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Treatment

Treatment for overweight and obesity depends on the cause and severity of your condition. Possible treatments include healthy lifestyle changes, behavioral weight-loss treatment programs, medicines, and possibly surgery. You may need treatments for any complications that you have.

Healthy lifestyle changes

To help you aim for and maintain a healthy weight, your doctor may recommend that you adopt lifelong healthy lifestyle changes.

  • Heart-healthy eating. Learn about which foods and nutrients are part of a healthy eating pattern. It’s important to eat the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight. If you need to lose weight, try to reduce your total daily calories gradually. Use the Body Weight Planner to find out your daily calorie needs and to set goals. Visit healthy recipes and plan for success. Talk with your doctor before beginning any diet or eating plan. Visit Chose My Plate or 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for more information.
  • Physical activity. Many health benefits are associated with physical activity and getting the recommended amount of physical activity needed each week. Physical activity is an important factor in determining whether a person can maintain a healthy body weight, lose excess body weight, or maintain successful weight loss. Before starting any exercise program, ask your doctor about what level of physical activity is right for you. Visit Physical Activity Has Many Health Benefits for more information.
  • Healthy Sleep. Studies have shown some relationship between lack of sleep and obesity. Read Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency more information.

Making lifelong healthy lifestyle changes, such as heart-healthy eating and physical activity, can help you modify your energy balance to help you aim for and maintain a healthy weight. For example:

  • To aim for a healthy weight, or lose weight, you want your energy OUT to be more than your energy IN.
  • To maintain weight loss you want your energy IN and energy OUT to be the same. 

Behavioral weight-loss programs

Your doctor may recommend you enroll in individual or group behavioral weight-loss programs to treat your overweight and obesity. In these programs, a trained healthcare professional will customize a weight-loss plan for you. This plan will include a moderately-reduced calorie diet, physical activity goals, and behavioral strategies to help you make and maintain these lifestyle changes. Read Living With for more information about required follow-up for these behavioral treatment programs.

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Did you know your brain’s pleasure and reward centers can be stimulated by food and the act of eating, making it harder to change eating patterns and lose weight?

Researchers know that our brains can become patterned so that we feel pleasure or reward from eating. This can make us unconsciously crave food so our bodies feel that sense of pleasure. It can also make it hard to change our eating patterns, lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight. Researchers are studying whether cognitive behavioral therapies can be an effective treatment for overweight and obesity by retraining the brain to not associate pleasure with food and the act of eating.

Medicines

When healthy lifestyle changes are not enough, your doctor may treat your overweight and obesity with FDA-approved medicines. These medicines work in the following parts of your body.

  • Brain. Several medicines change the way the brain regulates the urge to eat, which can help to decrease appetite. Some examples of these medicines are diethylpropion, phendimetrazine, lorcaserin, naltrexone/bupropion, and liraglutide.
  • Gastrointestinal tract. Orlistat is the only available medicine. It blocks your intestines from absorbing fat from foods in your diet.

Weight loss medicines are not recommended as a single treatment for weight loss. These medicines can help you lose weight but when combined with lifestyle changes may result in greater weight loss. Some of these medicines should not be used if you have certain conditions or are taking certain medicines. Also, these medicines have side effects. Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant, planning to get pregnant, breast feeding, or have a family history of cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke.

Surgical procedures

Some patients with obesity do not respond to healthy lifestyle changes and medicines. When these patients develop certain obesity-related complications, they may be eligible for the following surgeries.

  • Gastric bypass surgery. A small part of the stomach is connected to the middle part of the intestine, bypassing the first part of intestine. This decreases the amount of food that you can eat and the amount of fat your body can take in and store.
  • Gastrectomy. A big portion of the stomach is removed to decrease the amount of food that you can eat.
  • Gastric banding. A hollow band is placed around the upper part of the stomach creating a smaller stomach. This decreases the amount of food you can eat.

Talk to your doctor to learn more about the benefits and risks of each type of surgery. Possible complications include bleeding, infection, internal rupture of sutures, or even death. Read gastric bypass surgery for more information.

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Interested in learning why these surgeries lead to weight loss in some patients?

First, these surgeries reduce the amount of food stored in the stomach and the amount of calories your body can take in. This can help your body restore energy balance. Second, these surgeries change the levels of certain hormones and the way the brain responds to these hormones to control hunger urges. After surgery, some people are less interested in eating or they prefer to eat healthier foods. In some cases, genetic differences may affect how much weight loss patients experience after bariatric surgery.

Look for

  • Living With will explain recommendations that your doctor may give, including lifelong healthy lifestyle changes and medical care to prevent your condition from recurring, getting worse, or causing complications.
  • Research for Your Health will explain how we are using current research and advancing research to treat people with overweight and obesity.
  • Participate in NHLBI Clinical Trials will discuss our ongoing clinical studies that are investigating treatments for overweight and obesity.
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Updated: February 23, 2017