The first step in weight loss treatment is usually lifestyle changes. Changing the way you eat and getting up to move more often will help you lose weight and get yourself in shape. The general idea is to make sure that the number of calories you use in a day is just a little bit more than the number of calories you consume, so that your body will start to feed off your excess body fat to replace the calories it isn’t getting through food.
There is no one right way to change your eating habits; different approaches work for different people. Some approaches that may help include:
- Counting calories. This may be the most straightforward approach–measuring the calories you eat in a day and keeping as close as possible to a number just under the calories you use. Normally that’s about 1,200 to 1,500 calories for women or 1,500 to 1,800 calories for men.
- Choosing filling foods with fewer calories. Serving larger portions of low-calorie foods can help you feel full without growing your waistline.
- A healthy-eating plan such as the Mediterranean diet, based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins such as beans and fish.
- Limiting specific food types, such as fats, carbohydrates or sugars.
Watch out for fad diets that offer a quick fix. If you want to keep the weight off for the long term, then you need to find a long-term plan that works for you.
Developing an exercise regimen is also a very helpful step in losing weight. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week–or half an hour of exercise, five days a week. If you can’t find a half hour at one time, it’s OK to break it into smaller blocks throughout the day. It also helps to find ways to increase the amount you move throughout the day, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking to places you would normally drive.
If it’s hard for you to stick with your weight loss program, you may benefit from behavior modification techniques to help you change. These may include:
- Counseling with a therapist to help you work through issues and keep yourself on track
- A support group where you can talk with other people going through the same challenges
If you are still struggling to lose weight without success despite diet, exercise, and other strategies, then there are medicines to help you lose weight. Your doctor may prescribe medical treatments for weight loss if your BMI is 30 or higher, or if you have weight-related complications and a BMI above 27.
Keep in mind, though, that medical weight loss treatments are intended for use alongside lifestyle changes, not to take their place. If you don’t stay active and keep watching what you eat, then weight loss medicines aren’t likely to help as much. And when you stop taking a weight loss medicine, you may regain much of the weight you lost. Prescription medicines for weight loss include:
- Orlistat (Xenical), which stops your stomach from absorbing fat. Lower-dose orlistat is also sold over the counter as Alli.
- Lorcaserin (Belviq), which alters chemicals in your brain to decrease your appetite and help you feel full. However, if you don’t lose about 5% of your body weight in the first 12 weeks of treatment, then lorcaserin probably won’t work for you. Pregnant women should not take lorcaserin.
- Phentermine (Adipex-P, Suprenza) for short-term use–though you will need to find another way to keep the weight off in the long term.
- Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), which combines phentermine with an antiseizure medication to make it safe for long-term use. If you don’t lose 5% of your body weight in the first 12 weeks, your doctor may need to stop this treatment or up your dose. This treatment is not appropriate for pregnant women.
If other treatments don’t help you, weight loss surgery may help you lose up to a third of your excess body weight, but you will still need to watch what you eat if you want to keep the weight off. Surgery may be an option, if:
- Your BMI is 40 or higher
- You have a serious weight-related problem and a BMI of 35 or higher
- You’re committed to making the lifestyle changes you need to make surgery work.
There are several types of weight loss surgeries. Some of the most common surgical treatments for weight loss include:
- Gastric bypass, in which the surgeon creates a small pouch at the top of your stomach and connects it directly to your small intestine, so that the food you eat skips your stomach and goes straight into the intestines. Gastric bypass is very effective for long-term weight loss and may help with type 2 diabetes and other complications, but it may cause blood clots, or you may require repeat surgery.
- Laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB, or Lap Band), in which the surgeon puts an inflatable band around your stomach and uses this band to cinch your stomach into 2 sections, connected by a narrow passage. Health risks include infections, blood clots, or the need to reoperate.
- Gastric sleeve, a newer, experimental treatment in which a part of your stomach is removed, to give you a smaller stomach. The risks and benefits of this treatment are still being studied.
- Biliopancreatic diversion, a somewhat riskier treatment in which most of the stomach is surgically removed. This highly effective surgery is usually reserved for people with a BMI of 50 or more, because of the risk of malnutrition and surgical complications.