The Weight Loss Strategy You’ve Never Thought Of—But Might Want to Try

If you were having trouble with your career or dealing with tricky relationship problems, you might consider spending some time on a therapist’s couch. Yet if you were struggling with weight-loss issues, you’d probably never consider talking them out with a counselor. But it’s an idea to give some thought to, and it now has the backing of a group of researchers: In a set of just-published guidelines from journal Obesity, researchers suggest that people who need to lose weight for health reasons would benefit from behavioral weight-loss treatment. Translation: face-to-face counseling sessions with a registered dietician or other trained counselor to go over the risks of carrying too many lbs, as well as the lifestyle changes needed to take them off.

Though bariatric surgery and/or weight-loss prescription drugs were also included in the guidelines, the researchers believe that behavioral weight-loss treatment stands to benefit many more Americans—up to 65 million—who they say need to lose weight not to look better but to prevent chronic, potentially fatal diseases, such as heart disease. “We know we can produce a five to 10 percent drop in weight with comprehensive counseling,” says Donna Ryan, M.D., professor emerita at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Lousiana, part of the team that published the guidelines. And though in-person counseling is the route most likely to lead to weight-loss success, phone or digital counseling may work and could be an option, according to the guidelines.

The guidelines are geared toward primary-care physicians and other health-care providers rather than the general public; they’re designed to give these M.D.s research-backed strategies for helping their overweight and obese patients get down to a healthy weight. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t take a cue from them—even if you simply need to lose 10 pounds and are not clinically obese. “Seeing a counselor can help with long-term weight issues,” says Stephanie Middleberg, R.D., founder of Middleberg Nutrition in New York City. “If being overweight were just about the food we eat, it would be a much easier condition to help—but focusing on individual behavioral strategies that work for each person can make a difference.”  If talking things out with a therapist sounds like it could help you, ask for a referral from your doctor.

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