Eat less, move more and let willpower take care of the rest is the old-fashioned approach for weight loss management. But as the growing global obesity crisis proves, obesity treatment isn’t that simple. That’s why General Practitioner and obesity expert Dr Georgia Rigas recommends a combination of evidence-based lifestyle changes with effective medical treatments to deliver significant and sustainable weight loss. Here’s how.
Why is it so hard to lose weight?
Obesity is a complex condition with multifactorial causes, so it’s no surprise finding an effective weight loss treatment for your body and lifestyle isn’t always simple. But despite the complexity, the impact of being overweight on our physical and mental health is simply too important to leave to chance by trying to dream excess kilos away with willpower. “Obesity is a complex disease influenced by various factors, including genetics, metabolism, and hormonal imbalances, so relying solely on willpower is often ineffective and unrealistic,” Dr Rigas says. “Body weight is regulated by the hypothalamus, a part of the brain which is not under voluntary control so you can’t tell it what to do,” The good news is even modest weight loss, ranging from 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight, can have significant health benefits and reduce the risk of obesity-related complications.1-4
Laying the foundations for weight loss treatment
While diet, exercise and behaviour are the cornerstone of traditional obesity treatment, achieving substantial and sustained weight loss can be difficult. “Lifestyle changes alone often results in modest weight loss of three to five percent and it’s difficult to maintain in the long-term by more than 90 percent of people with obesity,” Dr Rigas explains.
That’s not to say they don’t still have an important role to play in obesity management, but it’s important to understand for people living with obesity, they’re not the only option. “Healthy lifestyle interventions form the foundation for other therapies, and are important for preventing chronic progressive diseases,” she explains. “Eating to achieve your nutritional requirements, eating when you’re hungry rather than for non-hunger reasons, moderate intensity exercise, adequate good quality sleep, adequate stress minimisation and management techniques all play a part.” The Australian dietary guidelines have advice on getting started with healthy eating including calculators to assist with working out your nutritional needs based on how active you are.
Finding a weight loss treatment that’s right for you
If you’ve tried lifestyle measures and you’re still concerned about carrying excess weight, your GP should be your first step in seeking support. Your doctor will evaluate your BMI (Body Mass Index) and assess your body composition to determine if you need to reduce body fat or take preventive measures to avoid gaining more. They will also conduct a comprehensive health check to assess how your weight may be impacting your overall well-being. From there, they can provide guidance on appropriate food and exercise choices as well as referring you to a dietitian and exercise physiologist to help form new, lasting habits. A GP can also give advice on whether other obesity management approaches such as meal replacement shakes, weight loss medication or surgical interventions might be suitable.
1. World Health Organization. Obesity. 2023. Available from https://www.who.int/health-topics/obesity#tab=tab_1
2. Stunkard AJ, Sørensen TI, Hanis C, Teasdale TW, Chakraborty R, Schull WJ, Schulsinger F. An adoption study of human obesity. N Engl J Med. 1986 Jan 23;314(4):193-8. 2023 [cited July 4 2023]. Available from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3941707/
3. World Obesity. About obesity. 2023 [cited July 4 2023]. Available from https://www.worldobesity.org/about/about-obesity
4. National Health and Medical Research Council. Clinical Practice Guidelines for the management of overweight and obesity. 2013. [cited July 4 2023]. Available from https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/clinical-practice-guidelines-management-overweight-and-obesity
5. Lee PC, Dixon J. Pharmacotherapy for obesity. Australian Family Physician. July 2017;46;7. 2023 [cited July 4 2023]. Available from https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2017/july/pharmacotherapy-for-obesity