Do I really need to consult my doctor before starting a new diet or exercise program?

Fitness & Sports Health

by Guest Contributor

May 4, 2019

It happens to most of us as we age, unfortunately: it becomes easier to put on the pounds and much harder to take them off. As a family doctor whose favorite primary care topics are fitness, nutrition and preventive medicine, I often hear about this issue from my patients.

The discovery always seems to come as a surprise. You’re getting ready to leave the office and the button pops off your slacks. Then, while you’re searching for a safety pin, you see that big bag of kettle chips that was supposed to last all week… and it’s empty.

Many Americans look for a solution in the fad diets and flashy exercise programs that crop up every year. Those often come with the disclaimer that you should “consult a doctor before making changes to your diet or exercise routine.”

Is that really necessary, though? After all, the secret to losing weight is just to burn more calories than you take in… isn’t it?

The answer is actually, “Yes, but.”

By talking with your doctor before you begin a weight loss effort, you can modify the program to take into account your medical history and known health issues. Think of your primary care physician as your “health quarterback,” the one you should go to first for any health goals or worries. Your doctor knows you, your history and your individual needs, so they’re equipped to guide you to the steps that are best for you.

Before exercising, evaluate

If you have a new fitness program in mind, go over it with your doctor. There may be certain types of workout routines, or certain levels of intensity, that your doctor does or does not recommend based upon your medical history. It may also mean your doctor will want to run tests before you start your new fitness kick.

Everyone can and should exercise. But if a patient has a health issue—heart disease, for example—I may ask for a stress test before they start a new program.

Before dieting, strategize

It can also help to talk through changes to your diet with your doctor to make sure they don’t conflict with any of your health conditions or prescriptions.

We want to ensure that the diet plan is safe and that potentially dangerous medications are not being used with weight loss. Also, patients with certain illnesses may need to avoid certain diet plans. People with kidney disease, for example, should not follow diets that recommend high protein intake. Those with high blood pressure or heart failure should avoid diets high in salt.

You might also consult with a registered dietitian to learn more about healthy eating.

Change your lifestyle, not just habits

Successfully controlling your weight is about more than adding a new diet or workout. It’s about modifying your lifestyle—making permanent changes versus temporary ones that don’t work or have lasting effects. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first and make sure a new diet or exercise routine will be safe and effective in the long run.

Think of your doctor as a partner in your diet and fitness programs. Don’t be afraid to bring up your wellness questions and goals with them—you might be surprised by how much they can help.

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