During a routine eye examination with her ophthalmologist in 2011, 26-year-old Cheryl Woodring received some unexpected and frightening news
Pressure was building in her skull, a condition known as pseudotumor cerebri.That pressure can cause the optic nerve to swell and result in vision loss. To preserve her vision and reduce headaches, Cheryl was prescribed topiramate (Topamax®). “I tolerated the topiramate very well with no side effects other than weight loss while taking it,” she recalls.
Cheryl never dreamed that 12 years later, she’d again seek out and take topiramate off-label–this time, for a different reason: weight loss.
Topiramate, a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat various conditions, including epilepsy, migraine, and seizures,is often used off-label for weight loss. (“Off-label” use of a drug is both legal and routine, and up to a third of all prescriptions for common medications are off-label.) In fact, a 2012 survey of physicians found that 63% of those surveyed already prescribed topiramate for obesity treatment.
In the ensuing years, the weight Cheryl lost began to slowly creep back, but she barely noticed, accepting it as her fate. Ignoring excess weight was natural for the 38-year-old mother of three in central Florida, who admitted never giving her weight much thought. “I come from a family of overweight people,” Cheryl reveals. “Once we go through puberty, the pounds pile on.”
Eventually, the excess weight she carried began to interfere with her life, making her arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other health issues difficult to navigate. At 376 pounds—and a milestone 40th birthday just two years away—Cheryl realized it was time to take control of her weight and life. “There was no foreseeable future where my life would benefit from staying this way,” she confesses.
For Cheryl, reaching out for help with her weight was a challenge, fraught with embarrassment, anxiety, and shame. (Equally true for many others who are overweight and obese.) Even though obesity is a widespread chronic disease that’s often difficult to treat, there’s still a stigma in asking a doctor for medication to help lose weight. Many people view the use of weight-loss drugs as ‘cheating,’ Cheryl explains. According to studies, weight stigma may actually drive weight gain,as it leads to bias by health care providers, with patients receiving sub-standard care and, thus, worse outcomes. “Too many health care providers cite weight as the reason for anything wrong with us,” Cheryl says.
As time passed and her physical and mental health became increasingly challenged, Cheryl grew even more resolute in her quest to lose weight. She was tired of her low self-esteem and confidence. “I struggled to form any connections, feeling isolated and alone,” she remembers. “I was also done covering my arms and legs with clothing to hide my extra weight.”
Cheryl found the inspiration for her weight loss when she learned about Found after seeing it on Instagram. Finding a community of support, lifestyle guidance, and the expertise of board-certified clinicians solidified her decision.
Cheryl was ecstatic to learn that topiramate was one of the many medications prescribed for weight loss by Found. “I was lucky because I already knew that topiramate worked for me and my body chemistry,” she says. “I was able to tolerate it without side effects.”
While it’s true that many people experience no side effects while taking topiramate, there are some side effects and risks. Most commonly, people report anorexia, dizziness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, speech or language difficulty, nervousness, abnormal vision, and fever.
Topiramate can also increase the risk of congenital disorders, so it’s not recommended if you are planning to become pregnant or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Use effective contraception and contact a health care provider immediately if you become pregnant while on this medication. You can find detailed side effects and risk information for topiramate here.
Sometimes, finding the right medication takes trial and error; your Found-affiliated provider may need to adjust your dosage or switch your medication. Found’s team of board-certified medical providers will monitor your response to the drugs and assist you in finding the best individual clinical approach to help you succeed at losing weight.
On June 21, 2023, Cheryl’s weight loss journey was launched with topiramate. Now, she says she “can walk for miles without arthritis pain or breathing issues.” In addition, the boost Cheryl receives when people notice her weight loss gives her the confidence to show—rather than cover up—her legs and take “full-body selfies, not just my face!”
Losing weight on topiramate or any other weight-loss medication doesn’t happen overnight, but the results are worth the wait. A six-month placebo-controlled study found that some subjects noticed weight loss within the first four weeks of beginning the medication. Weight loss was not topiramate's only benefit in the study: Participants also saw a reduction in their blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
After three months of taking topiramate, Cheryl traded her size 24 clothing for size 18 and carried 62 pounds less on her frame. Her work to reach her goal of a total weight loss of 200 pounds continues with a combination of a healthy diet, exercise, and some lifestyle strategies to minimize triggers (like eating three “smart calorie” meals each day and drinking lots of water).
Almost six months into her program, Cheryl continues taking topiramate while shedding unwanted pounds—106 and counting. “I don’t know if I could have done this without Found, whose entire program is geared to set you up for success,” Cheryl said.
Some might say losing weight is a risk; losing it too quickly may hurt your health or cause the weight to return later. However, working with the app and the specialists at Found can help minimize or eliminate that risk. “The app is wonderful in so many ways; it taught me ways to improve my everyday life, like consuming less added sugar and eating more whole foods,” says Cheryl. “The coaches are so motivating and encouraging; they post daily meal ideas, workout plans, and even ways to handle setbacks. Found welcomed me into an entire community of good people who are supportive and only want the best for me."
Cheryl hopes her story will inspire others to put any shame and embarrassment about using weight-loss medication behind them. “Prescription-based weight loss is not a shortcut: it’s a tool, a treatment,” she explains. “It all starts by saying you’re important enough to take the first step. Doing that will help you learn to love yourself again and know that you matter.”
The lessons Cheryl learned to make her weight loss journey a success will continue to give her the courage to face her next big challenge: Once she reaches her goal, Cheryl will be ready to spread her wings even wider. “I’m going skydiving!”
To discover your MetabolicPrint and start your journey with Found, take our quiz. Found is among the largest medically supported weight care clinics in the country, having served more than 200,000 members to date.
GLP-1 prescriptions, filled through your local pharmacy, are now available as part of Found's weight-loss toolkit. While GLP-1s are effective for weight loss, they are not clinically appropriate for everyone. Eligibility for a GLP-1 is based on a thorough evaluation of your medical history, eating behavior, lab work, and insurance coverage. If a GLP-1 is not appropriate for you, our providers will work with you to determine an effective medication for your health profile.