According to a New Stud | Eat Less | Move More Doesn't Actually Work for Weight Loss

The annual physical examination is often seen as a routine event by some individuals. A visit to the primary care doctor involves a few tests, some notes, and a reassuring "See you next year!" But for millions of Americans, particularly those who fall into the category of "obesity" based on potentially inaccurate body mass index (BMI) standards, a doctor's visit can be filled with uncomfortable moments.

It is important to note that we are not criticizing doctors, as we acknowledge that many of them treat patients with compassion, provide targeted advice, and approach the issue in a body-neutral manner. However, a study published on December 13, 2022, in the journal Family Practice suggests that this may not be the prevailing approach. According to the researchers, in the majority of cases, doctors offer weight-loss advice that is more abstract than actionable, too vague to be of practical benefit, and not always grounded in scientific evidence.

In the following sections, we will delve into the methodology behind the study's findings and explore the recommendations provided by the researchers for medical professionals and those seeking medical advice.


What the Weight-Loss Study Revealed

A team of researchers from the University of Oxford in England conducted an analysis of 159 audio recordings of consultations between general practitioners and patients classified as "obese" based on their BMIs. The study found that superficial advice was common, with doctors often suggesting vague changes in lifestyle without providing concrete strategies for achieving weight loss. Only 20% of the appointments included doctors offering practical guidance on how to effectively lose weight. The researchers highlighted that the provided advice often lacked scientific support and in some cases, contained incorrect information.

Here are some of the general recommendations that were commonly given but lacked scientific backing:

  • Eat less and move more.
  • Take the stairs whenever possible.
  • Be cautious of what you eat.
  • Reduce your carbohydrate intake.
  • Use a calorie tracking app to monitor your intake and expenditure.
  • Engage in as much exercise as your joints can handle.

Make your own gluten-free flour as it supposedly doesn't contain sugar (which is false since gluten is a protein).

The researchers noted that doctors often defaulted to the "eat less, do more" approach when they lacked other resources or specific guidance. It's understandable why more tailored advice can be challenging to provide. The current medical system primarily focuses on treating diseases rather than prevention, and medical school curricula dedicate minimal time to nutrition and physical activity education. This emphasizes the importance of consulting specialists in these fields, such as registered dietitians and physical therapists. Additionally, doctors often have limited time to truly understand their patients' behaviors and external factors that impact overall well-being, such as access to safe exercise spaces or multiple jobs to make ends meet. Keeping up with the constantly evolving research landscape can also be daunting for healthcare professionals.

The researchers emphasized the need for clear guidelines to help doctors communicate effectively with patients living with obesity regarding weight loss. By doing so, they can avoid reinforcing stigmatizing stereotypes and provide meaningful support to patients who are seeking to lose weight. It's crucial to note that this study provides a limited snapshot of medical offices in a specific country and time period. Many doctors and healthcare professionals establish personal connections with patients and offer referrals to nutrition, exercise, and community advocacy experts.

While further research and broader conversations within medical education and the healthcare industry are necessary, this study underscores the importance of promoting discussions on supportive and effective approaches for weight loss. Since obesity is a complex issue influenced by multiple factors, adhering strictly to restrictive weight-loss measures is not always effective. The researchers recommend an individualized treatment approach that includes:

  • Nutritional counseling with a registered dietitian.
  • Behavior changes targeting areas like stress management and sleep.
  • Lifestyle modifications, including personalized physical activity recommendations.
  • Assistance in overcoming systemic barriers, such as food insecurity.