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When Your Doctor Prescribes Weight Loss

When your health’s at risk, it’s time to get serious.
By Hilary Parker
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

You may know that being overweight or obese isn’t good for you. Still, it can be incredibly upsetting when your doctor says you need to lose weight for your health. 

You’re not alone, though. More than 30% of the U.S. adult population is obese, with a body mass index (BMI) -- a measure of body fat based on height and weight -- of 30 or more. As a comparison, healthy BMIs are between 18.5 and 25.

Why Did My Doctor Prescribe Weight Loss?

The health risks that come from being overweight or obese include high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. At the same time, you may find that being overweight seriously affects your emotional well-being, especially in our thin-obsessed culture. 

Even though it can be difficult, try not to take offense when your doctor recommends weight loss for health reasons. Your doctor has your best interest in mind and is trying to improve your health and quality of life.

“Your doctor has given you the advice to lose weight because of his concern to try and stop the condition you may have from progressing any further,” says Toby Smithson, RD, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Overweight and obesity have become a major public health issue that has a domino effect with many associated chronic diseases and conditions. Many people start to gain weight and as their weight increases it affects their well-being from their head to their toes.”

How Do I Get Started With Weight Loss?

The first step to successful weight loss is gathering information about your options. So when your doctor tells you to lose weight, it’s important to ask questions and seek advice from your physician.

You might begin by asking your doctor how much weight you need to lose to improve your health. How long will it reasonably take to lose that weight?  

It can be overwhelming to choose among the different options for achieving weight loss. There are diet and exercise programs, medications and surgical procedures. Talk with your doctor about which weight loss methods are right for you, given your medical history and current health status.

If your doctor isn’t comfortable making recommendations or if you’d like to meet with a specialist, ask for a referral to medically supervised weight management center at an academic institution. These centers have multidisciplinary teams of experts, which include doctors, dietitians, and exercise physiologists, who are skilled in helping people lose weight and keep it off.

Take the Initiative With Your Doctor

What should you do if your doctor has not prescribed weight loss, but you wish your doctor would to give you that extra motivation to lose weight? Go ahead and schedule an appointment to discuss weight loss for health reasons. If you’re nervous, it might be helpful to bring along a supportive friend or family member, and to write down your questions ahead of time.

And how about if your doctor only prescribed weight loss for something that’s bothering you, like osteoarthritis in your aching knees, instead of addressing the condition? Remember that weight loss itself often does resolve a number of medical conditions, so your doctor may be trying to take a conservative approach. If you aren’t comfortable with the recommendation, ask whether there is something you can do to help solve your medical condition while you’re working on your weight loss.

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