This is a hopeful time for people who want to lose weight and are considering medical weight loss options. With scientific research paving the way for new treatments, and telehealth drastically improving access to specialized care, we have more effective science-backed weight loss strategies than ever before. Read on to find out what medical weight loss has to offer in 2022.
What is Medical Weight Loss?
Until not long ago, it was widely believed that excess weight resulted from a lack of willpower. We now know that our weight is tightly regulated by an elaborate mix of biological factors, including genetics, hormones, and others. Medical weight loss is working with a licensed medical provider, or a team of them, to access science-based approaches for weight loss.
Medical weight loss specialists can evaluate the factors contributing to weight gain, and the impact of weight on a patient’s health and quality of life. Then they combine evidence-based treatment tools to design a unique treatment plan for each individual. The goal of a medical approach is to help people feel better, improve their health, and prevent unwanted health consequences of excess weight.
What Tools Are Available To Make Weight Loss Possible in 2022?
For many whose biology is driving to a higher weight, losing weight feels impossible. No matter how much effort they put in, the number on the scale does not budge – or it does a little, but then quickly comes back. Working with medical professionals utilizing science-backed tools can help people achieve results even when nothing else has worked. The four pillars of medical weight loss are healthy nutrition, physical activity, mindset and behavior change, and weight loss medications that target the underlying biology.
When it comes to healthy nutrition, there are a few key things to know. Managing calorie intake is important, because our bodies are hard-wired to store excess. But calories in and calories out is not the full story. Researchers have shown that calories from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and basically anything that comes from nature are healthier for us than calories from foods with highly processed sugars. Those refined carbohydrates are powerful signals that make our brains crave more and consume more.
And there is truly no single best diet. Each person has to find a strategy that works for them. In fact, it’s best not to think of it as a ‘diet’ at all. One key to lasting success is making healthy eating a new way of life. Registered Dietitians are experts in nutrition who help people find healthy eating patterns that they can embrace, sustain, and even enjoy!
As for physical activity, the more the better. Where it makes the biggest impact is on weight maintenance. Once you work hard to lose the weight, exercising really helps to keep it off in the longer term. A mix of cardio and weight training is what medical weight loss experts recommend.
Most people who are trying to lose weight have tried before, and may feel like they know exactly what to do – the problem is with actually doing it. Achieving mindset and behavior changes may not be easy, but it is possible with science-based strategies and the right support. To lose weight and keep it off, we first have to believe it is possible, even if it has failed before. Also, it is so common to use food to buffer our emotions, so addressing emotional eating is often foundational work that must be done.
When it comes to changing habits, one tried and true strategy is tracking what we eat, our weight, and our activity. In 2022, there are apps and other technologies to make this easier, and studies show that people who do it lose twice as much as those who don’t. Checking in with a support team for accountability can also make a big difference. The list of tools and tricks is long – for each individual and situation, medical weight loss specialists can offer strategies to get from knowing what to do, to sticking with the plan.
Weight Loss Medications
The final pillar of medical weight loss is medications. These medications work by changing the chemical signals in our brain that regulate hunger and cravings. Remarkable progress has resulted in five new medications that are FDA-approved for weight loss over the last decade, plus one swallowable device.
Older medications have helped people achieve 5-8% more weight loss than with lifestyle changes alone. Wegovy (semaglutide) launched in 2021 and doubled this impact, with results of 15% average weight loss. Less than one year later, Mounjaro (tirzepatide) launched with approval only for diabetes treatment, but since it results in more than 20% average weight loss, it is expected to be approved as an obesity treatment in the near future.
Because they modify our weight biology, using FDA-approved prescription weight loss medication(s) can truly be a game-changer for people who have not had lasting success with other strategies. To be a candidate, you have to have a body mass index (BMI) above 30 (which defines obesity) or above 27 with weight-related medical conditions. Medications work best when combined with the nutrition, activity, and mindset and behavior changes described above.
For people with a more significant degree of excess weight conditions, bariatric surgery (also called metabolic surgery) is another available option. Research is clear that surgery is the most effective treatment for obesity, because of more weight lost on average and better long term success rates. But surgery is not for everyone, and the new medications available today are getting people closer to surgical results.
Can Medical Weight Loss Be Right For You?
The increase in adoption of telehealth during the COVID pandemic has made it much more feasible to access medical weight loss services. In 2022, you can access a program in person, fully virtual, or hybrid, depending on your needs.
If you are considering seeking medical weight loss support, here are a few pointers to consider. First, be sure the service is high quality. Professionals should have state licenses, and ideally specialized training and board certification. Understand how often you can meet with the players on your team. Also be sure the tool kit they offer is a good fit – for example, some programs use meal replacements and no real food, and some offer weight loss supplements but not FDA-approved medications. Consider whether the technology they work with is right for you. Also be sure to understand the cost of care and whether insurance reimbursement is an option. Patient reviews or data on results can help you make an informed decision. And finally, be sure the focus is on long term sustainability and improved health, not a quick fix that perpetuates the age-old cycle and leaves us feeling frustrated and defeated.
Now that you know more about medical weight loss and what to look for in a weight loss program, you’re one step closer to making 2022 your year for medical weight loss.
Editor’s note: Dr. Halperin is Chief Medical Officer at Form Health and an endocrinologist who completed her training at Harvard Medical School. She is passionate about helping her patients reach their weight loss goals and improve their metabolic heath.
After graduating cum laude from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she continued her medical school education at Harvard Medical School, where she then obtained a Masters of Medical Sciences. Dr. Halperin completed her internship and residency training in Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). Afterwards, she completed a Clinical Fellowship in Endocrinology at BWH and went on to complete a Postdoctoral Fellow at Joslin Diabetes Center. Dr. Halperin continued to practice medicine at BWH and was appointed the Medical Director of the Program for Weight Management in 2009. In 2013, she became Chief of Endocrinology at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital in Boston, MA. At that time, she also founded and served as Co-Director of the BWH Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Surgery. Dr. Halperin is a member of many professional associations including the American Medical Association, Endocrine Society, American Diabetes Association, and The Obesity Society. She is a recipient of numerous awards that highlight her dedication to patient care including the Castle Connolly America’s Top Doctors and the Schwartz Center Award for Compassionate Care.
Dr. Halperin lives in the Boston suburbs with her husband and 3 kids. In her free time she enjoys traveling with her family, cooking, reading and spending time with her kids outdoors.