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[5 min read] Supporting your patients in weight management

The peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia saw many people isolated to their homes, restricting their activity and over-indulging in comfort foods. Diets suffered from gym closures and the continued availability of fast food, and the pandemic triggered many people to stress-eat while simultaneously limiting their access to healthy food.

As a result of this shift in eating and social habits, many people are now experiencing unwanted weight gain. A common concern emerging among patients presenting to primary care is that they need some help managing the consequences of their recent lifestyle changes.

Since diet, nutrition, and weight play such important roles in overall health, helping your patients to manage these areas can be an essential part of your role as a primary care doctor. Weight management can be easily integrated into the services you already provide in your practice, and can also be delivered via telehealth – an emerging and increasingly popular method of consultation that has taken shape during the COVID-19 pandemic and is likely to continue to be utilised.

Keeping your patients at their most comfortable weight means focusing on a healthy overall lifestyle, incorporating both a healthy diet and regular exercise. Patients should be encouraged to drink plenty of water (at least eight cups a day) and eat foods from each of the five food groups (listed below) daily, while limiting their intake of saturated fats, sugar, salt, and alcohol. You can help tailor a meal plan that suits their needs and fits into their everyday life.

  1. Vegetables and legumes of different colours
  2. Fruit
  3. Whole grains such as bread, cereal, rice and pasta
  4. Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu and nuts
  5. Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese

When attempting to lose weight, many people look to the scales as the greatest indicator of their success. If several lifestyle changes have been implemented and the patient is following a strict regime including exercise and a modified diet, it can be disheartening when the scales fail to reflect their hard work. Many people believe their efforts have been in vain if they don’t see a tangible weight drop each week.

As a primary care doctor and a trusted part of your patients’ support network, you can help manage their expectations and frame other goals (besides the number on the scales) to keep your patients motivated.

Weight management goals should follow the SMART rule:

  • Specific: Use exact figures to outline what the patient is trying to achieve.
  • Measurable: Work out how success will be measured, which isn’t always related to the scales.
  • Achievable: Patients must be able to physically accomplish the goals.
  • Realistic: Goals shouldn’t be far-fetched and should be achievable within the set time frame.
  • Timely: A time frame should be applied so patients know when to check in.

It’s also important to remind patients that just because they don’t achieve one goal, it doesn’t mean they’ve failed in their overall task. Focusing on a handful of goals can help satisfy your patients’ need for progress and keep them on track.

Tailor these goals to suit the patient’s age, mobility, and lifestyle, and remember that setting too big of a goal can actually be detrimental; for example, an obese patient who never exercises will not suddenly be motivated to visit the gym for one hour every day, and setting this goal from the start could seem like an impossible task and cause the patient to give up. Start with a smaller goal and work your way up.

10 goals you might set out with your patients:

  1. Drop in body measurements, such as a slimmer waist by 5cm
  2. Drop in clothes size or belt notch, such as going down from a size 20 to a size 14
  3. Improvement in overall health, such as reduced blood pressure, better blood glucose levels, or less medications needed
  4. Having more energy or able to keep up with the kids or grandchildren
  5. Able to walk further or up and down the stairs without losing breath
  6. Reduction in joint or back pain
  7. Starting a maintainable exercise routine – try setting a goal for number of sessions per week and increasing this over time
  8. Eating healthier or sticking to the prescribed food plan
  9. Feeling more comfortable or getting the confidence to do something previously avoided
  10. Sleeping better at night or no longer snoring

Take the time to write down some realistic goals with your patients, listing carefully to what they personally want to change, and regularly review this list at follow-up appointments to cross off anything they have achieved. This will help them realise that they are making progress, even if the scales aren’t reflecting the results they had hoped for. The patient may like to keep the list on their fridge, in their diary or in their phone.

Want to learn more about managing your patients’ nutrition concerns in general practice?

Learn more about the HealthCert online Professional Diploma program in Medical Nutrition Management.

Medical Nutrition Certificate Courses in Australia

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