How to Choose a Medically Supervised Weight Loss Program

woman and a doctorDeciding on a medically supervised weight loss program is an important decision. Many people find that a doctor-supervised plan to lose weight helps them stay accountable for their progress. At the same time it is less risky than weight loss surgery. The fact that part of the cost may be covered by insurance is also often a reason some people choose the option of losing weight at a medical facility.

However, the range of medical clinics that offer weight loss services can vary widely, from centers that offer some of the best weight loss advice available to storefront offices that tout downright dangerous practices. Before you sign up, there are several things you should consider.

“Definitely do your research,” says Shawna Biggars, who has lost over 100 pounds at a Medi-Weightloss clinic, which has locations throughout the U.S. “We talked to a family friend who was on the program. We talked to our personal physician about the program. We did research online. We tried to get as much information as possible, so that we were consumers making an informed choice.” Talking with your family physician is a particularly important piece of this process, as they may already have a weight loss program to recommend to you.

One of the biggest advantages of a medically supervised weight loss program is that a doctor is that they can address any health concerns you may have, and you should receive regular health evaluations. For Biggars, having a doctor oversee her progress was particularly important because she suffers from epilepsy. “It was really important to me to have that medical supervision to make sure there wasn’t anything going wrong or that I wouldn’t see if I was trying to do it on my own.”

A doctor-supervised program can also give you a more complete picture of the state of your health, and how losing weight will affect your body. If you have a nutritional deficiency, having a doctor who can recommend a good vitamin supplement or to write a prescription is an advantage.

At Cederquist Medical Wellness Center in Florida, patients are evaluated for metabolic issues. “What I find is that almost all the people I see have metabolic issues that make it hard to lose weight and easy to gain weight,” says Dr. Caroline Cederquist, who is also the founding physician of BistroMD. “Primarily what we see is something called insulin resistance, which is when the body is having a hard time metabolizing carbohydrates.” To combat this issue, patients at Cederquist Medical work with one of the dietitians on staff to create an individualized program based on their health needs. “Usually our patients work with us every week, and then every four to six weeks they have a medical follow-up where we track these metabolic conditions.”

For some patients, seeing an improvement in their cholesterol, blood sugar or other health indicator can be as motivating as simply seeing the scale drop. Biggars explains that at Medi-Weight Loss they use a Tanita scale, which measures not only weight, but also water weight and body fat percentage. “If I went in one week and had maybe only lost a half a pound, they would sit down and see my fat percentage is down but it looks like I gained some water weight.”

Medically supervised programs are by no means alike, and can very greatly depending on the approach the physician has found to be effective. However, if a program is too inflexible it may not work for you. Dr. Cederquist’s program focuses on adequate protein and lots of real foods, however she explains that other medically supervised programs may feature liquid meal replacements, regimes of diet supplements or medications that may not be sustainable. “What we know helps people lose weight long-term, is changing their eating habits,” she says. “Really do some investigation. Is taking a medication for weight loss right for me for safe me?” She adds that all medications for weight loss can elevate blood pressure and pulse.

Although some people find meal replacements useful of their weight loss journey and many weight loss clinics make them available to clients, it’s recommended that you avoid a program that relies heavily on these products. Any diet that’s too low in calories is bound to have detrimental effects on your metabolism. There are a number of clinics across the U.S. that prescribe hCG, a hormone produced during pregnancy, in combination with as few calories as 500 per day. “There really aren’t any studies with it, and they’ve shown that a 500 calorie diet with hCG loses as much weight as 500 calories without hCG,” says Dr. Cederquist. Although hCG injections are legally available for use in fertility treatments, the FDA does not approve its use for weight loss and all homeopathic hCG is illegal. “It’s an extreme thing to put the body through,” she concludes. “I have already seen people who have done hCG and have gained the weight back, because it didn’t effect a long-term change.”

Another important question to ask is how often you will see the doctor, and who will be providing the majority of the information. Some programs work with dietitians, while others feature group classes or support groups. Be wary of programs where the doctor’s involvement is only nominal and always ask about credentials and areas of expertise.

If after doing your research into the medically supervised programs in your area you don’t find one that’s the right fit for you, don’t worry. There are many healthy approaches to weight loss that you can follow while under the guidance of your general practitioner or internist.

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