How prescription medication can help you maintain weight loss
WRITTEN BY: REKHA KUMAR, MD, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER | EDITED BY: KRISTEEN WARD
It’s late one night, you’re feeling tired, frustrated, and thinking about options to get healthier—you begin Googling “prescription weight-loss” pills. The search results bombard you with a myriad of options while you try to sift through what’s correct, and get lost in each page you click, while words describing medications as “magic” or “miracle” seem to dance across the screen. It’s easy to get confused wondering what the right steps are for you and your journey, or to feel like nothing is tailored towards your specific goals. It may leave you pondering—is this the right one for me? How do I know? Should I be using medication? The misinformation can leave you guessing, or more lost than you were before on whether or not to use medication for weight management, and which ones are right for you.
Does weight management require medication?
Weight care is multifaceted, and although the focus for weight loss for a long time has been on lifestyle interventions such as eating and exercising, research has shown that overall, these are not enough to result in long term weight-loss and weight maintenance. Weight loss requires an approach that takes all the different factors into account that affect our weight, not just lifestyle. It turns out, up to 80 percent of our weight may depend on biological factors such as metabolic rate—also known as your metabolism, hormones, and genes. This means that for many of us trying to take control of our weight, there are things completely out of our control that play a large role in our success. The Mayo Clinic suggests, “prescription weight-loss drugs approved for long-term use (more than 12 weeks) produce significant weight loss compared with placebo. The combination of weight-loss medication and lifestyle changes results in greater weight loss than lifestyle changes do alone.” It’s important to understand that medication plays an important role in supporting weight loss.
How do I know I need medication?
The only way to impact some of these biological factors is through the use of medications. Research shows, and scientific organizations and medical experts agree that medication is an important part of achieving long term weight loss in people who haven't been able to lose weight through diet and exercise, particularly those who meet one of the following:
- A body mass index (BMI) greater than 30;
- Or a BMI is greater than 27 and serious medical problems related to obesity, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Obesity is a disease and it needs to be treated as such, by supporting diet and exercise with medication. It’s important to recognize that those who haven’t been able to lose weight have the option and access to introduce medicine into their obesity treatment.
What benefits does prescription weight loss medication have?
In addition to lifestyle and behavior modifications, improved sleep schedules, movement, nutrition, and stress management—medications can be the missing link to lasting weight loss. There are various types of medications that work in different ways—some reduce your appetite by stimulating the central nervous system and affecting your brain’s desire to eat. Others increase the levels of two chemical messengers in the brain that trigger our brain to feel satisfied and full faster in turn, increasing fullness. There are some that work in the stomach and gastrointestinal tract to stop the absorption of fat from foods.
The National Academy of Medicine explained that some of these medications can be used for other purposes or in addition to weight loss. For example, some weight loss medications can be used to treat depression, alcohol dependence, and to help quit smoking in addition to weight management.
Will I have to be on medication forever?
Dr. Rekha Kumar, Found Chief Medical Officer, Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Obesity Medicine, and Endocrinology, and Medical Director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine says, “When we prescribe medicine for weight care, these medicines are meant for long-term use—medicine is not a quick fix or a crutch or short cut. We’re managing the biology of obesity.”
She also explains that an analogy to keep in mind is that with the Chronic Disease Model, like diabetes or heart disease, you don’t stop prescribing medication when the problem stops; you have to continually treat the health issue. Weight care works the same. The equation needs to have all of the pieces—health, nutrition, movement, and medicine—for long-term success.
A 2014 study published by the medical journal JAMA found that “obesity medications approved for long-term use, when prescribed with lifestyle interventions, produce additional weight loss.” The objective is to maintain longevity in your health goals and medications can be used long-term. Know that there are options depending on the best course of treatment for you, like using a lower dosage over time or cycling on and off for a monitored amount of time.
What are my medication options?
The Found medical team may prescribe from a wide variety of medications, some branded and some generic. By offering generic medications that have the same clinical benefits and strict quality standards, we can ensure everyone has access to affordable weight care at Found.
As Harvard Health describes, “generic medicine is required to be the same as a brand-name medicine in dosage, safety, effectiveness, strength, stability, and quality, as well as in the way it is taken.” Found matches the mechanism of the generic medicine to each member’s body needs that might be preventing weight loss. Some medicines target carbohydrate metabolism (such as metformin), some medicines change metabolism (such as phentermine), some act as appetite suppressants, and some control cravings. One individual may require a combination approach over time.
Found offers a comprehensive approach to weight care and believes in treating obesity management that's completely tailored for you individually. With the help of medication, we’re more likely to achieve long-lasting success with our weight goals.
Take some time to log your meals, movement, and other dailies in the app to track your progress. It gives you time to reflect, and science shows it supports your success. Sarah Romotsky contributed to this article.
About Rekha Kumar, MD, Chief Medical Officer
Rekha Kumar, MD, MS, is the Chief Medical Officer at Found. She is a practicing endocrinologist who specializes in treating patients with obesity.
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