“The fact that there’s a medically approved prescription for managing weight and staying healthier, in my lifetime, feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift,” Winfrey tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story
Oprah Winfrey is no stranger to scrutiny over her weight. For as long as she has been in the public eye, the icon’s body journey has played out in the media, on magazine covers and on episodes of her own eponymous hit talk show that ran for 25 seasons.
“It was public sport to make fun of me for 25 years,” Winfrey tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story. “I have been blamed and shamed, and I blamed and shamed myself.”
One hurtful moment came early in her career, when she landed on acerbic fashion critic Mr. Blackwell’s list. “I was on the cover of some magazine and it said, ‘Dumpy, Frumpy and Downright Lumpy,’ ” recalls the co-producer of the new filmThe Color Purple. (Winfrey starred in the original 1985 film.) “I didn’t feel angry. I felt sad. I felt hurt. I swallowed the shame. I accepted that it was my fault.”
No more, she says.
Related: Oprah Winfrey Opens Up About the Moments That Changed Her Life
Winfrey, who turns 70 next month, is optimistic that she now has a better handle on how to maintain a healthy weight long-term and rid herself of shame once and for all. Using a holistic approach that includes regular exercise and other lifestyle tweaks, Winfrey confirms she has also added a weight-loss medication to her regimen.
Weight fluctuations “occupied five decades of space in my brain, yo-yoing and feeling like why can’t I just conquer this thing, believing willpower was my failing,” says Winfrey, whose dogged rehabilitation after knee surgery in 2021 kick-started what has been steady weight loss over the last two years.
“After knee surgery, I started hiking and setting new distance goals each week. I could eventually hike three to five miles every day and a 10-mile straight-up hike on weekends,” she says. “I felt stronger, more fit and more alive than I’d felt in years.”
Now, she says, “I eat my last meal at 4 o’clock, drink a gallon of water a day, and use the WeightWatchers principles of counting points. I had an awareness of [weight-loss] medications, but felt I had to prove I had the willpower to do it. I now no longer feel that way.”
She adds, “I was actually recommending it to people long before I was on it myself.”
The turning point for Winfrey’s approach to using pharmaceutical aids herself came in July during a taped panel conversation with weight loss experts and clinicians, called The State of Weight and part of Oprah Daily’s Life You Want series.
“I had the biggest aha along with many people in that audience,” she recalls of the discussion, which posted online in September. “I realized I’d been blaming myself all these years for being overweight, and I have a predisposition that no amount of willpower is going to control.”
She adds, “Obesity is a disease. It’s not about willpower — it’s about the brain.”
Related: Oprah Winfrey Says She Wrestled with Thoughts on Ozempic, Wegovy: ‘If I Take the Drug, That’s the Easy Way Out’
Once she reconciled the science, Winfrey says she “released my own shame about it” and consulted her doctor, who went on to prescribe a weight-loss medication. “I now use it as I feel I need it, as a tool to manage not yo-yoing,” she says, opting not to name the specific drug she takes.
“The fact that there’s a medically approved prescription for managing weight and staying healthier, in my lifetime, feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift, and not something to hide behind and once again be ridiculed for. I’m absolutely done with the shaming from other people and particularly myself.”
Winfrey is aware of the buzz around her body size, especially as the use of medications like Wegovy, Ozempic and Mounjaro for weight loss has surged in popularity. But she stresses it has not been a magic bullet or singular solution.
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“It’s everything,” she says of her all-encompassing health and fitness routine. “I know everybody thought I was on it, but I worked so damn hard. I know that if I’m not also working out and vigilant about all the other things, it doesn’t work for me.”
She took the medication before Thanksgiving “because I knew I was going to have two solid weeks of eating,” she says, and “instead of gaining eight pounds like I did last year, I gained half a pound . . . It quiets the food noise.”
Though she’s seven pounds away from her goal weight of 160 lbs., Winfrey says “it’s not about the number.” Instead, she’s content building on the progress she has made during the two years since her surgery. “It was a second shot for me to live a more vital and vibrant life,” she says.
“In Hawaii, I live on a mountain, and there’s this big hill — I used to look out the window every morning and say, ‘God, one day I want to walk up that mountain.’ Last year over Christmas I did it . . . It felt like redemption.”
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