Fitness & Weight Loss

A Weighty Discussion

When doctors talk, men drop the pounds
By John McCormack,

If you’re like many guys, you avoid going to the doctor. But eliciting the help of your physician could put you on the fast track to weight-loss success.

When doctors get involved in their patients’ weight-loss efforts, the results can be impressive.

That’s why men need to schedule appointments to see their doctors—and then make it known that they want to hear their physicians’ weight-loss advice. Studies show that even short discussions with your doctor about weight loss could be enough to help you shed the pounds more effectively.

“Turn your head and cough.” Apparently, the squirm factor associated with that phrase is enough to keep many men away from their doctors, as more than half of all guys have been known to skip out on their annual physical exams, according to a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

What men might not realize, however, is that their doctors could become powerful allies in their weight-loss efforts, says Susan Bartlett, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

As a result, men should realize that engaging their doctors in their weight-loss efforts can help them more successfully drop the pounds with programs such as Weight Watchers, according to Karen Miller-Kovach, M.S., R.D., Weight Watchers’ chief scientist. “Men often are a little uncomfortable talking about weight loss with their doctors because they think it is a women’s issue,” Miller-Kovach says. “But men who seek the support of medical providers in weight-loss efforts can improve their chances for long-term success.”

At the very least, your physician can ensure that there are no underlying medical or psychological conditions hampering your efforts. For instance, a simple blood test can reveal if you suffer from hypothyroidism, a condition that can lead to weight gain. Your physician also can screen for depression or other mental-health issues that could railroad your weight-loss efforts.

Just as important, your doctor can make sure that you’re ready to participate in a regular exercise program by checking your heart and joints.
And your doctor’s involvement with your weight loss doesn’t have to stop with this initial overview. But because many physicians shy away from addressing weight and becoming involved in their patients’ diet programs, men might need to make the first move. “One of the most important things you can do as a patient is indicate to your physician that you want to talk about weight,” Bartlett says. “Physicians are often concerned that their patients will interpret comments about weight as judgmental. So, you need to invite the conversation.”

Such discussions—while they might center on the same tried-and-true healthy eating and exercise messages that you’ve heard many times before—apparently pack a punch when coming from M.D.s. Findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that when physicians engage their patients in short conversations or counseling sessions about the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity, patients are three times more likely to lose weight than patients who do not receive similar pep talks.

Although it’s still more the exception than the rule, when patients ask for additional help, some doctors might even go beyond a simple 2-minute weight-loss lecture and engage in ongoing weight-loss counseling.

Jay Parkinson, M.D., for example, is a New York City-based doctor who makes house calls and then uses e-mail to establish personal relationships with his patients. He tries to get to know his patients well and then provides the continuing lifestyle support that they need to reach their health goals. If Parkinson thinks the patient needs the support of a group, he will refer him to diet programs or online services such as

But not all doctors are in a position to provide such individualized support. “If that’s the case,” Bartlett says, “you can ask your doctor for a referral to a dietician, who can provide the ongoing guidance that you might need.”