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How to Talk to Your Doctor About Your Diet

Six tips for a fruitful conversation
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Each year, plenty of us make New Year's resolutions to lose weight and improve our health. And we all know that before jumping into a new weight loss program, it's wise to discuss these plans with a doctor.

But just how do you go about starting such a conversation?

Some Weight Loss Clinic members have complained that their doctors seemed too busy or not interested when they tried to discuss their diets. There are many possible reasons for this, including the doctors' level of comfort with discussing the topic, their communication abilities, and time constraints.

"Obesity is pretty complicated for doctors to treat, because it involves behavior, medication, as well as managing medical conditions that come with obesity, like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol," notes researcher Gary D. Foster, PhD, clinical director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Indeed, research shows that doctors don't always broach the topic with their patients. In a study published in the journal Preventive Medicine, researchers looked at more than 600 visits to family practice offices where 68% of the adult patients were overweight or obese. They found that only 11% of the overweight or obese patients received weight loss counseling during these visits.

And just like the general population, some doctors may harbor biases toward the overweight and obese. In a study led by Marlene Schwartz, PhD, co-director of the Center for Eating and Weight Disorders at Yale University, researchers gave a test to health professionals attending a national meeting about obesity. The results indicated that some weight bias was present, although Schwartz noted that health professionals were not as biased as the general public.

So where does that leave the patient hoping to lose weight?

As with any health issue, it's a great idea to be proactive -- and doctors appreciate patients who are genuinely interested in their own health.

Your annual checkup is a great time to address concerns about weight with your doctor. But there's nothing wrong with scheduling an appointment specifically to discuss weight and diet issues.

Before your meeting, consider doing some homework to prepare. Here are some things to think about:

1. Have goals: How much do you want to lose, and in how much time?

2. Be realistic about your goals and limitations. An acceptable goal is losing 5%-10% of your current weight. Anything more than that may be unrealistic, or even unhealthy. Your doctor can help you come up with a realistic plan that can give good long-term results.

3. Don't be shy -- initiate the discussion. Some doctors may not feel comfortable broaching the topic of weight, fearing that they'll hurt the patients' feelings. Perhaps during a previous visit with you or another patient, the topic was an awkward one. Doctors also may avoid the topic because they don't feel experienced enough in counseling weight management.

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