Blog/Is Using Medication to Lose Weight Cheating?
Jennie Stanford, MD | 5/28/2024 | 3 min read

Is Using Medication to Lose Weight Cheating?

Understanding the role of medication in weight loss.

plus size woman sitting on bed with solemn expression

Losing weight is a difficult process for many people, and it often requires a multifaceted treatment approach. A healthy diet and regular exercise are crucial not only for weight loss but also for maintaining overall health. While they are a vital part of any weight loss effort, many times diet and exercise changes may not lead to sufficient weight loss

Additive treatments, like medications and weight loss surgeries in severe cases, have been shown to produce meaningful weight loss results and improve overall health and wellbeing. As additional people choose medication to help them lose weight, some question if using medication to lose weight is “cheating”. We’ll dive into why a medicated weight loss treatment is right for some and the benefits that come with it when paired with other lifestyle changes.

Obesity as a disease, requiring various treatments

Obesity is a complex disease process, and it is associated with significant morbidity (other medical problems) and mortality (death). Not only can obesity predispose you to other medical problems, but it also can cause significant disability itself. 

The concept of "cheating" implies taking the easy way out, but obesity is multifaceted, impacted by many other factors, like genetic, metabolic, physiological and psychological factors. For some individuals, lifestyle changes of diet and exercise alone may not be sufficient due to these underlying issues.  As a result, the use of medication or (in severe cases) surgery is needed to treat obesity.

Weight loss statistics

To better understand why medicated-assisted weight loss would be a beneficial treatment path for some, let’s look at a few statistics. 

Diet and exercise alone for weight loss

Adopting a healthy diet and participating in regular exercise must be the foundation of a weight loss plan. Studies suggest the average weight loss with diet and exercise is 5-10%. While the amount of weight that is lost with diet and exercise is highly variable, about 20% are able to achieve their weight goals with diet and exercise modifications alone.

Medication-assisted weight loss

Among people who use medication, like GLP-1s, to assist in their weight loss efforts, more than 50% of people are able to achieve their weight goals by adding medication to a comprehensive weight management plan.

Obesity at the cellular level

Obesity causes fundamental changes in the way hormones are produced and nutrients are metabolized or absorbed. About 70-75% of Americans have an overweight or obese BMI, but as many as 93% of Americans have poor metabolic health

Obesity is an epidemic disease and is rapidly becoming a pandemic health concern worldwide, beginning in the United States and spreading to other Western countries. While about 75% of Americans fall into either the overweight or obese categories, as many as 93% of Americans have poor metabolic health

As body mass index increases, the risk of sick fat disease (adiposopathy) increases. This describes fat that has negative effects on the endocrine and immune systems and worsens obesity-related diseases. Sick fat cells produce inflammatory molecules, which increase the proinflammatory state of obesity and reduce the effectiveness of the immune system.

In addition, obesity leads to abnormal levels of neuroendocrine hormones like glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), glucose-dependent-insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP), insulin, ghrelin, and others. Abnormal hormone levels make weight loss more difficult to achieve and maintain.

Understanding the role of medication in weight loss

Weight loss medications, like semaglutide, are beneficial in managing the underlying factors of obesity that act as barriers to successful weight loss. A comprehensive weight management plan includes many components, one of which can be weight loss medications for many people. 

Other necessary components include dietary modifications, regular physical activity, behavioral changes and ongoing support and accountability. Medication is not a shortcut, but rather, it is a tool for weight loss. It works best as part of a comprehensive plan in effective, long-term weight loss treatment.

Benefits of semaglutide

Semaglutide offers an unprecedented weight loss benefit. The STEP trial compared the use of semaglutide 2.4 mg weekly vs. no treatment over two years, and semaglutide yielded a 15.2% weight loss, as compared to 2.6% weight loss in patients who took no medication.

The long-term benefits of semaglutide extend beyond weight management. It can lower hemoglobin A1c by as much as 1.6%. Semaglutide and other glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve insulin sensitivity, enhance metabolic health and reduce the risk of dementia.

So, is taking medication “cheating”?

No, it’s not cheating. But it should be paired with various other lifestyle adjustments. Obesity is a complex disease that requires a multifaceted treatment approach. Successful, sustainable weight loss is about the long game, and it is best achieved through a comprehensive weight loss plan. Medication can be an important tool and offers health benefits beyond weight loss for experiencing other health issues. As always, adding medication to your weight loss plan should be discussed with and monitored by a licensed provider

If you’re interested in seeing if semaglutide is right for you, Agile’s trusted network of physicians are here to answer your questions and offer recommendations. All you have to do is fill out a quick survey to see if you qualify for the program and then schedule an initial consultation. That’s it! Easy peasy. 

Ready to make a change? See if you qualify here.