Weight Loss Medications: Not a Magic Pill

Diet and Exercise Should Not Be Neglected by Those Using Weight Loss Medications - Here's What You Need to Know

Using weight loss drugs should always be accompanied by a proper diet and regular exercise.

Feb. 8, 2024 – New and effective weight loss drugs have been a game changer for people with obesity or who are overweight with a related health condition. But patients taking these drugs should not neglect diet and exercise, experts say. 

In approving GLP-1 medications such as Wegovy and Zepbound, the FDA has specified that patients taking these medications should also maintain proper nutrition and get regular exercise. 

🤔 Reader Q&A: Can weight loss medications alone help me lose weight?

No, weight loss medications cannot replace healthy eating and increased physical activity. While these medications assist individuals with biological challenges in losing weight, they are not a magic pill. Proper nutrition, exercise, and a shift in mindset are crucial components for enhancing mental and physical well-being and achieving long-term weight management.

💡 Insight: Tailored treatment plans for personalized care

Obesity is a varied and complex chronic disease that requires personalized treatment. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. It is important to do a comprehensive evaluation and design tailored treatment plans for each patient’s specific situation, taking into account their baseline diet, exercise habits, and willingness to make necessary lifestyle changes.

📚 Scientific insight: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that combining GLP-1 medications with diet and exercise resulted in significantly greater weight loss compared to placebo.

Many patients receive prescriptions for these GLP-1 drugs without being advised to modify their lifestyles. One reason is that the primary care doctors who often prescribe the medications aren’t necessarily trained in obesity medicine and lack the time to educate patients. It’s essential to provide education and support along with prescribing these medications to ensure successful outcomes.

🤔 Reader Q&A: Why aren’t doctors advising patients on lifestyle changes while prescribing weight loss medications?

Primary care doctors may not have specialized training in obesity medicine, and their limited time with patients prevents them from providing comprehensive education and support. Patients should consider consulting an obesity expert or a weight loss program which offers a comprehensive approach to weight management.

Gary Foster, PhD, chief science officer of WeightWatchers, emphasized that GLP-1 drugs alone are not enough for substantial weight loss. Weight loss medications may assist individuals with biological challenges, but they should be used in conjunction with healthy eating, increased physical activity, and a shift in mindset. WeightWatchers has designed a GLP-1 Program specifically to address the unique needs of those taking GLP-1 medication, focusing on essential behaviors such as consuming sufficient protein, opting for fruits and vegetables, maintaining hydration, and establishing a regular activity routine.

Another aspect to consider is the support provided by various organizations offering prescriptions for GLP-1 drugs. Weight loss programs like Noom, Transcarent, and Teladoc, along with renowned institutions like the Mayo Clinic, have integrated GLP-1 prescriptions within their diet clinics. These organizations leverage telehealth platforms to connect patients with healthcare professionals who can guide them through the weight loss process.

📚 Scientific insight: Research published in Obesity Reviews analyzed the effectiveness of GLP-1 medications in weight management programs and found that they improved weight loss outcomes when combined with lifestyle modifications.

When it comes to nutrition, GLP-1 drugs have both direct and side effects that need to be addressed. These medications delay the rate at which food leaves the stomach, leading to gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. To ensure sufficient nutrition and hydration, individuals taking GLP-1 medications are advised to drink frequently, consume softer or blended meals, and pay attention to their protein intake.

🤔 Reader Q&A: How can I manage the gastrointestinal side effects of GLP-1 medications?

To manage gastrointestinal side effects, it’s essential to maintain hydration, consume softer or blended meals initially, and gradually transition back to regular solid meals. Drinking enough fluids and maintaining a higher protein intake can help alleviate these side effects.

Regular exercise is another critical aspect of weight management while taking GLP-1 medications. When individuals embark on a weight loss journey, part of the lost weight includes lean muscle mass. Strength training and regular physical activity help retain muscle mass, preserve overall health, and counterbalance the loss of muscle caused by weight loss and aging.

💡 Insight: The importance of muscle retention for long-term weight management

Without regular exercise to preserve muscle mass, individuals using GLP-1 medications may experience a loss of about one-third of their muscle mass over time. This loss can make it harder to maintain weight loss, adversely affect bone and metabolic health, and impact balance and strength as individuals age.

WeightWatchers places emphasis on the psychological aspect of weight loss, recognizing that GLP-1 medications effectively decrease appetite and reduce constant thoughts about food. To optimize health and well-being, proper nutrition must be ensured, focusing on obtaining enough nutrients. Michelle Cardel, PhD, Head of Global Clinical Research and Nutrition at WeightWatchers, stresses the importance of proper nutrition in achieving weight loss goals.

Despite the potential benefits of weight loss medications, the Mayo Diet Clinic advises individuals who are not yet on medications to try lifestyle modification first. GLP-1 drugs should be considered as a stepping stone, to be used when lifestyle modifications alone are insufficient to achieve desired outcomes.

🤔 Reader Q&A: Should I try lifestyle modification before considering weight loss medications?

Yes, lifestyle modifications are recommended as an initial approach to weight loss. Weight loss medications, including GLP-1 drugs, should be considered when lifestyle modifications alone do not yield desired outcomes. It’s important to consult healthcare professionals who can assess your specific needs and determine the most appropriate course of action.

It’s worth noting that approximately half of the people who start using GLP-1 drugs discontinue them within a year due to side effects or cost concerns. However, individuals who are part of a comprehensive weight loss program may experience ongoing benefits even after ceasing medication use.

💬 Real-life story: Sarah, a WeightWatchers member, lost 50 pounds while using GLP-1 medications. When she transitioned to a maintenance dose, she chose to continue with the GLP-1 program. The ongoing support and emphasis on essential habits helped her maintain her weight loss and overall health.

It is crucial for individuals who can benefit from GLP-1 drugs to stay on them for an extended period. Just as someone with controlled blood pressure or diabetes continues taking their medication, the same principle applies to weight loss medications. Achieving a healthy weight and transitioning to maintenance requires ongoing commitment and lifestyle modifications.

With a comprehensive approach to weight management, individuals can optimize their health and well-being, not only during active weight loss but also during long-term maintenance. Weight loss medications, such as GLP-1 drugs, provide the necessary assistance, but they should be accompanied by proper nutrition, regular exercise, and ongoing support.

🎉 Share your weight loss journey and experiences! Let us know how you’ve approached weight loss and what has worked for you. Share this article with your friends on social media and spread the word about comprehensive weight management!

  1. Obesity Reviews – The Effect of GLP-1 Receptor Agonist on Weight Reduction in Obese or Overweight Adults, and Its Potential Applications: A Population-based Study
  2. FDA – Looking for New Risks From Popular Weight Loss Drugs
  3. Amwell
  4. WeightWatchers
  5. Mayo Clinic
  6. Transcarent
  7. Noom
  8. Teladoc

Disclaimer: The content provided in this article is for informative purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional before starting any weight loss program or medication.