The Belly Fat Burden: Reducing Your Waist Circumference
When diet and exercise aren't helping you lose belly fat, medications and surgery may do the job.
You've probably read the health news: Belly fat -- a big waistline -- can
raise your risks for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
And belly fat can be a sign of something more: Metabolic syndrome, a group
of health problems that include too much fat around the waist, elevated blood
pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides, and low "good" HDL cholesterol --
all boosting your risks of disease.
Making matters worse, losing belly fat can sometimes seem daunting. For many
people, diet and exercise don't always work. Luckily, we've got options like
FDA-approved weight loss medications and even surgery.
"All fat is challenging to get off, period," says Howard J.
Eisenson, MD, medical director of Duke Diet & Fitness Center at Duke
University Medical Center. But "belly fat is not particularly tenacious fat
to get rid of... it actually comes off fairly easily. Frankly, if you reduce
calories and exercise more, you will lose weight everywhere -- including your
While Eisenson considers diet and exercise the most effective weight loss
strategies, he acknowledges that there's a role for medical treatments.
Keeping the weight off is what's most difficult, he says. "Very
commonly, people start to gain the weight back. A year out, and they have
regained 30% to 50% of the weight they lost. If a drug can help people keep off
what they've lost, that's meaningful."
Fortunately there are a few weight loss drugs that help in that regard.
Losing Belly Fat With Weight Loss Drugs
Meridia, Phentermine, and Xenical are the most commonly used FDA-approved
drugs for treating obesity. They are used for people with a BMI of 30 and
above, or those who have a BMI of 27 and other obesity-related medical
conditions. Both drugs are considered "moderately effective" in weight
loss, with an average of 5 to 22 pounds over a one-year period.
Meridia works by increasing brain chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine
and dopamine so people feel full sooner after they eat. Xenical binds to fat
cells in the gastrointestinal tract to prevent them from being absorbed, so the
body eliminates about 30% of fat that is consumed.
"Xenical and Meridia tend to help for about [the] first six months on
average," says Eisenson. "Then their main benefit is as a weight loss
maintenance aide, which is not a trivial thing. That's how Xenical and Meridia
work best... helping people keep the weight off."
The drugs work best when combined with lifestyle changes, research suggests.
In one study, obese men and women lost far more weight by changing eating and
exercise habits -- and taking Meridia -- compared to those who relied on either
lifestyle modification or medication alone.