Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Medical Weight Management

This week, Jimmy Moore, in his blog Living La Vida Low-Carb, unwittingly revealed a dark side to "medical weight management" - that is doctor-designed weight loss programs that one can only follow under the care of the physician promoting the plan. While he blogged about the "Cookie Diet" promoted by Siegel Medical Weight Management, he didn't dig deeper to see how prevalent such "special" programs are.

Information about such programs is often marketed on websites that are vague about exactly how they work, how much they cost, and how the patient is followed while on the program. For that information one must go to the doctor for a consultation.

The selling points of many of the programs promoted on the web include:
  • Decades of use by physicians helping thousands of patients
    "600,000 patients since 1970" or "over twenty-six years, this program has been used by physicians...to help thousands of patients"
  • Designed by physicians
    "Formulated by physicians who specialize in weight loss clinics..."
  • Doctor supervision
    "...medically supervised weight loss program..."
  • Easy to follow, simple plans
    "...program has its advantage as being simple..." or "...menus you can live with..."
  • Time Proven program
    "...clinically proven..." or "...program that is 75-90% successful..."
  • Individualized plans
    "Individualized programs to lose weight successfully..." or "individualized program of proper diet and nutrition"

The claims on the various websites are truly amazing - high success rates, easy weight loss, successful long term weight management of their patients, and very easy-to-follow plans while under the care of a doctor. So, what's the catch?

Like any weight loss diet, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The big difference between the "medical weight management" programs and the commerical plans out there is the belief, held by many, that if a doctor is overseeing the program, it is somehow a healthier approach to weight loss.

But, as Jimmy Moore revealed, some of the programs are often riddled with "gimmicks" like special cookies. A review of the Google results shows other gimmicks are promoted too - everything from cookies to bread to pre-packaged meals to specially formulated supplements. All available only from the doctor promoting the program.

The other thing that appears to be only available from the doctor is the details about what you can actually eat while losing weight - in the sites that touted incredibly high success rates, claims of decades of success with thousands of patients and had a special product as part of their plan, not one offered a sample menu. What a good number did offer though was reference to appetite suppressants for "those who qualify." Even the Cookie Diet includes appetite suppressants, available from the doctor and included in the monthly program fee!

"Many patients, in addition to The Siegal Cookie, are prescribed appetite suppressing medications along with other substances. When prescribed, these medications are dispensed from our own clinic, eliminating the need and expense of having the prescription filled at a pharmacy. Incidentally, all of these medications are included in our one monthly fee."

In fact, over 2,000 of the websites that I found included justification and rationalization for including appetite suppressants. When a physician is heavily promoting their own weight loss program, available only when you are their patient, and it includes the use of appetite suppressants, you can be pretty sure the plan is a very low-calorie diet - "gimmick" foods or supplements included or not.

Unfortunately, as the epidemic of obesity continues to rise in the United States the opportunity to promote "special" physician designed programs grows. This isn't to say they're all rubbish or stretching the truth in their claims. What it is saying is that consumers, those who need to lose weight the most, must be cautious in their search for a doctor to help them in their weight loss effort.

If you're seeking the help of a physician, keep in mind the "red flags" to watch out for when reviewing a medical practice group promoting a doctor-designed weight loss plan:

  • Are they claiming decades of use of the program?
  • Are they claiming successful weight loss for tens of thousands of patients?
  • Are they claiming successful weight maintenance for tens of thousands of patients?
  • In their marketing, are they vague about what you can eat?
  • In their marketing, are they vague about how many calories you'll eat?
  • Are they claiming a special "physician created" plan they designed that is only available when you are their patient?
  • Do they have special "gimmick" foods like cookies, breads, pre-packaged foods and/or supplements you must use while on their plan?
  • Do they promote the use of appetite suppressants? If they do, do they dispense them from their office rather than have you fill your prescription at the pharmacy?
  • Does their monthly fee include appetite suppressants? If you do not use them, is your monthly fee less?
  • How exactly do they individualize the program?

There are very good medical weight management programs available. Many are available through hospitals and have research data published about their program protocols and success rates. The biggest red flag with any of the medical weight management programs is how they are marketed - if they are heavily promoted online, making big claims with vague details odds are high they're a gimmick. Sadly, the doctors promoting these programs truly believe they are doing a service, yet will not share their "secrets" with their colleagues or the scientific community. When you're searching for the doctor to help you lose weight, my best advice is Caveat emptor, Latin for "let the buyer beware".


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