My "Why" Behind Obesity Medicine Training
It all comes back to my mission and serving my patients and community. Read on for the background on my "why" and how it began evolving long before I saw a patient.
1) I didn't learn how to treat obesity in medical school or residency.
I graduated from medical school in 2012. Obesity was not recognized by the American Medical Association as a chronic disease until 2013. That blows my mind. By that point, the rate of obesity was 27%. We now recognize obesity is an epidemic, and in 2021 the U.S. obesity rate was 36%. Imagine if we had waited years to acknowledge COVID before deciding it was worth treating.
I was fortunate that Case Western was actually ahead of the curve in terms of studying obesity, and I was able to take an elective course in obesity. That was the first time I learned of the complex genetic, metabolic, and hormonal factors involved. However, I still didn't learn anything about treatment or how to help patients.
Many people know that doctors learn next to nothing about nutrition or exercise in medical school. It's an incredible disservice to our patients, as the vast majority of chronic disease in the United States (heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol) are heavily influenced by what we eat and how we move. I worked with very bright mentors who, when asked by patients how to lose weight, told them it was simple, "Eat less and move more." Spoiler alert: if it was that easy, it wouldn't be an epidemic!
2) 2 out of 3 people suffer from overweight or obesity.
The bottom line is many of the patients I will take care of will suffer from overweight or obesity. We know besides its impact on sleep, mood, and energy level, obesity has a huge influence on a person's likelihood of developing diabetes, having a heart attack or stroke, and even being diagnosed with cancer. Primary care is all about prevention, and if I couldn't help my patients manage their excess weight and prevent all of these complications, what kind of a primary care doctor would I be?
In 2021, I decided to take the American Board of Obesity Medicine exam to make sure I had the knowledge to help my patients to the best of my ability.
3) For every doctor trained in obesity medicine there are 1,000 snake oil salesmen and instagram influencers preying on frustrated people.
I remember when I was in college in Florida (home of many sketchy weight loss "clinics") and I saw one of these "clinics" that advertised hCG injections for weight loss. Very naively, I thought, "That's the pregnancy hormone. That doesn't cause weight loss. Someone should expose these people for fraud!" Now I've learned that's not the case. To be clear, there is no evidence that hCG causes weight loss. But people are so desperate for help with losing weight, they will turn to anyone who claims they can help. According to Allied Market Research, the weight loss and weight management diet industry was valued at $192 billion in 2019. The weight loss supplement market size was valued at $82 billion. And it's well documented that 95% of diets fail.
Beyond products, there are countless instagram influencers and celebrities promoting specific diets and exercise programs that have zero relevant background training or expertise. And they make money because people are desperate for help and change. Many patients who come to see me have tried more than 10 diets, and many multiple times. This brings me to my next why...
4) It's a challenge.
And I like challenges. The tricky thing about helping someone lose weight is that every single person is different, and there are a ton of factors that contribute to their weight. With each patient, I need to spend a lot of time getting to know them, their lifestyle, their health history, as well as their motivation and goals. Each person faces different challenges in losing weight, and each person has a different "why." There is still so much we're learning about obesity, and it's very exciting to be learning about a new field in medicine.
5) It's really really satisfying to help others succeed.
It's so rewarding to really get to know someone, support them through their weight loss journey, and see them succeed. Particularly people who have struggled for years with the ups and downs of dieting. I love seeing people reach their goals, which for most people have little to do with the number on the scale. Some people want more energy, some want to keep up with their kids, some are trying to control other chronic diseases, and others want to make sure they're aging in a healthy way. I consider myself very lucky to be able to practice medicine in a way that supports the needs of my patients and community. I love my patients and being their doctor is truly a privilege that I don't take lightly!
Looking for help with weight loss? Learn more about how I help my patients.