Is Medical Weight Loss Safe? Weight Loss Medications & Programs

Learn about the safety of medical weight loss programs & medications, and find out if medical weight loss could be the way to reach your weight loss goals.
Medical Reviewer: Julia Axelbaum, RD
Published on: June 26, 2023
Updated on: April 5, 2024

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Are you ready to lose weight once and for all but unsure where to start? Are you frustrated and overwhelmed by the amount of information and misinformation about weight loss? Perhaps you have heard of medical weight loss or weight loss medications and wondering if medical weight loss is safe? If so, you are in the right place to get your questions answered. So, is medical weight loss safe? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know to make an informed decision about whether or not medical weight loss could be a good fit to help you reach your health goals. 

What Is Medical Weight Loss and Who Is It For?

Medical weight loss refers to a weight loss program that is directed and guided by trained clinical professionals who work with the individual patient to understand and address the many factors that can cause weight gain. Medical weight loss options can include bariatric surgery as well as programs that may include prescription medication as part of a treatment plan. An effective medical weight loss program is one that provides support beyond a surgery or prescription including personalization, lifestyle counseling, and access to clinicians who are specially trained in weight loss. In order to achieve sustained weight loss with medical interventions, surgery or medication must be paired with lifestyle changes like healthy nutrition, increased physical activity, and mindset shifts. Studies show that patients who embark on a weight loss journey as a part of a group or program are more successful.

Medical weight loss can be a helpful tool for anyone who has not been able to achieve weight loss with diet and exercise changes alone. If you’ve been following a low calorie diet while increasing your physical activity for several months and are not seeing results, it may be time to consult a trained health professional who can help uncover the root causes preventing you from reaching your weight loss goals. There are many treatment options available including FDA-approved weight loss medications. To qualify for weight loss medication, a person must have a BMI of 30 or higher or 27 or higher along with weight related medical conditions like prediabetes, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. 

How Medical Weight Loss Programs Work

Most medical weight loss programs will start with an intake appointment to assess if you are eligible for the program based on your BMI (which is based on your height and weight), any existing medical conditions, and your weight loss history. If you haven’t already, you may be asked to attempt to achieve your weight loss goals with lifestyle changes like a low calorie diet and increased physical activity before being accepted into a medical weight loss program. Your intake appointment may be a one-on-one visit or video visit with a healthcare professional or could be completed via a questionnaire that asks questions to determine your eligibility.

Some medical weight loss programs, especially those that provide a higher level of clinical care, may do a more thorough review at your intake appointment. This may include a review of your medical history, recent notes from your primary care provider, labs, current medications, and screenings for depression. This comprehensive understanding allows the healthcare provider to identify your specific biological blockers and challenges for weight loss which can help them develop a weight loss plan that will work for you.

If you are eligible for a medical weight loss program, you will be provided with a treatment plan which will vary based on the type of program. For medical weight loss plans that provide medication, this could be something as basic as a prescription for medication along with access to a lifestyle change educational materials. It could also be something as comprehensive as ongoing one-on-one support from healthcare providers along with a personalized plan that addresses nutrition, physical activity, and mindset shifts, as well as a prescription for medication. Programs that offer a higher level of support are more likely to help you achieve and sustain weight loss.

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Common Weight Loss Medications Used in Medical Weight Loss

FDA-approved medication can be a tool to help people achieve their weight loss goals when they haven’t been successful with diet and exercise alone. The FDA-approved medications prescribed to help people lose weight do so by decreasing cravings, helping control appetite, and improving insulin sensitivity. Medications approved by the FDA for weight loss include Contrave® (bupropion-naltrexone), Wegovy® (semaglutide), Saxenda® (liraglutide), and Zepbound™ (tirzepatide). Your doctor will choose the proper medication for you based on your medical history and weight loss goals.

Contrave is a combination of two medications (naltrexone and bupropion). The combination can reduce feelings of hunger and help you feel satisfied with less food which helps reduce calories consumed. This medication may not be appropriate for people who are already taking medication to treat depression or those with high blood pressure.

Wegovy (semaglutide) is a once-weekly injectable medication that mimics the glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) hormone that influences appetite regulation in the brain. Semaglutide is also used in different doses under the names of Ozempic(R) and Rybelsus(R) to treat and manage type 2 diabetes. Common side effects of semaglutide include nausea, constipation and diarrhea, which can often be alleviated by following dietary recommendations from a healthcare provider.

Saxenda (liraglutide) is also a GLP-1 agonist medication like Wegovy, but it is a once-daily injectable medication. Common side effects of this medication are similar to those of Wegovy. Like Wegovy, this medication is also used at a different dose to treat type 2 diabetes under the name Victoza(R). 

Availability of these medications and coverage by your insurance company is another factor your doctor may consider when choosing which medication you will be prescribed.

Combining lifestyle and dietary changes with medication approved by the FDA for weight loss has been shown to reduce body weight by up to 15%. It is important to note that nutrition and lifestyle changes are integral to any weight loss program. Medication can play a role making it easier to stick to nutrition changes.    

Medical Weight Loss Safety

When deciding which medical weight loss program is right for you, make sure that the providers have training and/or certifications in medical weight loss or obesity medicine. Doctors and Registered Dietitians who have a background and training in weight management and are certified by a governing body like the American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM) are the experts on this matter. Given the amount of conflicting information online, seeking out a highly trained medical professional will ensure you get high quality care.

While medical weight loss is safe and effective, it is essential to speak with a doctor regarding any current medications you may be taking, as well as your health history and goals, before starting a program. In the same way that pursuing weight loss can sometimes feel overwhelming, choosing the right medical weight loss program for you can feel the same way. Avoid programs that use a one size fits all approach, promise quick fixes, or require only specific supplements or packaged foods as part of the program. Here are some important questions to ask when when selecting a medical weight loss program:

  • Is the program directed by qualified medical professionals? Are doctors trained in obesity medicine? Is lifestyle coaching provided by Registered Dietitians, not “lifestyle coaches” or programmed bots?
  • Are the medications that are prescribed FDA-approved?
  • Is there an ongoing relationship with the doctor who provides your prescription that can help manage any side effects and make any necessary changes to your treatment plan? Will you get the right support to make necessary lifestyle changes? Is the lifestyle change guidance one-size-fits all or are you able to set goals for yourself and get support to achieve them?

Take the First Step to a Healthier, Happier You

Imagine yourself in the future at your ideal weight. What can that version of yourself do that you are struggling with today? Are you ready to find out? Enlisting the help of medical professionals to help you on your weight loss journey can ensure your safety and your success.

Are you ready to lose weight and keep it off? The medical weight loss experts at FORM can help you reach your unique weight loss and health goals.  Schedule a call or send us a message today to learn from one of our Care Advisors how we can help you become a healthier version of yourself. You can also take our quiz to see if you are eligible for the FORM medical weight loss program.

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