Weight Loss Medication: Dr. Jen Ashton Answers Our Reader Question

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I’ve always struggled with my weight. On top of the 20 lbs. that I continuously battle, I gained another 40 lbs. during Covid and cannot get it off! I’ve lost 15 lbs. a few times, but it just goes right back on, and I am frustrated and depressed. I’ve been hearing about a new weight-loss medication, and now it’s all over my social media. Can you provide more information on whether this is something I should pursue? 

We went to the expert, Chief Medical Correspondent for ABC News and Good Morning America 3 Co-host, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, to find out more.

Dr. Jen

 @drjashton 

Right now, the gold standard in the United States, in the field of obesity medicine, is really a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid is what we recommend for everyone, which is good attention to the way we eat and the way we move. I call that food and fitness. We can’t really tackle the conditions of being overweight or obese unless we change our behaviors. The middle part of that pyramid is recommended FDA-approved weight loss medications. These are really not new; some have been out for six or eight years. They go by a couple of brand names: Qsymia, Wegovy, Ozempic, Saxenda, and Contrave. Lastly, if you go to the top of the pyramid, is Bariatric or weight loss surgery, like a sleeve gastrectomy or a gastric bypass, which is reserved for someone who has a hundred pounds or more to lose. 

Many people say, ‘I want to lose weight naturally.’ Cancer and death are also natural. We need to be careful when it comes to a very rigid way of thinking when we approach our health and wellness. The fact of the matter is, and the literature is crystal clear on this, a lot of people can lose a lot of weight, but at the two-year mark, 85 to 90% of those individuals have regained it all, and in some cases, even more so; it’s not about whether you can do something in the short term.

After years of talking to my patients about weight, I can honestly say that conditions of overweight and obesity are not as simple as willpower, dedication, determination, and just eating carrot sticks. These are complex disorders, and they need to be managed no differently than we manage depression, anxiety, or high blood pressure. We know that, if untreated, being overweight or being obese will eventually lead to some very bad health outcomes.  

Weight-loss medication is not for someone who wants to lose five pounds before a party. This isn’t like treating strep throat, where you take it for a week, and then you come off of it, and everything is fine. Often the medication needs to be used indefinitely. 

Dr. Jen wants those struggling to know it’s not the lazy or easy way out. “You’re not cheating. You are being aggressive and proactive in addressing something that may already be affecting your health negatively. And if it isn’t already, it will be at some point in the future. Weight-loss medication is not only therapeutic medicine but preventative as well. After getting my degree in Nutrition, becoming Board-Certified in Obesity Medicine, and taking care of women as an OB-Gyn for 18 years, I’ve learned one thing for sure: weight management, and losing a significant amount of weight if one is overweight or obese, is a very difficult, complicated, often long journey.  It is not about will-power, commitment, dedication or effort.  It is a process- one that has ups and downs.  And it is also about more than a number on the scale; it’s about mental and physical health and well-being, and about connecting the dots.”

 If you are interested in finding out more about these types of medications, always speak to your doctor, and Dr. Jen warns that because many are not familiar with these medications, it’s important not to give up and keep asking about them. “These medications are safe and effective. It’s important to make yourself a priority because we want you here for a long, long time!” 

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