The skinny on GLP-1 injections for weight loss: Are they right for you?

by Kelly Springer

A new report shows that more than 15.5 million people have used GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) receptor agonists like Semaglutide for weight loss. With summer here and many people wanting to shed a few extra pounds, the question is: Are these injections being overused?  

While the efficacy of GLP-1 injections in reducing body weight is well-documented and has been publicly hyped, it is crucial to underscore that they are not a panacea. Sustainable weight loss and overall health improvements require a holistic approach, integrating lifestyle changes, regular exercise and a balanced diet.

GLP-1 receptor agonists function by mimicking the effects of the GLP-1 hormone, which enhances insulin secretion, inhibits glucagon release and slows gastric emptying. This results in reduced appetite and increased feelings of satiety, leading to significant weight loss in many individuals. Clinical trials have shown that these medications can lead to an average weight loss of 10%-15% over several months, a promising outcome for the millions of people struggling with obesity.

However, relying solely on GLP-1 injections without addressing underlying lifestyle factors is a flawed strategy. Obesity is a multifaceted condition influenced by genetics, environment, behavior and psychological factors. Therefore, an effective weight loss regimen must be comprehensive.

Exercise remains a cornerstone of any weight loss or health improvement plan. Regular physical activity not only burns calories but also enhances cardiovascular health, improves mood, and boosts overall energy levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week, coupled with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. GLP-1 injections can make exercise more approachable by reducing body weight and improving mobility, but the habit of regular physical activity must be cultivated for long-term success.

Diet is another critical element that cannot be overlooked. A healthy, balanced diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains provides the essential nutrients needed for optimal body function. It also plays a crucial role in maintaining weight loss achieved through GLP-1 injections. Processed foods, sugary drinks, and high-fat snacks contribute to weight gain and counteract the benefits of the medication. Adopting mindful eating practices and making informed dietary choices can enhance the effects of GLP-1 therapy and support sustained weight management.

Additionally, lifestyle modifications, such as adequate sleep and stress management, are integral to successful weight loss. Poor sleep and high stress levels can lead to hormonal imbalances that trigger increased appetite and weight gain. Incorporating practices like mindfulness, meditation and adequate rest can create a supportive environment for weight loss and overall well-being.

The psychological aspect of weight loss should not be underestimated either. Emotional eating, often triggered by stress, boredom or negative emotions, can derail progress. Behavioral therapy or counseling can be beneficial in addressing these patterns and fostering a healthier relationship with food.

There’s no doubt that GLP-1 injections offer a valuable tool in the fight against obesity, providing significant weight loss benefits and improving health outcomes. However, they should be viewed as part of a broader strategy that takes a more holistic approach and includes regular exercise, a nutritious diet and comprehensive lifestyle changes.

Weight loss achieved through GLP-1 injections can be a catalyst for positive change, but sustaining that success requires a commitment to healthier habits. Only through this integrated approach can individuals achieve lasting weight loss, better health and improved quality of life. Most important, when considering these medications for weight loss, always talk to your own doctor first.

Kelly Springer, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally-recognized clinical dietitian who is working to change the conversation surrounding what it truly means to be healthy. She earned her bachelors in nutrition at West Virginia University and her masters in health education from SUNY Cortland.