Physician-Recommended Strategies That Can Help You Lose Weight
It's understandingly daunting to receive a doctor's diagnosis that confirms your body mass index (BMI) or waist circumference indicates obesity. This condition puts you at an increased risk for many types of cancer, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as being associated with sexual inactivity and sexual dysfunction for both men and women.
For men, obesity may lower total and free testosterone levels, and abdominal obesity is linked to erectile dysfunction (ED), especially in older men. Excess fat in the inner thighs and pubic region can heat up the testes, resulting in limited sperm production.
Obesity can lead to difficulties in conceiving and infertility in women.
Being overweight may also lower the stamina you have for sexual performance, and obesity in general can lead to changes in the metabolism of sex hormones, which ultimately decreases libido. For some individuals, body image based on physical appearance may also negatively impact sexual activity and desire.
Fortunately, there are physician-approved methods and strategies you can employ to help you achieve healthy weight loss.
Sarah Musleh, M.D., an endocrinologist at Anzara Health, a telemedicine practice based in Honolulu and serving patients in seven other states, advised anyone embarking on a healthy weight loss journey to consult a physician who can work with you to create a personalized solution, taking into account the full picture of your health and well-being.
"Patients are not alone," she added. "There are trained doctors and professionals out there dedicated to the care of people who are overweight or obese, and they are passionate about helping them achieve their goals."
Myths and misconceptions about losing weight
Before choosing the path that's best for you, it's helpful to identify common misconceptions about weight loss, which include misinformation that frequently deters people from beginning and continuing along their journeys to healthier weights.
Musleh said her patients express some common misconceptions, all of which she confirmed are false.
"The myths I hear are, 'Being overweight or obese is my fault and it is purely due to my dietary choices and inactivity' or 'All I can do to lose weight is to eat less and move more,'" she said. "People will say, 'There is a specific diet out there that works for everyone and will work for me' or 'Taking weight loss medication is cheating and dangerous.'"
Musleh and her professional colleagues agree on one aspect. Healthy weight loss can truly be achieved if your focus is placed on two or more of these four distinct areas: nutrition and diet, exercise, medication and surgical procedures.
Let's take a look at each option.
Nutrition, diet and weight loss
Thais Aliabadi, M.D., an OB-GYN in Los Angeles who created the weight loss solution Trimly and has been featured on the TV shows "The Dr. Phil Show" and "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," advised using a careful eye on what you eat when beginning your journey to healthy weight loss.
- Eat nutrient-rich, whole foods. "Doctors and dietitians all over the country agree that eating a diet rich in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and good fats, as well as foods high in fiber, aids in weight loss," Aliabadi explained. "Many studies have been done with patients who eat a diet of nutrient-dense foods versus those who eat processed foods, and the results are incredible. Whole foods help our bodies on a cellular level. In return, we look and feel better."
- Avoid unhealthy foods. "When we eat greasy, fried foods, we are not only eating excessive calories, we are harming our vital organs and putting our health at risk," she said.
- Practice portion control. "We all know that if you eat less, you will lose weight," Aliabadi noted. "In our society, big portions have become the norm, and we consume more food than our bodies need. We should be eating for fuel and not for entertainment. Splitting a meal or saving a portion of your plate for later are concepts that I like to discuss with patients. Remember to eat what you enjoy and eat in moderation."
- Drink water. "Water is important for our vital organs," Aliabadi said. "Our stomach is a vital organ that acts as a vessel to hold food and provide nutrients to our cells. We need water to feed our organs and to help digest food and nutrients that are vital to our health."
Exercise and weight loss
Aliabadi and Musleh both recommended pairing your healthy, nutritious diet with a near-daily exercise practice, as changing food habits might not be enough to achieve your goals.
- Create a routine that sticks. "The key to a healthy lifestyle is creating a routine where movement is involved. Even 20 minutes of walking helps," Aliabadi explained. "Once you're more comfortable with walking, increase the amount of time and the pace. Not only will you feel better physically, but you'll also feel better mentally, especially if you're able to walk outside in nature during your routine. Do what you can do. If it means doing jumping jacks in the morning, climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator or walking to lunch and back, all of this movement helps."
- Approach your health holistically. "Exercise plays an integral role in encouraging sustained weight loss and maintenance of goal weight," Musleh said. "Exercise also helps us sleep better, maintain muscle mass, prevent injuries and is important for mental and cardiometabolic health. The approach to better health and weight loss should be holistic, incorporating dietary modification, physical activity, stress reduction and improved sleep."
Medication and weight loss
Aliabadi noted that within her Trimly weight loss program, she prescribes a class of medications called GLP-1 agonists. Originally created for people with diabetes, a side effect of this medication is weight loss, making it a potential solution for patients who have type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and also for patients who have tried other forms of diet and exercise without getting the results they need.
"When I use GLP-1 medications, my patients lose 24 pounds on average within the first four months of the program," she added. "This is without changing their lifestyle or eating habits. Those patients that do add movement and create healthier eating habits see even more weight loss."
Procedures for weight loss
Shawn Garber, M.D., is the founder and director of the New York Bariatric Group in New York City, and he's performed more than 3,500 laparoscopic gastric bypass procedures for patients aiming to reach and maintain healthy weights.
He explained that minimally invasive weight loss procedures, such as the gastric sleeve (also referred to as the sleeve gastrectomy or the vertical sleeve gastrectomy), gastric bypass surgery, adjustable gastric banding and the duodenal switch, can help patients succeed in both losing weight and keeping the weight off if coupled with lifestyle changes in diet and exercise.
"Most people can successfully lose weight with healthy eating habits and an exercise regimen. However, they can tend to see the weight creep back on as the weeks, months and years pass by," Garber added. "Beyond exercising and calorie counting, biological functions in our bodies play a major role in not only the way we lose weight but how we keep it off. Even a serious exercise regimen may not reset your weight to an appropriate BMI. We have found that bariatric surgery has the best long-term rate of success. Procedures like the vertical sleeve gastrectomy help our patients lose 60 percent or more of their excess weight and, more importantly, keep it off long term."
Garber pointed to studies done by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that confirm the efficacy of weight loss procedures, but he doesn't interpret these encouraging findings to mean weight loss surgery is a Band-Aid or quick fix for healthy weight loss.
"The NIH concluded that surgery is the only effective means of treating severe obesity on a long-term basis," he noted. "Yet weight loss surgery is not an easy fix. On the contrary, weight loss surgery is a tool. Our goal as providers is to ensure that patients are educated on the procedures and understand the lifestyle changes that are needed to ensure success with the surgery."
Musleh explained that healthy weight loss is unique to the individual. However, if your best, sustained efforts are not producing the results you seek, it might be time to speak with a medical expert who can diagnose any underlying or unknown health issues.
"Sustained and long-term weight loss needs to happen slowly over time and by incorporating several dietary and lifestyle measures," she said. "The real truth about weight loss is if you are trying to lose weight and unable to reach a healthy weight or maintain weight loss, it is worth your time to seek a complete medical evaluation to rule out any contributing medical factors. A full evaluation will also help you discover if you have any comorbidities or complications related to your weight that should be addressed and treated."