Debunking 5 Common Myths About Weight Loss Medications

Posted 3/6/24

In the quest to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, many individuals consider weight loss medications as part of their strategy.

With the growing popularity of these medications, a lot of …

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Debunking 5 Common Myths About Weight Loss Medications


In the quest to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, many individuals consider weight loss medications as part of their strategy.

With the growing popularity of these medications, a lot of information has become available from both reputable and non-reputable sources. You may have heard of these medications, which include glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist injections, also known as “GLP-1s” including medications like Wegovy and Ozempic. These medications generally work by reducing overactive hunger signals in the brain.

In this article, we’ll review five common myths about weight loss medications to provide a clearer understanding of their role in a comprehensive weight management plan.

Myth 1: Weight loss medications are a "Magic Pill"

Weight loss drugs can be excellent tools for curbing appetite and reducing overall calorie intake, but their effects are neither instant nor effortless.

As a society, we are generally overfed and undernourished. This means that we are generally eating a high proportion of foods with a high density of calories, but relatively low density of nutrients. For example, a bag of chips has a lot of calories but is devoid of any healthful nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber that help prevent and reverse chronic disease. Weight loss medications only help to curb the caloric excess. To be well nourished requires thoughtful attention to eating nutrient-dense foods.

Weight loss medications are designed to be part of a comprehensive approach that includes a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and lifestyle modifications. As with most major goal-setting journeys in life, it takes hard work and some trial and error to reach your goals, no matter what the tools. Realistically, obtaining new injectable medications like Wegovy and Zepbound, even for people who are great candidates, is exceptionally difficult. Insurance coverage is generally poor and out-of-pocket expenses can be $1000-1500/month. Beyond that, supply shortages across the country have made it difficult to find at pharmacies.

If able to successfully start one of these medicines, about half of people will experience some degree of nausea in addition to other possible side effects such as constipation or diarrhea. Serious side effects are rare but possible, and we have strategies to help minimize side effects, but this again takes some patience.

If folks desire to stop the medication, they can do so safely, but will generally regain the weight that was lost. For this reason, long-term treatment is typically thought to be necessary. These newer medications offer incredible benefits to many patients, and studies show patients are the most likely to continue these at 1 year compared to other types of weight loss medications, but they are not the best option for everyone and they are certainly not a quick fix. Intentionally losing weight is a tough process, regardless of the method. It takes time and it takes a team approach.

Myth 2: “I need an injection medicine to lose weight.”

The promise of 15-25% body weight loss that comes with these new injectable medicines is exciting and is a welcome tool in the weight management tool belt. What’s important to remember though, is that plenty of research shows even 5-10% body weight loss can have dramatic improvement in blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and improve knee arthritis pain and sleep apnea among other conditions. Many people will experience this 5% weight loss with lifestyle modifications alone, and several older and cheaper medicines can help add 3-5% weight loss.

Myth 3: “Trouble losing weight means you’re not trying hard enough.”

For many years, patients struggling with weight loss have been told it’s their fault and that it’s a failure of willpower. Not only is this unhelpful, it’s inaccurate. With advances in medical science, we have learned significantly more about how the body changes with excess weight and how these chemical and structural changes make it considerably harder to lose weight and maintain weight loss. Finding the right treatment plan is rooted in lifestyle changes which oftentimes many people have tried - exercise programs, meal plans, restrictive diets - but if these changes are not sustainable, they are unlikely to provide benefits over the long term. Some people may also believe that weight loss medications are only meant for those with a lot of excess weight. However, these medications are often prescribed for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) above 30 or those with a BMI above 27 with obesity-related conditions like diabetes, arthritis, and sleep apnea. In these circumstances, medication can help give patients a needed boost when weight loss has plateaued.

Myth 4: “Injections are scary and painful.”

There are definitely scary needles out there, but the injection devices many companies have developed are not those. For the most part, people do great with self-administering GLP-1 injections. The pens where the medication is stored are made with very small needles that go just under the skin and they are used in areas of the body where the skin is less sensitive to pain. In studies, participants rated the pain of a semaglutide injection as a 5 on a 100-point scale.

Myth 5: “Weight loss supplements are safe because they aren’t drugs.”

Nearly 6 out of every 10 adults report using a supplement of some kind. These supplements are generally thought to be completely safe because they’re not labeled as a “drug”, however, the lack of regulation leaves consumers unsure what they’re consuming. For example, research shows that many of the most common supplements provide no benefit, may not contain any of the intended ingredients, may have contaminants like heavy metals, and may include unapproved prescription medicines that aren’t listed on the ingredients, such as a weight loss drug called Sibutramine that was removed from US markets in 2010 due to health concerns.

Always ask your doctor about the supplements you are interested in taking, and if you are taking one, look for the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) seal on the bottle for confidence that a third party has at least verified the manufacturing of that supplement.

Weight loss is complicated. It’s important to have accurate information about your health and your options, and not having all the right details makes it tougher to make the best decision for you.

At Care New England, we have a multi-disciplinary team ready to get you the right information and help you reach your goals.


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