When Dieting isn't Enough: Are Alternative Weight Loss Methods Right for You?

Ever wonder if you’d be a good candidate for gastric bypass surgery or weight loss medication? It’s easy to get frustrated with the constant willpower needed to lose weight, and almost everyone wishes for a shortcut. Surgery and medications may seem like magic bullets — easy paths to a healthier body weight. Both can be effective in some cases, but neither method is suitable for everyone. 

Considering a Surgical Solution?

Gastric bypass is the most common weight-loss surgery in the U.S. How effective is it? A recent long-term follow up study found the surgery to be 93% successful in treating obese or morbidly obese patients, and 57% successful in treating super-obese patients. “Success” meant patients achieved and maintained a healthy body mass index (BMI). 

Are You a Good Candidate for Surgery?

Surgery is only offered to people who meet certain guidelines. Generally, patients with a BMI of 40 or higher, or more than 100 pounds overweight, are good candidates, if they haven’t been able to lose weight with diet and exercise. Those with a BMI of 35 to 40 might be surgical candidates if if they have serious health issues related to obesity, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or severe sleep apnea. Occasionally patients with very serious health problems but a lower BMI (30–34) are offered a surgical option.

The Downside To Surgery

It’s important to remember that surgery always carries risk. One of the patients in the long-term study died of a pulmonary embolism two days after the procedure. After surgery, weight comes off quickly, often leaving a tremendous amount of loose skin. This drives many patients to a plastic surgeon for a second round under the knife. Gastric bypass surgery doesn’t cure eating disorders, and some patients gain weight years after the surgery because they are unable to change their eating patterns. 

What About Medications?

The FDA has been slow to approve new anti-obesity drugs, after bad experiences with weight-loss drugs causing amphetamine addictions and increased heart attack risks. But four new drugs have finally been approved by the FDA— phentermine/topiramate (branded as Qsymia), lorcaserin (Belviq), naltrexone/bupropion, and liraglutide. The new drugs are considered safe and are effectively helping people lose weight when combined with healthy eating and activity levels.

Should You Try The New Drugs?

The criteria for prescribing each medication is different. Generally, they are offered to adults patients with a BMI of 27 or more who have at least one obesity-related condition. Women who are pregnant or might become pregnant shouldn’t take the drugs. Weight loss isn’t a medically appropriate goal for pregnant women, and at least one of the drugs, Qsymia, is known to cause birth defects in infants who are exposed in early pregnancy. 

Surgery and drugs are extreme solutions, aimed at people who have health issues due to obesity. Neither option will cure an eating disorder or eliminate the need for a healthy lifestyle. But if you’re already eating well and are as active as your body allows, but your body isn’t shedding pounds, these alternatives may help you finally achieve a healthy weight.