GLP-1 agonist medications prescribed for weight loss, such as Wegovy and Saxenda, are intended to be combined with diet and exercise for optimal results.
“General lifestyle interventions are always going to be essential for weight loss,” says Dr. Tina Wu, Sunrise’s Medical Lead. “So, for both short- and long-term success it's crucial to make diet and exercise changes.”
Starting GLP-1 treatment is a good opportunity to “reset” your lifestyle habits in order to set yourself up for success in your weight-loss journey. Here are some practical tips to help you make the most of this next phase.
The first step to success is committing to a diet- and exercise regimen before you start GLP-1 treatment.
“I tell my patients to start with small, achievable changes because making a dramatic lifestyle change at any point is probably not going to work long term,” Dr. Wu says.
While you should be ready to change your eating habits, you don’t need to say goodbye to all your favorite foods. “If a patient can’t give up a certain food, I would never tell them to do so — especially if it has an ethnic or cultural meaning and it’s something they eat all the time,” says Dr. Wu.
And, while people might evangelize about diets that have worked for them, you shouldn’t feel obligated to follow any specific diet.
“There’s no diet in particular that is the best,” says Dr. Wu. “Whichever calorie-reduced diet [a patient] thinks they can adhere to long-term is the one that they should be on.”
But, no matter how realistic and practical your new meal plan is, you should be prepared to make dietary tweaks on the fly. Everyone reacts to GLP-1 medications differently, and you might find that feeling your best requires modifying your eating habits — e.g., by eating more or less of certain types of foods, reducing portion sizes, changing your meal times or even just upping your water intake.
The most common side effects from GLP-1 medications are nausea/vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues, namely abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea and acid reflux. Some patients never experience side effects, while others might only encounter side effects during their first couple of weeks of treatment, Dr. Wu notes. Others might have side effects each time they increase their dosage. If you need to adjust your diet to mitigate side effects, the specific side effects you have (and how persistent or bothersome they are) will determine which adjustments you make.
Every aspect of a weight-loss treatment plan should be individualized, including the diet you follow. Other patients are a valuable source of advice, but if you need help figuring out the right diet for you, a licensed dietitian can work with you to design a meal plan that meets your nutritional needs, personal circumstances and preferences.
As far as implementing an exercise routine, Dr. Wu encourages choosing an activity that you’re excited about. That means something you’re likely to stick with on a long-term basis and do for the recommended amount of time each week — 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
“The goal is to get patients moving again,” says Dr. Wu. “I’ll usually ask them what they can see themselves doing consistently, and we go from there.”
If you’re unsure which activity would be a good fit for you, take advantage of trial classes at different fitness chains, or check out (typically free) resources like YouTube and personal training apps. Walking is also great exercise, and a great way to start working out if you’re not sure how.
Before starting a new exercise routine, though, check in with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you.
If you have limitations when it comes to physical activity. Dr. Wu says adjusting diet alone can be effective while taking a GLP-1 drug: “For patients who aren’t able to exercise, we just focus on their diet and what progress they can make on the medication. Definitely do not start an exercise routine if it causes pain or could be harmful to you.”
And, in some cases, weight loss achieved through medication and dieting can relieve joint stress to the point where exercise becomes possible.
To help you kick off your reset, here are some examples of low-fat, calorie-reduced recipes (per the FDA’s definitions) as well as beginner’s exercises.
Note: These recipes are not intended to serve as a complete meal plan — they’re just suggestions to try out and consider incorporating into your own customized diet regimen. Typically, reducing your intake by 500 calories per day will lead to a weight loss of up to 1/2 pound to 1 pound per week, though everyone is different. Do not reduce your caloric intake to less than 1200 calories per day unless you’re under the supervision of a healthcare professional. For help creating a meal plan that meets your daily nutritional needs, consult a registered dietitian.
Sweet Potato Hash with Eggs
285 calories and 7.5 grams of fat per serving
Source: American Heart Association
Blue Cheese, Walnut & Spinach Salad
70 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving
Source: Mayo Clinic
313 calories and 2 grams of fat per serving
Low-Sugar Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
213 calories and 10 grams of fat per serving
Calories: 881, fat: 23.5 grams
Start by walking for 10 to 30 minutes a day (or longer, if you’re up for it). The Wegovy website recommends pairing your walk with something you love — stroll with a friend, explore hiking trails, or listen to a podcast.
Egg White Omelet with Vegetables
149 calories and 6 grams of fat per serving
Source: Healthy Recipes
Greek Quinoa Salad
341 calories and 10.2 grams of fat per serving
Source: The Simple Veganista
Carne Asada Burritos
420 calories and 20 grams of fat per serving
Source: Eat This, Not That!
Key Lime Mason Jar Cheesecakes
127 calories and 6 grams of fat per serving
Source: Better Homes & Gardens
Opt for a workout that can be done at home or at the gym. There are countless 10-15-minute workouts online, from high-intensity interval training (HIIT) videos to something more fun, like Zumba or jazzercise. If you have any concerns about starting a new exercise routine, be sure to ask your doctor.
249 calories and 6.9 grams of fat per serving
Source: Olive Magazine
BLT Pasta Salad
332 calories and 13 grams of fat per serving
Source: BBC Good Food
Smoked Salmon Salad with Green Goddess Dressing
177 calories and 6.1 grams of fat per serving
130 calories and 9 grams of fat per serving
Source: The Big Man’s World
If you haven’t given yoga a chance yet, now’s the time. Research supports numerous health benefits of yoga, including reductions in anxiety, lower back pain and cardiovascular disease risk factors, and opportunities to practice are widely available, online and off. Check YouTube for a beginner-friendly yoga class so you can start with the basics.
WEEK 4 (& BEYOND)
170 calories and 0 grams of fat per serving
Source: The Spruce Eats
Keto Tuna Salad Cups
250 calories and 20 grams of fat per serving
Source: Food Network
Spaghetti Squash Lo Mein
149 calories and 19 grams of fat per serving
Source: Eating Well
Peanut Butter Protein Blondies
55 calories and 1.9 grams of fat per serving
Source: Hayl’s Kitchen
As previously mentioned, this reset is an opportunity for a fresh start and a great reason to experiment with new workout classes — cycling, cross-training, martial arts, pickleball, salsa dancing? The list goes on and on.
If you have trouble choosing an activity, it might be helpful to see how many calories you burn from different workouts. To learn more about exercise and energy expenditure, check out this quiz and use the accompanying calorie-burn calculator.