For the Love of 12 Pounds: Why Belviq is a Bad, Bad Idea

For the Love of 12 Pounds: Why Belviq is a Bad, Bad Idea

Years ago I worked with a client who wanted to work off some extra baby weight. We trained together several times a week for a few years until she moved outside of the city. In that time she dropped the weight, got stronger, but still fixated on every calorie she ate. I remember asking her if she had the choice of eating a 50-calorie slice of bread that had no nutritional value, or eating a 100-calorie sliced of bread that was filled with minerals and nutrients - which would she choose? Quite honestly, she said she'd take the 50-calorie slice of bread. She acknowledged that she knew which slice of bread was better for her, but she didn't want to chance gaining weight back. While not everyone would make the same choices as my client, as a society we put our health at risk for the sake of losing a pound of two.

We do indeed have a weight problem. Obesity is a growing concern, and the diseases associated with our ever-bulging waistline is increasingly worrisome. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and plenty of other weight-related conditions could be better controlled if we could only control what we put in our mouth.

A couple weeks ago the Food and Drug Administration approved a diet drug called Belviq, the first of its kind in 13 years. Belviq, made by Arena Pharmaceuticals, works on the neurotransmitter serotonin, which lets us know when we're full or hungry. Trials of this drug, which has been approved for use by those with a body mass index of 30 or higher, or 27 or higher in those with a weight-related conditions, have resulted in an average of a 12 pound weight loss (or 5% of total body weight) in half of those who took it. Interestingly, 23% of those who took a placebo during the trials also lost that much weight.

Despite the serious side effects of this drug, advocates of Belviq suggest our growing epidemic of obesity in this country justifies the use of this drug. My opinion is that Belviq is nothing more than a risky money maker providing a weak band aid fix for those who need to lose much, much more than the 12 pound loss (at best) that half of the users might experience.  Perhaps because the side effects don't warrant continued use? After all, migraines, depression,  memory loss and lack of focus are a few "less serious" side effects that are common with the use of the drug. For 12 pounds?

Side Effects are Effects
I can't see how this drug couldn't create lifestyle-altering side effects in most people. Serotonin affects our appetite, but it's also equally important in affecting our mood, aggressive behavior and impulse control, memory and learning, cardiovascular function, muscle contraction and temperature regulation. It would be wishful thinking to hope that only appetite would be tweaked when taking Belviq, but it's highly likely that there would be a chain reaction affecting other parts of the user's life as well.

Migraines and depression are two side effects that user's might have to contend with. When taking Belviq, it's recommended that the user eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. I don't know very many people that high tail it to the gym for a good workout when they're blue, much less dealing with the pain of a migraine. Memory loss is another interesting less serious side effect. Apparently cognitive function isn't all that important.

A more serious complication called serotonin syndrome, a life threatening condition in which the body produces too much serotonin, also places users at an increased health risk. Then there's heart tissue damage. It's not yet known if Belviq can actually cause heart damage, but the FDA warns those with existing heart conditions to use Belviq with caution. In fact, the FDA has required Arenatoperformsixpostmarketingtrialstoassesswhether or not long term heart tissue damage occurs in users. Essentially users become guinea pigs by default.

I hope that before  doctors prescribe this medication, they make some common sense recommendations to their patients that have been tried and true in better regulating serotonin levels naturally. The tips below might better be able to help aid in a significant amount of long term weight loss, including:

  • Increasing protein consumption, particularly poultry
  • Increasing healthy fat consumption, particularly nuts and seeds
  • Eating reasonable amounts of good carbs like brown rice and legumes (in combination with protein)
  • Taking an omega 3 fatty acid supplement like fish oil or flax seed oil
  • Sleeping for 7 to 8 hours  every night
  • Avoiding refined/high sugar carbs, including many popular dietfoods
  • Cutting back on caffeine
  • Exercising regularly

The only true way to achieve and maintain long term weight loss is by healthy eating and exercise. No pill can do that safely, and in my humble opinion, no modest amount of weight loss is worth the side effects. In 2013, when Belviq goes to market, overweight and obese people will go up against a heavy duty advertising campaign designed to appeal to their desire to lose weight. Thetake awayI hope consumers remember is thatBelviqoffers modest weight loss in less than half of users. Those users would be better served if they made healthier choices in their lives, including a healthier diet and more activity.


Connect with Traci on Facebook. She’d love to see you there! Interested in working with Traci? She works privately with clients specializes in nutrition coaching and weight loss as well as functional fitness and personal training. All sessions are done via Skype or telephone if outside of Chicago. For more information, contact Traci here.

Looking for a simple way to get into great shape and eat right? Try Traci’s 40-Day Shape Up! It's a simple 40-day plan that lays a diet and exercise plan that's right or your body type, lifestyle and fitness level!







Filed under: Fitness, Nutrition/Diet

Leave a comment