You tried so hard to eat less and move more to lose weight—and were psyched to drop some pounds. But they always seem to come back on. Guess what? You’re not alone. In fact, an estimated 80 percent of people who lose weight will regain it within the first year. And we’re here to tell you that it’s not due to a lack of willpower.
Research shows that biological factors such as hormones, genes, and metabolism largely determines weight. Yet, there’s not much talk about how medication can support many of these factors—and bridge the gap between biology and habits. That’s not surprising, considering that you always hear lifestyle changes are the only path to success. Oh, and weight loss medication hasn’t always had the best reputation.
Things are different today. There are lots of effective and safe medication options. And if an Rx could help you, then why not? If you’d take prescription medication for diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, or depression, why wouldn’t you take one for your weight?
The stigma about weight loss medications
According to our Chief Medical Officer, Rekha Kumar, M.D., “patients often feel that using medication for weight care is cheating.” That’s because obesity is still stigmatized as a choice or lack of willpower rather than a chronic condition that may require long-term use of medication to maintain weight loss.
But with only around 1 percent of healthcare providers certified in obesity medicine and many obesity medicine clinics having long waitlists, responsible prescribing of medication for weight care can be hard to come by. Clinicians who aren’t familiar with obesity medicine tend to take their patients off the medication once they achieve their desired weight and have them maintain it on their own. Dr. Kumar notes that this implies that “obesity is not a chronic condition that needs to be managed long term.” We will not conquer the obesity epidemic without medication compliance. People need not to feel judged when they are trying to do the right thing, such as taking medicine.”
Do you need prescription medication?
When you begin to lose weight, your body can do some crazy things to prevent further weight loss—like decrease the level of leptin in your body (a hormone that signals fullness) and increase ghrelin (one that helps you feel hungry) which can lead to weight regain. This may have been a survival mechanism from way back in our hunter-gather days. These appetite hormones can remain wonky even after a year of losing weight—and possibly longer.
Medication may help by targeting your biology while you make all of those great, healthy lifestyle changes. Some drugs affect your appetite, some help reduce cravings and compulsive eating, and others stabilize blood sugar.
A study looking at the efficacy of prescription medication for weight loss found that 44-75% of those receiving medication lost at least 5% of their initial body weight, compared to 23% of those receiving a placebo. And those utilizing prescription meds were more likely to keep it off at the one-year mark, which can significantly improve cardiometabolic risk factors such as high blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglycerides. Even a weight loss of 5% in those with obesity can lead to clinically meaningful improvements in blood sugar and triglycerides—and the benefits are even more significant as more weight is lost.
So can we break the stigma around weight loss medication once and for all? It’s not cheating. It can be a path to lasting success.