of focusing solely on seeking more information, consider the following steps:

Firstly, question the true purpose of your continuous research. Ask yourself if even finding the answers you’re looking for would change anything practically. Sometimes, excessive information-seeking can be a way of trying to gain control over an uncontrollable situation. Recognizing this pattern is crucial.

Secondly, be mindful of confirmation bias. When researching out of fear, you might inadvertently seek information that supports your fears. It’s essential to approach new information with an open mind and critically evaluate its validity.

Moreover, try to challenge the assumption that finding more information will guarantee protection against recurrence. Instead, shift your focus to what you can control, such as living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining regular follow-ups with your medical team.

Breaking the behavioral loop of constant checking for new information is vital. Establish boundaries and limits for yourself regarding the time and outlets for research. Engage in discussions with your therapist to set realistic behavioral goals to help you distance yourself from this compulsion.

Additionally, focus on shifting your thoughts to areas that empower you. Celebrate the fact that you successfully beat cancer and embrace the opportunities it provides you. Engage in activities and passions that bring you joy and fulfillment, making your worries compete with other interests.

Consider connecting with cancer survivor support groups, where you can share your fears and uncertainties with others who can genuinely relate to your experience.

Remember, you’ve already demonstrated strength and resilience by overcoming cancer, and you deserve to live a fulfilling life beyond your fears. Embrace the present, cherish your successes, and find solace in the support of those around you. Wishing you the best in your journey!

Question 2

Hello and thank you for all you do. I have a question that I thought might be useful right now as it seems to be a popular topic.

I’m figuring that you’ve probably heard about these weight loss drugs gaining popularity right now such as Ozempic, Wagovy, etc. People (especially women) are losing a ton of life changing weight with these meds and keeping it off. As someone who has struggled with weight loss I’m intrigued by them. However the part I’m curious about is that all of the reviews that I see say that it has fixed the psychological addiction of food. People taking the meds say that commercials for food no longer attract them and they just no longer think about food at all- in fact they forget to eat. How is it possible for a weight loss drug to change people psychologically ? Could there be negative psychological problems to no longer having an attraction to food? Thanks for reading and considering my question.

Answer 2

Thank you for the intriguing question, and I’m glad to be of help! Weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, both containing the medication semaglutide, have gained popularity due to their effectiveness in controlling high blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes and aiding weight loss. These medications work by impacting the GLP-1 receptor, which regulates appetite and signals to the brain that you’re full, leading to reduced cravings and increased satiety after meals.

The psychological impact of these medications can be significant for some individuals. By altering brain chemistry, they not only reduce hunger but also modify the brain’s reward system, particularly the nucleus accumbens, where lower dopamine levels result in decreased reward response to high-fat or sugary foods. This can lead to a reduced psychological attraction to such foods, which may have been problematic in the past.

Moreover, by helping individuals establish healthier eating habits, these medications can contribute to a change in their psychological relationship with food. Over time and with repetition, these healthier habits become more internalized, leading to a more positive connection with food.

However, it’s crucial to consider potential negative side effects. While most people may not experience significant issues, individuals with disordered eating patterns or those prone to under-eating could face risks of becoming undernourished. Additionally, food plays an essential role in social activities, cultural interactions, and emotional comfort. Being less attracted to food might necessitate finding alternative ways to engage in social gatherings or bonding moments that don’t revolve around food.

In summary, while weight loss drugs like Ozempic can indeed have a psychological impact on one’s relationship with food, it’s essential to discuss with a healthcare professional to ensure that the medication aligns with individual needs and to monitor for any potential adverse effects. It’s not about fundamentally changing one’s attraction to food but rather alleviating problematic cravings and creating a healthier balance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *