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This New Treatment Method May Be The Key To Weight Loss

Doctors move past telling patients to simply count calories and exercise more.

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, a large team of medical professionals in Canada published a set of guidelines in the Canadian Medical Association Journal as a new treatment for weight loss for patients that struggle with obesity. In these guidelines, medical professionals are advised to move past the typical "eat less, move more" standard practices (advising patients to simply workout and eat fewer calories) and actually start addressing the root drivers of their obesity.

Calories are merely a means of calculating intake and outtake of energy within a human's body, and when counted within the proper amounts for one's body, can be effective for weight loss. However, for those who struggle with obesity and weight gain, studies show that simply counting calories isn't an effective long-term strategy, which calls for a radical change in how doctors look at weight loss for these patients in the future.

Studies show crash diets are not effective long term.

Losing weight is not the problem. According to a study published by Medical Clinics of North America, weight loss can happen quickly when you reduce calories. The issue lies in weight loss management post-diet, which is close to impossible if the dieter massively cut their caloric intake and focused on a quick cleanse or fad diet.

While these diet programs promise fast results, they don't promise long term solutions. Traci Mann, Ph.D., Professor of Social and Health Psychology at the University of Minnesota, and author of the book Secrets From the Eating Lab, worked on a report with UCLA researchers stating there is no scientific evidence proving that diets work long-term for patients.

And of course, for those who do partake in a fast weight-loss program, numerous dieters experience weight loss plateaus and quickly gain the weight back.

"We know that willpower and motivation will allow for a dietary plan that lasts for a short period of time and then our body compensates and regains the weight," says Dr. Sean Wharton, co-lead author of the guideline and adjunct professor at McMaster University, in an interview with CTV News. "Any time we look at lowering calories, we always activate a very strong biological compensatory mechanism, which is why we are doing our best to deemphasize diet."

How the treatment process works.

According to the published guidelines, health care providers are advised to work through a five-step process when working with an obese patient. The most important step is the first, where they ask permission to treat the patient after showing them the research behind obesity being a chronic disease. The process includes:

  1. Recognizing obesity as a chronic disease to the patient, and asking the patient permission to treat the disease in an unbiased manner.
  2. Assessing an individual's obesity through measurements and identifying root causes, compilations, and barriers.
  3. Discussing core treatment options through different therapies (including medical nutrition and psychological)
  4. Coming to an agreement with the patient regarding goals for their therapy.
  5. Engaging with the patient through continued follow-up and reassessments.

Doctors will turn to therapy for weight loss management.

First, Doctors are encouraged to look at the whole picture for each patient. Weight loss and obesity do not have a "one size fits all" solution, especially when the root cause of obesity is different for everyone.

In order to promote healthier lifestyles and the mental health of patients, doctors are turning to medical nutrition therapy. According to the guidelines, they will work with each individual on adopting healthy, well-balanced eating patterns and engage in regular exercise, both results of behavioral changes.

The guidelines say that no matter the person's body size or composition, every single person will benefit from having healthy, well-balanced eating patterns and engaging in regular physical activity (such as walking for 30 minutes a day). However, in order to see any kind of successful weight loss, doctors will work with each individual patient to help make these practices sustainable over time.

As published in the guidelines:

"Weight loss and weight-loss maintenance require a long-term reduction in caloric intake. Long-term adherence to a healthy eating pattern that is personalized to meet individual values and preferences, while fulfilling nutritional needs and treatment goals, is an important element of managing health and weight."

Instead of focusing on faster weight loss, doctors will play the long game, helping patients change habits and overcome their root issues—which have led to obesity—in order to see steady and sustainable weight loss.

Mindset change is the answer to losing weight effectively.

Losing weight in a quick 14-day fad diet sounds appealing, but doesn't leave a ton of room to create habitual change in someone's life. Numerous doctors and nutritionists have stated that sustainable weight loss comes from creating behavioral changes in one's life by forming new habits.

The guidelines state:

"All health interventions such as healthy eating and physical activity strategies, medication adherence or surgery preparation and adjustment approaches rest on behaviour change. Psychological and behavioural interventions are the 'how to' of change. They empower the clinician to guide the patient toward recommended behaviours that can be sustained over time."

Instead of simply telling a patient to eat less and workout more, doctors will assist in mindset and behavioral changes for each patient. These guidelines empower clinicians to guide their patients by recommending behaviors that can be sustainable over time and even recommend psychological therapy to help them overcome those root causes and barriers that caused their obesity in the first place.

Doctors are aware that obesity is the result of numerous factors including genetics, metabolism, behaviors, and environment. Behavior and environment have played a significant role in the rise of obesity in recent years, especially since the brain plays a central role in regulating food intake and energy expenditure. This is why Canadian medical professionals are now focused not just on the physical behavioral changes (healthy eating habits, regular physical activity) but also on the mindset and psychological changes for each patient.

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a freelance health and nutrition journalist. Read more about Kiersten