Weight loss is more than just diet and exercise - it’s not entirely a battle of calories in, versus calories out. Our bodies often don’t want us to lose weight beyond a certain point, and so will drive our hormones out of wack to keep us feeling hungry. While we know we have more weight to lose, our bodies worry that the weight loss is a sign of more to come - and it doesn’t know where it will end.
So, what can we do to overcome these hormones? In cases where weight loss has stalled, a type of weight loss medication called GLP-1s may help to put you back on track. Read on here to learn more about what they are and how they may be able to help you.
As we lose weight, we often plateau, which is caused by the body’s shifting hormones as it tries to hold onto a certain weight it perceives as it’s optimal. As we age, this “set weight” becomes higher, making it even harder to reach our goal healthy weight.
So, what can we do to overcome these hormones?
Hormonal changes due to weight loss can increase hunger hormones and decrease fullness hormones. These hormones can be difficult to combat, leading to a frustrating stagnation in the weight loss journey.
In these cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe you a type of medication called GLP-1s.
What are GLP-1s?
FDA-approved weight loss medications called Glucagon-like Peptide-1s or GLP-1s help to reduce appetite, increase satiety, and regulate blood sugar. By targeting the biology of weight gain, this class of medication offers those frustrated with weight loss the support they need.
GLP-1s are not stimulants, are non-habit forming and are clinically-proven to be the most effective medications for long-term weight loss. These medications work on the same receptors as the naturally-occurring GLP-1 hormones already in your body.
How do GLP-1s work?
At first, GLP-1s were approved by the FDA to treat type 2 diabetes, but medical experts soon realized that use of this medication also resulted in metabolic health benefits and weight loss. Not only can GLP-1s help manage obesity and offer health benefits but they’re also safe to take alongside most other medications, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and thyroid meds.
GLP-1 medications, also known as incretin mimetics, imitate the effect of the GLP-1 hormone that is produced in our gut. This hormone sends signals to the brain to help us feel full, decrease appetite, and manage blood sugar.
Research has discovered that the GLP-1 hormone is reduced in those carrying excess weight, making it harder to lose and maintain a healthy weight. By introducing this hormone, patients struggling with weight loss can help fight against the increases in appetite and hunger that cause weight gain. It also improves how the patient’s body handles insulin and glucose, thus improving overall metabolic health.
How are GLP-1s different than other weight loss medications?
Most other weight loss medications do not target the biology of weight loss. Previous generations of prescription weight loss medications were often stimulants or appetite suppressants trying to mask hunger. These quick fixes did not address the underlying issue of increased hunger hormones.
GLP-1 medications work to reset the metabolic pathway to an optimal function, reducing hunger, leading to long lasting weight loss.
Sustain doctors prescribe a variety of GLP-1 medications, including semaglutide, liraglutide, and dulaglutide which you may know under brand names like Rybelsus®, Ozempic®, Victoza®, Wegovy® and Saxenda®.
The primary focus of other medications is to block appetite and cravings, leading to less food intake for weight loss - they deal with the psychological aspect and mask the problem for a short time, rather than solving it.
GLP1 vs. Phentermine:
Phentermine, for instance, reduces hunger so it’s easier to eat a low-calorie diet. This can be effective for a while, but it’s certainly not sustainable in the long run. Aside from being unsustainable, Phentermine often triggers uncomfortable side effects like migraines, extreme thirst, and dry mouth. It can also raise blood pressure, straining the heart and potentially worsening existing heart conditions.
GLP-1 medications are long-term solutions, making up part of a program intended to make lifelong changes to patients’ health. GLP-1 meds are designed to support a healthy metabolism forever, so patients should carry on taking them as long as they’re recommended by their doctor.
By targeting the core biology that affects weight, GLP-1s are shown to be safe and effective for weight loss and metabolic health in adults and children 12 and older.
GLP-1s also offer benefits like reducing inflammation and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Alongside a healthy diet and regular exercise, GLP-1s can drastically improve patients’ quality of life and, in turn, their mental health. In other words, these medications don’t just aid with weight loss; they also promote a healthier lifestyle holistically.
How long does it take for GLP-1s to work?
Typically, it takes a few weeks of gradually increasing this medication before patients will begin noticing weight loss, but appetite suppression should become apparent within the first week or so.
Do GLP-1s cause any side effects?
Side effects are extremely rare, and most individuals who take a GLP-1 do not experience any. For those who do, nausea is the most common, and this typically resolves over the first few weeks of being on the medication. If you do experience any side effects, you’ll be able to reach out to your Medical Team directly for support.
In the most recent clinical trials, less than 5% of people discontinued GLP-1 medications because of side effects. However, in the incredibly rare case that you have side effects that make you ineligible to participate in the program, you’d be offered the choice to stay in the program with a non-GLP-1 medication called metformin (if clinically appropriate) or to partially refund your program based on the amount of time you were able to participate.
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If you want to learn more about GLP-1s and if they are right for you, take the Sustain quiz to check your eligibility.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.