Many blogs (including this one) recommend consulting your doctor before changing your diet and exercise plan for weight loss. But can doctors help you lose weight? While you might assume that a doctor would be an authority on diet and nutrition, many are not specifically trained to help plan a diet for weight loss. While doctors can help you lose weight to some degree, the best weight loss approach may be working closely with your doctor, a dietitian or nutritionist, and your own willpower and perseverance.
Can doctors help you lose weight?
In a guest post on the popular blog KevinMD, Angie Eakin, MD writes about the conflict between what we think doctors know and how it’s actually implemented in practice to answer the question can doctors help you lose weight. Eakin cites research breakthroughs related to nutrition from just one week (vegetarian diets and the benefits for colorectal cancer; dementia progression and its relation to healthy diet, cognitive training, and physical exercise; and how folic acid boosts heart health) and then points out an essential problem: slow implementation due to lack of specific nutrition training.
“It takes 19 years, on average, for studies to make their way into clinical practice. It shows. Based on a recent survey, just 13 percent of doctor office visits for chronic disease include counseling on diet and nutrition. With a burgeoning obesity epidemic, we don’t have that long to wait. The root of the problem often starts with our medical training. Less than 30 percent of medical schools today meet federal recommendations for nutrition education. Despite spending a minimum of 11 years in training, most doctors lack formal training in diet and nutrition.”
This is not to say that a visit to your doctor is a waste of time.
Doctors can help you lose weight and should be consulted before any major dietary change. This is especially true if you are under treatment for major health issues or at risk for health problems. These can include things like chronic pain or a family history of heart disease or diabetes.
Consulting a doctor is also essential if any of the following things apply to you:
- You are considering a diet of less than 1,000 calories a day
- You are taking medications
- You are a “yo-yo” dieter; you tend to lose weight and then gain it quickly back (and more)
- Your BMI indicates that you are obese or severely obese (a BMI of 40 or more, or 80 pounds or more overweight)
Even if you are not under treatment for another condition, doctors can also help you lose weight by beginning with an initial health assessment. This includes a full physical with bloodwork and assessment of BMI. Being obese can also come with risk factors for mental health issues. Your doctor may assess your mental health during your visit to determine if support is necessary there.
Determining your weight loss goals
Consulting with your doctor is also a great chance to ask important questions you might have for your weight loss goal, including:
- What should my goal weight be?
- How long should losing the weight take?
- Are underlying health problems affecting my weight?
- Are my medications causing weight gain?
- What other resources can I use for weight loss?
The last question is another piece of the weight loss puzzle. Although many find that their doctors can help them lose weight with no other support, some people may want to consult a dietitian. The words “dietitian” and “nutritionist” are often used interchangeably, but this is a mistake. Dietitians are more strictly regulated than nutritionists, with training and continuing education requirements. Nutritionists can opt for training through the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (CBNS), but it is not required.
Registered dietitians can help you on your weight loss journey in the following ways:
- Develop a customized weight loss plan that takes food preferences and allergies into consideration: Many generic diet plans don’t consider people with allergies or who want to tailor their eating to anti-inflammatory foods. A registered dietitian can tailor your customized diet plan to your specific needs.
- Help you learn how to meal plan and shop effectively: One reason our weight loss plans fail is because we don’t know how to shop or meal plan. Meal planning includes things like snacks and quick meals for busy evenings. Always having healthy food at the ready can improve your chances for weight loss success.
- Provide information on supplements or other complementary diet approaches: Supplements can fill in nutritional gaps, but not all are created equal. Additionally, some supplementation can help treat things like inflammation but may interfere with other medications. A registered dietitian may be able to help you choose the right supplement for your needs.
- Offer motivation and moral support: Losing weight can be difficult, and everyone needs a little boost now and again. Dietitians want you to succeed and can provide encouragement and moral support through daily emails or regular check-ins. Regular check-ins with a dietitian can help with personal accountability.
Personal accountability may be the most crucial part of weight loss. All of the professional help you can find will not result in weight loss unless you take responsibility for changing your eating and exercise habits and sticking to them. Whether it is a series of personal fitness goals or a target weight loss goal, no one can do the work but you. A doctor and dietitian can provide meaningful support, but in the end, you are the only one who can truly make the change.
So, can doctors help you lose weight? It is clear that doctors can help you lose weight with the help of a dietitian and your own personal accountability. If you are on a weight loss journey, how did you get started, and how is it going?