What Can You Do About Obesity?

Start by Setting Goals

The most important part of any obesity treatment program is goal setting. While you may want to lose weight for societal or fashion reasons, it may be more important to consider that losing as little as 5 percent to 10 percent of body weight will have a significant positive effect on your health.

Treating Obesity

No two people are alike, so it’s important to create a weight-loss plan that works for you. That may mean trying to lose one to two pounds per week, or losing at the rate of a half a pound per week. Even at that lower rate, over the course of a year, you’ll lose 24 pounds, and if you maintain that rate, over three years you’ll drop 78 pounds. Regardless of what treatment plan you follow, losing weight slowly will be more effective and healthy over the long term because quick weight loss often spurs weight regain.

There are a variety of common methods for treating obesity, and your plan may include a combination of treatment types. Incorporating multiple methods, such as making diet changes as well as adding exercise, may be more effective. These methods include:

The Stanford Center for Bariatric Surgery can create a comprehensive weight loss strategy that can help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Our Treatments


Fad diets come and go. Some, like low carb and high protein and fat diets, may work in the short term, but they can also pose serious health risks in the long run. Ultimately, the most successful long-term weight loss programs rely more on limiting how many calories you consume, and how many you burn through exercise and daily activity, rather than the actual composition of the diet.

Fasting may result in rapid weight loss, but you lose important lean muscle mass along with fat. All-liquid diets, which must be medically supervised, may be used for a short period of time, but these diets don’t offer a long-term answer to weight loss.

Fads diets, which haven’t had their health effects determined by rigorous clinical trials, may not be healthy options for weight loss. However, if you follow certain basic dietary recommendations, they can lead to weight loss:

  • To lose weight and keep it off, instead of thinking “diet,” think about an individualized eating plan. A plan that’s tailored to your personal likes and dislikes will have a better chance of producing lasting weight loss. A balanced diet that restricts calorie intake – 1,200 to 1,400 calories for women and 1,500 to 1,800 calories for men – may work well. A registered dietician can help to make an individualized diet plan based on your particular situation.
  • Include a variety of foods in the diet.
  • All fats are not bad. We now know that polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats provide health benefits such as helping to keep the heart healthy. This means that nuts, seeds, and some types of oils, such as olive, safflower and canola, can be part of a healthy eating plan.
  • Choose whole grains such as brown rice and whole wheat bread rather than white rice and white bread. Whole grain foods are richer in nutrients and higher in fiber, so the body absorbs them more slowly. This means they won’t cause a rapid spike in insulin, which can trigger hunger and cravings.
  • Get at least five servings daily of a variety of fruits and vegetables. Different fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts and types of nutrients.
  • When dining out, ask for a take-home box, and avoid super-sized selections when you order take-out food. Many restaurant portions are too large for one person, so consider sharing an entrée or ordering an appetizer instead of a main dish from the entrée menu.
  • Read food labels carefully. Pay particular attention to the number of servings contained in the product and the serving size. If the label says a serving is 150 calories and there are three servings per container, if you eat the entire contents of the container, you’ve consumed 450 calories.


If you’re obese, exercise is beneficial because it helps you keep and add lean muscle tissue while losing fat. And because muscle tissue has a higher metabolic rate and burns calories faster, if you’re also eating healthy food according to your meal plan, exercise will speed up the rate at which you lose weight.

Exercise lowers blood pressure and can help prevent Type 2 diabetes. It also helps to improve emotional well-being, reduce appetite, help you sleep better, improve flexibility and lower bad cholesterol.

Walking is an excellent choice of exercise for obese people. A walking program should start slowly, with 30 minutes a day a few days a week, and increase gradually to the goal of walking for longer periods most days of the week.

Consult your physician before starting any exercise program.

Environmental Changes

For many of us, our typical days encourage a sedentary lifestyle, and becoming active takes some effort. Driving to an office and working at a desk restrict activity. Watching a lot of television or sitting at the computer can also contribute to an inactive, sedentary lifestyle.

There are simple steps you can take to increase daily activity. Remember, every little bit helps:

  • take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator
  • park the car at the far end of the parking lot and walk to the store or the office
  • get off the bus one stop early if you’re in an area safe for walking
  • turn off the television or video game and head for the garden, rake the leaves, wash the car or just take a walk
  • find activities that your whole family will enjoy, such as tennis, roller-blading or hiking

Just by looking at your daily routine, you may be able to find ways to pack more activity into your day in addition to exercising.

Where you work may be one of the least conducive environments to keeping to a weight loss plan. However, there are things you can do to help stay on track with your weight loss plan at work:

  • Bring healthy snacks, such as cut-up fruits and vegetables, to have on hand when you get hungry
  • Avoid going to office social gatherings hungry – plan ahead to avoid the temptation of high-calorie treats like birthday cake and cookies

Support Groups

Joining a support group can provide the encouragement and reinforcement you need to succeed in changing your lifestyle behaviors.

The Stanford Center for Bariatric Surgery’s Bariatric Surgery Support Group provides a friendly forum for people who are considering or have already had weight loss surgery. We offer education about the surgery, guidelines for nutrition, exercise and emotional well-being during the preparation and recovery process.

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There are also online communities that can provide support and information to help you make lifestyle changes and lose weight. Friends and family can also provide important support along the way. Although commercial weight loss programs can be expensive, many of them offer the convenience of prepared meals. Some of these programs also provide a consultation to help you create an individualized weight loss plan.

Non-Surgical Treatment

You may require treatment by a physician if your own efforts to lose weight have failed and/or if co-existing medical conditions make it crucial for you to lose weight. That treatment may include:

  • Medication to treat obesity-related health problems
  • Behavioral changes to improve dietary habits and increase activity levels
  • Therapy to address any eating disorders (may also require medication)

Read about the Stanford Center for Bariatric Surgery’s non-surgical treatment strategies.

Surgical Treatment

Weight-loss surgery (bariatric surgery) is the only option today that effectively treats morbid obesity in people for whom more conservative measures such as diet, exercise and medication have failed. Potential candidates include:

  • people with a BMI greater than 40
  • men who are 100 pounds over their ideal body weight or women who are 80 pounds over their ideal body weight
  • persons with a BMI between 35 and 40 who have another condition such as obesity-related Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea or heart disease

The Stanford Center for Bariatric Surgery performs several types of Bariatric Surgery.

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