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Six Weight Loss Myths Debunked by Physicians

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

For many, the new year brings a renewed commitment to general health and wellness, including weight loss goals that are ultimately not achieved.

The issue isn't you. It's that our beliefs about losing weight are just plain wrong.

Setting straight some popular falsehoods are faculty members from McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and physicians affiliated with Memorial Hermann: weight management physicians Sameer Murali, MD, and Deborah B. Horn, DO, MPH; as well as Tanya Kajese, MD, bariatric surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.

"Thanks to the specialty of obesity medicine, people have a better shot now more than ever to partner with others and potentially avoid the pitfalls that promote weight regain," Dr. Murali says.

MYTH: BEING OVERWEIGHT IS A CHOICE.

TRUTH: Many outside factors contribute-even the length of your daily commute.

"Time is money, which is clear with obesity," says Dr. Murali. "Studies show that if a person lives more than 45 minutes from where they work, their time for self-care falls and the risk of obesity rises."

Once you've put on pounds, pain may limit your mobility, Dr. Murali says. "That can result in a vicious weight-gain cycle."

MYTH: ALL YOU NEED IS TO EAT LESS, MOVE MORE.

TRUTH: If only it were that simple, says Dr. Kajese.

Your body conspires to cling to the weight it has. When you peel off pounds, it slows your metabolism, hikes the hunger-fueling hormone called ghrelin, and lowers leptin, a hormone that signals you're satiated.

With effort, you can redefine your norm to be a healthier you.

MYTH: YOU CAN SHED WEIGHT ON YOUR OWN.

TRUTH: "Losing weight and keeping it off is a team sport," Dr. Murali says.

Consider physician-led weight loss clinics your victory headquarters.

"Professionals such as weight-management physicians, dietitians and behavioral therapists can help coach and guide you, while your teammates cheer you on from the sidelines, if not side-by-side," he says.

Your needs determine your crew. A personal trainer can show you how to build muscle without injury. A weight-management doctor may prescribe medication to control hunger. Registered dietitians can teach you portion control.

Some may need an assist from a bariatric surgeon, who can reroute the digestive path to further hamper the hormones fueling obesity, Dr. Kajese says.

You also may be matched with a therapist. Unlike drug addiction or poor academic performance, your battle against obesity plays out visibly, and that can hurt your self-esteem.

"Obesity is a disease with a social stigma," she says.

MYTH: WEIGHT LOSS MEDS ARE DANGEROUS.

TRUTH: They're safe, effective and sometimes even invaluable.

Today's meds can suppress cravings, and ease the anxiety and depression that may spur them.

"Your current medications can be evaluated to see if any cause weight gain and can be switched to an alternative," Dr. Horn says.

MYTH: WEIGHT-LOSS SURGERY IS A COSMETIC PROCEDURE.

TRUTH: Vanity has nothing to do with it. Bariatric surgery is a scientific tool to enhance your health.

"The reason for such treatment is to extend your life and provide better quality of life," Dr. Kajese says.

A surgeon can remove parts of the stomach or reroute food past the area where the appetite-enhancing hormone ghrelin is produced, while awakening hunger-suppressing leptin.

"The operation changes biology in a way that no amount of gym time can," she says.

Yet among the third of Americans who battle obesity, only 1 percent choose surgery.

Medicare, Medicaid and many health insurers cover the operation because obesity is connected to costly and life-threatening ailments, including diabetes, sleep apnea and liver disease.

Those destructive diseases can lead to limb amputation or killers such as strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure.

Also, "Young women may not realize bariatric surgery can help them have a family," Dr. Kajese says.

Weight loss, workouts and medical interventions can aid many women who struggle to become pregnant due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), where eggs collect on ovaries instead of being fertilized.

MYTH: SURGICAL WEIGHT LOSS IS A ONE AND DONE.

TRUTH: You must maintain healthy habits to keep obesity at bay.

Surgery and education only light the pathway to the best exit from obesity. Ultimately, it's up to you to exercise and eat healthy food, Dr. Kajese says. "It's a lifetime journey, and so worth the effort."

Learn more about weight loss resources and physician-assisted weight loss options at memorialhermann.org/newstart.