I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Novo Nordisk, Inc. to write about the realities of obesity as a chronic disease. All opinions are my own.
If you’re like me and have found yourself working to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle, you’ve probably also wondered do weight loss clinics work.
About two years ago, before my mother passed away, I decided to find out and I did something I thought I’d never do – I went to one of the medical weight loss clinics for help.
Then, last year I started a partnership with Med-IQ to help encourage people to advocate for themselves with their healthcare providers, change the negative language surrounding obesity, and understand how biology impacts your weight and weight management.
Both experiences have helped me come to understand my body and obesity better.
I’ve become educated about my body and my personal weight gain so that I can feel empowered to advocate for myself with my healthcare provider without fear of judgement or personal shame. While I’ve not made it to the place where my body is where I want it to be (honestly, I was doing pretty well until pandemic life set in), I have shifted my thinking enough to feel comfortable sharing my experience at a medical weight loss center in order to assist others who may be thinking about going this route.
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Do Weight Loss Clinics Work? My Experience with Medical Weight Loss
What is a Medical Weight Loss Clinic?
As magical as it sounds, medical weight loss centers are not automatic weight loss facilities. They are locations where licensed medical practitioners provide participants with food plans, counseling and/or medications to promote weight loss in their patients.
Centers like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, which are considered great options, fall into this category, but so do facilities that provide medicinal based plans.
How do you know if a weight loss clinic is right for you?
Choosing a medical practitioner to help manage your weight should be about finding a partner in the process. You want to feel safe and supported by your medical practitioner so choosing one qualified to assist you is important. Ideally, you want your primary care doctor to participant in your weight management as maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of your general health and wellness.
Med-IQ explains that a healthcare provider who is a great partner in weight management will:
- Show interest in your personal weight journey and ask you about your story of weight gain and loss
- Provide care, or a referral to care, that is comprehensive and includes psychological counseling, approaches to dietary and lifestyle modification, and medical and surgical treatments
- Remain a part of your weight management journey, even if s/he is not the one who directly provides the care
You should also keep an eye out for any red flags that suggest s/he is not well equipped to support you and help you reach your weight management goals. Your provider should NOT:
- Blame all of your health concerns on weight
- Offer a “one-size-fits-all” approach to weight management; it must be an approach created just for you!
- Disengage from your weight management journey or fail to work with you as a partner
You also want to avoid locations that heavily emphasize being thin and focus on your appearance as opposed to your health goals, as well as those that promise you “miracle cures” or unrealistic results.
How the staff and doctors at the facility talk about obesity and your personal feelings about your body and weight are important too.
I remember going to several doctors before making the choice to try a weight loss clinic. I gained little support and was consistently made to feel like my concerns weren’t valid. They said things like, “You’re not really that overweight,” and “Well, have you tried working out and eating less?”
When I asked if there were options or tests we could run to make sure everything was working correctly because I felt like I had hit a wall, I had a doctor laugh and say, “How about your treadmill, is that working?”
I was often made to feel like I was lazy or looking for an easy way out even though I was already doing the work of dieting and exercise.
I went to the weight loss clinic feeling ashamed of myself for having failed only to learn that I was going about it all wrong in the first place.
Do weight loss clinics actually work?
Both of my experiences at medical weight loss centers were largely about education and support.
When someone took the time to sit down and talk to me like my weight wasn’t my punishment for being lazy or just about my appearance and not my health, I began to understand so much about my body and my expectations. I was able to learn about things like setting realistic weight loss goals, body chemistry, diet and nutrition.
Regardless of the outcome of these experiences, the time spent counseling me about these things and helping me to feel supported and worthy as a woman clinically defined as having obesity was invaluable to me. Plus, I finally understand that what the scale says isn’t all that matters when it comes to making healthy lifestyle choices for myself.
Meal Replacement Weight Loss Clinics
My first experience at a medical weight loss center was the type that uses specially formulated meal replacement foods, blessed by a resident doctor, to help you lose weight.
They taught me a lot about how my body composition impacted my ability to lose weight and how I needed to shift my expectations regarding my goal weight to match my body type.
I’d never had anyone tell me that being 5’3, 35 years old and 120 pounds was not only unlikely but, more importantly, unhealthy for my body type. With my composition of muscle, getting to that size would’ve required some extremely unhealthy practices.
If I’m honest, the food was mostly kinda gaggy, but I stuck to it because I wanted to prove to myself and everyone who said I didn’t have willpower that they were wrong and so was I.
I lost about 20lbs while I was purchasing the food and I promptly gained it all back when I stopped.
Note: The programs often have a maintenance plan in play for transitioning back to “real” food, only I didn’t want to pay for that portion and quit cold turkey, diving head first back into the land of pasta filled birthday dinners and cookies for breakfast.
Medication Based Weight Loss Clinics
When I celebrated my 40th birthday, I decided to gift myself a $300 consult at a medication based medical weight loss center.
I told no one.
I was too ashamed to admit to my family and friends that I had gotten to this place in my life where I couldn’t lose weight without drugs and I was too afraid of being laughed at, turned away or judged by my primary care doctors to go to them again for help.
The program I visited was based on using doctor-prescribed and administered prescription weight loss medications. They spent a great deal of time educating me about how food works in your body, how your body sometimes works against your weight loss, and how the food I chose would interact with the medications they prescribed and my body to help me achieve the weight loss I desired.
They talked to me about how exercise should play a role in the process and went over the several options they utilized – from prescription appetite suppressants to energy boosting vitamin cocktails – that they had available.
I learned that many patients, including friends I have who utilized the program, were able to reach their healthy weight goals via the program. The doctor expressed the importance of closely monitoring the treatment plan to ensure that healthy weight loss occurred alongside positive lifestyle changes to limit the amount of time any medication based interventions were used. To make sure this happened, the center required visits every three to four weeks where they would do basic health checks, weigh-ins and counseling.
What I loves is that I never once was made to feel like I was lazy, stupid or lacking willpower for being there and they made me feel like we were in this together
Because I know how important my overall health is and because I also have a chronic kidney disease that requires medication, I made sure to bring my other care providers into the discussion. Whether you have other issues or not, making sure your entire medical team is on board with your weight management goals is important to long term success.
Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in their program because my nephrologist did not approve of the medications being used alongside others I was on. But, thanks to their initial support and guidance, I was able to adjust my weight quite a bit by following their diet plan and adding some basic exercise to my life.
The services provided by medical weight loss centers may be unique, but the attitudes, beliefs, and support I encountered there should not be. Whether you want to lose weight or just live healthy, we should all be able to feel comfortable talking to our doctors about weight management.
How much do weight loss clinics cost?
Here’s what’s true: medical weight loss clinics are not cheap.
My initial consultation at the location I visited was $300 and that didn’t include any medication. Monthly fees to stay in their program started at about $100 and increased from there depending on what plan and interventions you decided to follow. The meal replacement center cost even more because you also had to purchase food each week.
On the bright side, however, a lot of care related to healthy living and wellness, including visits to nutritionists and dietitians, as well as the services your primary care doctor can offer may be covered by your insurance. This is yet another reason to explore your options with your general practitioner before seeking specialized care.
If you’re interested in finding a medical weight loss clinic or an obesity care provider that is qualified to talk about your weight and health concerns, visit the Obesity Action Agency for information and recommendations.
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