Fast Diet Fads: Doctors caution against weight loss medications as ‘quick fix’
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - If you’re looking for a fast and easy way to lose weight, you’re not alone. Weight loss medications are gaining in popularity, but doctors say they’re designed for the long-term, not a quick weight loss solution.
DIET + EXERCISE = SUCCESS
Getting in a good workout or cooking up a balanced meal are often the first steps on a weight-loss journey.
UW Health Registered Dietitian Brianne Thornton says research supports that diet and exercise come together to facilitate weight loss in the most successful way.
“Diet alone or exercise alone are not enough and exercise can’t outwork a poor diet,” said Thornton. “We really need to figure out how to move our body in a way that works for us, feels good, and is something that we enjoy and we need to figure out a diet that we enjoy.”
She says she works with people who have tried all sorts of trendy diets, like intermittent fasting and the Keto diet. Though she says these can show initial results, fast-acting diets are not typically sustainable in the long-term.
“When we stop a diet, the diet stops working,” said Thornton. “Most people are really motivated in the beginning and they want to go at it 100%, but they find that there’s challenges that come up.”
For many people, there are financial barriers to losing weight, such as the cost of healthier foods and the expense of a gym membership or workout class. There’s also the time commitment of a health and fitness journey to navigate along with a busy family or work schedules.
“So we really need to figure out how we can work within our budget and within the time that we have,” said Thornton.
Other people battle mental barriers when trying to shed a few pounds. For example, some people need to redefine their relationship with food if they struggle with emotional eating.
“They’re turning to food when they’re not hungry,” said Thornton. “Maybe we’re bored, we’re stressed, we’re sad.”
WEIGHT LOSS INJECTIONS
Dr. Roopa Shah is a SSM Health family medicine physician and board-certified bariatric provider. She says for people with chronic obesity, diet and exercise may not be enough to make a significant difference.
“It’s not a discipline issue,” said Dr. Shah. “It’s really a biology issue that some people really do require these types of medications to help them with the weight loss.”
Dr. Shah says semaglutide injections are an answer for many people dealing with obesity. Semaglutides are type two diabetes injection medications that work with the body’s hormones to control blood sugar. The drugs also create a feeling of fullness and help suppress appetite.
“They are true game changers in the world of obesity medicine because they are the first medications that work with our own hormones,” said Dr. Shah.
Wegovy is the only semaglutide injection approved for chronic weight management in adults with obesity (BMI over 30) or overweight (BMI over 27) who also have weight-related medical problems. Currently, Ozempic is only approved for use in type two diabetes patients.
For those who want to avoid invasive surgeries, Dr. Shah says a semaglutide injection prescription is an answer.
“Some patients in theory could take these medications for their weight loss, instead of going through with gastric bypass or a gastric sleeve,” said Shah. “It just really opens the doors for people who have suffered with obesity for so long.”
Though the weight loss drugs are considered a bariatric breakthrough, doctors are concerned about those who don’t meet obesity criteria wanting the drugs for a quick fix.
Dr. Dawn Belt Davis is the UW Health Director of Research in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. She says a whole class of medications that are used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes has taken over the weight loss market.
“They were not intended to help someone who is not overweight lose an extra five to ten pounds to fit into their dress for a wedding or something,” said Dr. Davis.
She says the demand for the drugs has led to significant shortages and back-order situations.
“Tt’s led to a lot of issues for our [diabetes] patients because often they are on this drug and then all of the sudden they can’t get it for 3-4 months in a row and it’s literally not available at any pharmacy,” said Davis. “They have to stop taking it and then that can increase their blood sugars. It can cause them to regain weight and then we’re kind of right back to the drawing board.”
Health experts say people who are prescribed a semaglutide injection for weight loss should be prepared to commit to the medication.
“You do need to stay on these medications long-term, that’s how they’re designed,” said Dr. Shah. “Once you go off of it again, that weight is going to trend right back up to where you were.”
Dr. Davis says more research needs to be done to determine how long people would have to take the medications to keep the weight off.
“It comes down to ‘how long will you take this?’ and that’s the data we don’t have yet,” said Dr. Davis. “We don’t know that there’s going to be a sustained benefit for people if they don’t stay on the drug.”
The drugs are also expensive, says Dr. Davis. Even with a 20% copay, they can cost upwards of $1,000 a month.
“If they have to pay out-of-pocket, it’s almost impossible,” she added.
There are also gastro-intestinal side effects to consider such as: nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Ongoing research is being done into more serious risks like pancreatic, kidney, or thyroid cancer.
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