How Your Family Doctor Can Help You Lose Weight

Lean on a resource who knows you well

apple weights and water

We live in an age of abundance.

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Just 20 years ago, the average bagel in your neighborhood bakery was about 3 inches wide and contained around 140 calories. Now, it’s about 6 inches wide and offers a whopping 350 calories.

Treating yourself to a bag of french fries used to mean 210 calories. Now, it’s nearly triple that amount.

Today, we lose more people to diseases associated with being overweight than with being underweight. Massive portions are part of our culture, and they’re just one factor among many leading to high obesity rates.

But you don’t have to look far for help. People don’t always realize a family doctor can be your first point of contact for losing or managing weight.

The top three causes of death worldwide — heart disease, cancer and stroke — are tied to obesity. So we don’t just want to help, we have to help. Here’s how we can do it.

1. Find the most sensible diet for you

Diet fads come and go. Look no further than health websites and bookstore shelves for evidence. One year, it’s Atkins. The next, it’s Paleo.

People who follow most of these diets strictly will get results, often because they reduce your daily calorie intake.

Rather than picking the diet of the week, I try to work with patients to find something suited for their specific needs.

Do you have other diseases or conditions that mean you can’t overdo protein, dairy or carbs, for instance? Your family doctor will know about those needs and can steer you in the right direction. Someone with kidney concerns has to be careful about protein intake, for example.

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There’s no one end-all, be-all diet for everyone. But the Mediterranean diet is often a good starting point for discussion. It comes with solid evidence for reducing your risk of diseases ranging from heart disease to breast cancer.

RELATED: How You Can Get Started on the Mediterranean Diet

2. Offer perspective and coaching

In the ideal world, you trust your family doctor enough to share openly and honestly.

Extend that honesty to your eating habits. Are you a stress eater? Do you binge after a bad day at work? Do you need someone to help hold you accountable?

The more information you’re willing to share, the better a plan your doctor can help you craft for losing weight and keeping it off. Such a plan will include everything from diet guidelines to an exercise routine that takes into account your current fitness level and preferred activities.

For example, if you’re far from a gym rat, I’m more likely to start you with brisk walking plan than a regimented workout.

Depending on your outlook, you may need to set longer-term goals, too. Weight loss isn’t always a quick fix. For instance, if you cut 100 calories a day, that translates to 9-10 pounds of weight loss over the course of a year.

It’s a noble goal. But it requires a shift in thinking if you’re used to miracle diets that promise 9-10 pounds of weight loss in a matter of weeks.

Your doctor and staff can set up check-ins to make sure you are meeting your goals. These can be informal, such as an email or phone call, or you can set follow-up appointments if needed. We can also refer you to additional “coaches,” such as behavioral therapists and registered dietitians, when you need the extra expertise.

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RELATED: 5 Hassle-Free Ways You Can Exercise Every Day

3. Discuss medical options

Smart diet and exercise plans are the starting point. In the long term, they’re the healthiest combination for losing weight.

But in certain cases, medical options are available, too. Your family doctor will know when those are appropriate for you.

If you have been struggling with obesity-related diseases for years without success, your doctor may want to discuss bariatric surgery. It’s a major intervention, but it has been proven to reduce the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, improve heart health and affect several other conditions, from sleep apnea to joint pain.

Likewise, there are many weight-loss medications on the market. We don’t prescribe these lightly. But for the right patients, they can make a difference.

The trick is knowing who those patients are. That’s why I stress having these difficult weight loss conversations with a family doctor who knows as much as possible about your overall health.

If we’re doing our jobs well, you won’t think of us as nagging you to lose weight. You’ll think of us as helping you do it.

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Michael Rabovsky, MD

Michael Rabovsky, MD, is Medical Advisor for the Health Essentials blog. He chairs the Department of Family Medicine in Cleveland Clinic’s Medicine Institute and actively promotes wellness and disease prevention.
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