If you are taking a GLP-1 agonist medication, you probably have heard of the beneficial weight loss side effects. However, it is important to consider that these benefits are heavily influenced by physical activity and diet. That is why most physicians prescribing these medications for weight loss recommend pairing them with exercise and some form of diet modification. But what is the best diet for people taking these medications? In the era of social media, there are thousands of different diet plans available to people in the palm of their hands. So much so that it can be very overwhelming! So where should you start?
A phase 3 double-blinded, randomized clinical control trial published in 2022 that looked at the use of a GLP-1 agonist, Tirzepatide (Mounjaro™ ), for the treatment of obesity has paved the way for the use of GLP-1 agonists for weight loss (1). In the study, along with taking tirzepatide and undergoing an exercise program (150 minutes/week), the patients were on a 500-calorie/day deficit that consisted of 30% of energy intake coming from fats, 50% from carbohydrates, and 20% from proteins. This is considered the ideal diet that will result in the maximum weight loss effect, which can be up to 20% change in body weight after two years.
Awesome! So let’s jump right in and dramatically cut our 1500-2000 calorie diet per day by 500 calories!
…Yeah, definitely more easily said than done. It is understandable that a transition to the “ideal” diet may be a big change for some people who have not been on calorie-deficit diets before. Maybe you can handle the change for the first week or two, but more often than not, this would just lead to us stopping the diet and reverting back to our old ways.
We must remember that the goal is to create a sustainable diet regimen that we can follow for one to two years. Therefore, it is fine to ease your way into the calorie-deficient diet and change up the percentages of fats, protein, and carbohydrates based on what you normally eat. Let's say that around 70% of your calories are carbohydrates, to begin with. Try dropping that to 60-65% and increase your protein or fat intake to compensate. Dieting is a marathon, not a sprint!
Here are some key principles to keep in mind when planning your diet while taking GLP-1 agonists:
Aim to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods are packed with essential nutrients that support your overall health and help keep you feeling full and satisfied. They also tend to be lower in calories and higher in fiber, which can help support weight loss.
Processed foods and added sugars are often high in calories and low in nutrients. They can also lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, which can be particularly problematic if you have diabetes. Try to minimize your intake of packaged snacks, sweets, sugary drinks, and other highly processed foods.
Even healthy foods can contribute to weight gain if you eat too much of them. Pay attention to portion sizes and aim to eat until you feel satisfied rather than stuffed. Using smaller plates, bowls, and utensils can help you eat less without feeling deprived.
Staying hydrated is important for overall health and can also help support weight loss. Drinking water before meals can help you feel fuller and eat less while replacing sugary drinks with water can help you reduce your calorie intake.
A registered dietitian can help you develop a personalized meal plan that supports your weight loss goals while meeting your nutritional needs. They can also provide guidance on healthy eating habits and help you navigate any challenges that come up along the way.
While there is no one-size-fits-all diet that is ideal for everyone taking GLP-1 agonists for weight loss, here are some specific foods and strategies to consider:
Protein is a key nutrient for weight loss and can help keep you feeling full and satisfied. Include protein-rich foods such as chicken, fish, eggs, beans, tofu, and Greek yogurt in your meals and snacks.
Fiber is another nutrient that can help support weight loss by promoting feelings of fullness and reducing calorie intake. Aim to include fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes in your diet.
While it's important to limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, healthy fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish can provide important nutrients and help keep you feeling full and satisfied.
Practice mindfulness techniques such as paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues, eating slowly and without distractions, and savoring the flavors and textures of your food. This can help you enjoy your food more, reduce overeating, and promote overall health and well-being.
In conclusion, the ideal diet for people taking GLP-1 agonists has been well-researched however may be a big change for most people looking to lose weight on their medication. The best course of action is to ease into the calorie deficit and adjust as needed to create a lasting lifestyle modification. Along with diet, remember to incorporate an exercise regimen of 20-30 minutes of exercise per day and consider reaching out to a dietician for guidance. Lastly, it's not just what we eat that matters but how we eat. Along with including high protein and high fiber foods in our diets, try adjusting portion size and trying mindful eating to improve satiety.
If you would like to learn more about GLP-1 medications or want to see if you might be eligible for medication-assisted weight loss, check out Mochi Health, where board-certified obesity medicine physicians can offer expertise in this realm!
Dr. Constantine Joseph Pella, MD
Boston University Medical Center