Doctor measuring obese man stomach.

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OXFORD, United Kingdom — How can I lose weight? It’s a question many people bring to their doctor every year. However, does your doctor really know best when it comes to weight loss? A new study finds that the vast majority of physicians actually give vague and unhelpful advice to patients who are obese and trying to shed extra pounds.

Specifically, a team at the University of Oxford found that the weight loss advice coming from doctors is usually superficial, with little scientific evidence to support their tips. Researchers examined 159 audio recordings between general practitioners and obese patients in the United Kingdom collected between 2013 and 2014. In a staggering 97 percent of these conversations, the doctors’ recommendations for losing weight were abstract or too generic.

One doctor simply told their overweight patient to “change their lifestyle a bit.” This was a common suggestion among many of the physicians. Moreover, only one in five conversations included actual information on how to carry out this weight loss plan. Three in four doctors told their patients to seek outside help in order to lose weight.

The study reveals that when doctors provide weight loss tips which have little scientific evidence backing it up, obese patients rarely lose any actual weight. Study authors add the belief that making small behavioral changes (“take the stairs more often”) can lead to big results in a myth. Another weight loss myth is that all a patient needs is the “right mindset” in order to lose weight.

“This research demonstrates that doctors need clear guidelines on how to talk opportunistically to patients living with obesity about weight loss,” says lead author Madeleine Tremblett in a media release. “This can help them to avoid amplifying stigmatizing stereotypes and give effective help to patients who want to lose weight.”

The findings are published in the journal Family Practice.

So, how can you actually lose weight?

While your family doctor may not have all the answers, several recent studies are painting a clearer picture for obese patients trying to get healthy. Here are three recent findings about losing weight and keeping it off:

Dieting doesn’t work for everyone, and they need to focus on exercise

Researchers from the University of Ottawa revealed that the molecular mechanisms which drive changes in weight lead to diet and exercise affecting different people in different ways.

Using machine learning technology to examine each participant’s skeletal muscle, results show that exercise improves skeletal muscle metabolism and enhances an obese person’s weight loss capacity if they are “diet-resistant.” According to researchers, these people with difficult-to-treat cases of obesity often face accusations that they’re “cheating” on their diets when trying to lose weight with a low-calorie meal plan.

“For those individuals who have obesity and who’ve had enormous difficulty losing weight, the message for them is: You are in a group of individuals for whom exercise is particularly important. And that’s really going to help you lose weight,” says Dr. Ruth McPherson, a professor at the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine.

Don’t stay inside this winter, enjoy a cool workout

Researchers from the Joslin Diabetes Center say cold temperatures may reverse chronic inflammation, which is a contributor to obesity and metabolic diseases like diabetes. It can also stimulate the production of molecules important for weight loss.

When scientists exposed obese mice to cold temperatures, their inflammation reduced, and they saw improvements in insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. The process depended on brown adipose tissue, or “good” fat, that produces a molecule called Maresin 2 when exposed to the cold. Brown adipose fat also uses up stored energy, potentially helping with weight loss and metabolic health.

“These findings suggest a previously unrecognized function of brown adipose tissue in promoting the resolution of inflammation in obesity,” says Yu-Hua Tseng, PhD, a senior investigator in the Section on Integrative Physiology and Metabolism at Joslin Diabetes Center.

New weight loss drugs may help patients of all ages

A recent study finds a drug approved for adults who are overweight or obese, called semaglutide, can also aid weight loss among adolescents as well.

“Typically, we make lifestyle recommendations: Eat more vegetables; don’t eat fried food; don’t drink soda. But unfortunately, we live in a very obesogenic environment, so it can be very hard to make those changes. There is a real need for safe and effective medications to treat obesity,” explains Silva Arslanian, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and clinical and translational science and the Richard L. Day Endowed Chair in Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The drug works by mimicking glucagon-like peptide-1, a hormone that targets areas of the brain responsible for curbing appetite, thus helping people have more control over their eating. In the past year, health officials approved the drug for use in chronic weight management care in adults.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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