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 In Ask an Expert, Family Medicine, Pulse Blog

Q: How can I take control of my weight?

Carrying excess body weight can put patients at much greater risk for developing a number of significant health conditions. These include: type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke), high cholesterol, gallbladder disease, liver disease, cancer, sleep apnea, and osteoarthritis.

The longer patients have excess body weight and the more severe their obesity, the more likely it is that they will develop one or more of these issues. The good news is that treating obesity can help prevent serious health problems. It may also help people better handle a COVID-19 infection, since obesity is a risk factor for poor outcomes. For those who already have an existing condition, weight loss can greatly improve or reverse some diseases.

Diet and exercise are some of the most successful ways to treat obesity. While patients can make changes on their own, talking to a primary care provider can be a great way to jumpstart a new effort to reach a healthy weight. A provider can:

  • Determine if a medication may be helpful in losing weight or maintaining a normal body weight. Medications can be a great tool for patients who haven’t had success with diet and exercise alone.
  • Evaluate existing medications to check if they promote weight gain and offer alternatives or modifications.
  • Check for conditions (sleep apnea and hypothyroidism) that may cause weight gain and refer patients to a specialist for treatment, if necessary.
  • Connect patients with information on healthy recipes, portion sizes, and more.
  • Provide information on how to incorporate more exercise and movement into the week.

The truth is that lasting change is often gradual. Working with someone to identify a handful of items to tackle first is often a good approach. Getting started with weight loss might look like eating fruit for dessert most nights and walking around the neighborhood for 10 minutes. After those habits are established, more goals can be set.

Providers can be incredible cheerleaders and accountability buddies for patients who want to lose weight. Knowing that someone is rooting for them—and checking their progress—can help make new commitments to health and exercise easier to maintain. As a group, providers are passionate about helping people prevent problems and lead healthier lives, and they love nothing more than celebrating with their patients as they improve their wellness.

Stephen Ahearn has a certificate of advanced education in obesity medicine. He enjoys seeing patients year after year and getting to know them as individuals. He believes in a collaborative approach to care and partners with patients to help them achieve their health goals.

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