Order prescription weight loss tablets in the UK

Weight loss tablets will help you lose those pounds faster, especially when used in addition to a healthy, balanced diet and a regular exercise plan.


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Virginia Chachati

Reviewed by Virginia Chachati MPharm
(2013, University College London)
GPhC Registration number: 2087654

Information last reviewed 07/04/21

About

What causes obesity?

The leading causes of obesity are diet and lifestyle. Overeating, or eating too much of foods that are high in fats and sugars, leads to energy being stored as fat, particularly when combined with a lack of physical activity. A poor diet is often defined by the following factors:

  • Eating larger portions than necessary
  • Eating large amounts of processed and fast foods which are high in fat and sugar
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Drinking sugary drinks, such as fizzy drinks, soft drinks and fruit juices
  • Eating out too often; food served in restaurants is often high in fat, sugar and salt, and people are often tempted to eat a starter and dessert in addition to their main meal
  • Comfort eating or eating out of boredom

A lack of physical activity or exercise is another leading cause of obesity. It can be hard to find the time to exercise regularly if you are busy with work. The Department of Health recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, running, or fast walking, every week.

Obesity can also have genetic roots or underlying medical conditions which contribute. Certain genetic traits make some people more prone to putting on weight than others. Obesity that runs in families is often more to do with environmental factors and learned habits, such as a poor diet and low incentive to exercise. Underlying medical conditions that may contribute to obesity include having an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) and Cushing’s syndrome. Treatments are available so the impact of these conditions on weight gain can be effectively reduced.

What are the risks of being overweight?

Obesity can lead to severe or even life-threatening health complications. People who are obese are at a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, suffering a stroke, coronary heart disease and certain types of cancer such as breast or bowel cancer. Obesity can also affect your quality of life and have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing.

Am I overweight/obese?

The most common way to define obesity is by calculating your body mass index (BMI). Your BMI calculation is not clear-cut as it does not take into account body composition, but it is helpful in measuring whether a person is a healthy weight for their size. An adult with a BMI of 30 to 39.9 is generally considered to be obese, while a BMI of 40 or above is deemed morbidly obese. Excess fat can also be measured by measuring your waist. 

Who can use weight loss tablets?

Weight loss tablets should only be used under the advice of a doctor, and are only prescribed where efforts to lose weight through diet and exercise have previously failed. A doctor will only prescribe a weight loss medicine where the patient has a BMI of 30 or above, or a BMI of 28 or above combined with weight-related health risks such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

How effective are weight loss tablets?

Prescription weight loss tablets are only effective when taken in combination with a low-calorie diet and whilst following a regular exercise plan. Their effectiveness differs from patient to patient, and they are only prescribed where attempts at making lifestyle changes have been made but failed to achieve sufficient results.

Are weight loss tablets safe?

Weight loss tablets should only be taken on the recommendation of a doctor and are only considered safe and effective when accessed on prescription, such as Xenical or orlistat. Only one approved weight loss medicine, Alli, can be purchased over the counter at a pharmacy. You can use meal replacement products as weight loss aids. However, weight loss tablets that claim to help you lose weight fast should be avoided as there is no evidence they are safe to use without the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Treatment

Prescription vs over the counter weight loss tablets

The only safe and effective weight loss medicine is Orlistat (also known as Xenical 120 mg per capsule), and it needs to be prescribed by a doctor. Alli (orlistat 60 mg per capsule) can be purchased over the counter at a pharmacy under the supervision of a pharmacist. However, other slimming products often lack clinical evidence to suggest they are effective. Avoid products that promise a ‘quick fix', although meal replacement products can help maintain a dietary calorie deficit. If you are going to buy a weight loss product, speak to a healthcare professional for advice. Try to lose weight by making sustainable long-term changes to your lifestyle. Remember, no weight-loss product will help if you maintain a high calorie diet.

How to use weight loss tablets?

The only safe and effective weight loss medicine available on prescription in the UK is orlistat, also known as Xenical. Orlistat is effective when taken in combination with a calorie-controlled diet, in addition to following a regular exercise program. One capsule should be swallowed directly before, during, or within an hour of each of your three main meals per day. If you miss a meal, or have a fat-free meal, you do not need to take a capsule. For best results, you should avoid snacking on fat-containing foods in between meals. If you forget to take a capsule, try and take it within an hour of finishing your meal. If an hour has already passed, just skip the dose and take your next capsule at your next meal time. You should never take a double dose to make up for a missed one.

Setting healthy weight loss goals

To lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, you should aim to lose about 0.5 to 1 kg, or 1 to 2 lb, per week. Losing too much weight too quickly can negatively affect your health, so it is important to set yourself short term achievable goals. Try joining a weight loss group for support, or speak to a healthcare professional for advice on setting your personal weight loss goals.

Alternatives to weight loss tablets

To lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, you will need to change your diet and exercise regularly. You should avoid diets that encourage you to cut out entire food groups, as they can make you feel unwell and do not help you establish eating habits that are long-term, sustainable and healthy. Try to limit your portion sizes and don’t be overly restrictive about what you can and can’t eat. Set yourself achievable goals and concentrate on sustainable weight loss. Eat slowly and avoid situations or distractions that might result in overeating. Accompany your diet plan with a regular exercise programme that includes aerobic exercise and strength training. You may need to start off slowly and build up your strength and endurance, so speak to your healthcare professional to work out a diet and exercise plan that is right for you. Weight loss tablets will only be prescribed where efforts to lose weight through lifestyle changes have been unsuccessful.

Lifestyle changes to help you lose weight

Making changes to your lifestyle is an effective and sustainable way to lose weight. This includes:

  • Eating a balanced, low-calorie diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, essential fats, dairy, meat, fish and eggs. Limit your intake of salt and try to avoid fatty or processed foods. A doctor or dietitian can help you plan a diet that suits your needs.
  • Eating slowly and focusing on enjoying your meal. Try to avoid situations in which you might be tempted to eat too much.
  • Doing a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This can include running, cycling, swimming or brisk walking. Joining a local gym that organizes community exercise classes can help turn the process into an enjoyable, social activity.
  • Joining a local weight loss group.

Eating a healthy diet

The NHS considers a safe and sustainable rate of losing weight to be 0.5 to 1 kg, or 1 lb to 2 lb, per week. To achieve this, most adults will need to reduce their energy intake by 600 calories per day and to swap out high-fat and high-sugar choices for healthier options. A healthy diet should only contain a small number of foods that are high in fat and sugar. Aim to include plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, starchy foods, dairy, meat, fish, eggs and other non-dairy protein sources. You should limit your salt intake to below the recommended maximum of 6 g per day, as a high salt intake can cause high blood pressure. Where possible, try to cook meals for yourself, as ready meals tend to contain high levels of fat, salt and sugar. Eating out is fine when you don’t do it too often, but if you are making an effort to lose weight you will need to choose healthier options and make sure you know what is going into your food.

What should I eat for the best results on weight loss tablets?

Prescription weight loss tablets, such as orlistat, work by blocking the enzyme lipase, which is responsible for the breakdown and absorption of fat. This means that a third of the fat you consume will be removed from your body in your stools rather than be absorbed. Therefore, orlistat should only be taken with a meal that contains fat, otherwise, it will have no effect. Whilst taking orlistat, your diet should be well-balanced and you should only get about 30 % of your calories from fat. Try to spread your daily intake of fat, carbohydrates and protein evenly across each of your three main meals per day. Avoid snacking on high-fat foods, such as chocolates, biscuits, sweets, cakes and crisps, between meals.

How to start to change your diet?

The transition to a healthy, balanced diet can be difficult, so it is useful to have a structured plan. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional if you are planning to change your diet and exercise regularly. The NHS recommends losing weight at a rate of 0.5 to 1 kg per week for safe and sustainable weight loss, meaning most adults will have to reduce their daily calorie intake by about 600 calories. Set yourself goals for gradual weight loss and do your best to meet them. Fnd focus on sustainable weight loss rather than losing as much as you can in the shortest amount of time.

How to start exercising?

Always speak to a healthcare professional before starting a regular exercise programme. If you are new to regular exercise, you may need to start slowly and build up your body’s strength and endurance. Pushing your body to its limits can negatively affect your health, particularly if you are dieting at the same time. Try to build a sustainable exercise plan which gradually becomes more challenging as your fitness levels improve.

How much exercise should I do for the best results on weight loss tablets?

In general, you are recommended to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, but this may differ from person to person when it comes to weight loss. You may need to start off slowly and increase your level of exercise as your body becomes accustomed to the change. Pushing your body too hard and too quickly can negatively affect your health, particularly in combination with a low-calorie diet. Before you start taking any weight loss medicine, a healthcare professional or dietitian will help work out a diet and exercise plan that is right for you.

What types of exercise help most with weight loss?

A good workout contains different types of exercise in order to build up your overall fitness and help you lose weight. Aerobic exercise, also called cardiovascular exercise, such as running, swimming, cycling or walking quickly, is the core of most weight-loss exercise programmes as they build up your endurance and keep your heart healthy. Exercises that involve lifting weights help to strengthen your body by stimulating muscle growth and increasing bone density. Keep in mind that exercise must be combined with a calorie-reduced diet to help with weight loss.

How many calories should I realistically aim to burn when losing weight?

When losing weight, calorie control is important in relation to your diet. However, you should not focus too much on the number of calories you burn. The goal of the exercise is to improve your overall fitness, boost your metabolism and strengthen your body, as a strong, active body will burn more calories at rest on a daily basis and help you maintain a healthy weight. Remember, your body needs calories to stay alive and maintain good health. You should avoid using exercise as a way to compensate for the meals you have eaten. 

Can laxatives be safely used to aid weight loss?

Taking laxatives is not an effective or safe way to lose weight. Easing or increasing bowel movements does not lead to long-term weight loss, and any weight loss in the short term is likely to be due to their effect of pulling water into your intestines to allow for easier stool passage. Excessive use of laxatives can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, gastrointestinal damage, malnutrition, deficiencies or dependency (lazy bowel).

When is weight loss surgery a good option?

Weight loss surgery may be recommended by a doctor as a last resort for patients who are struggling with morbid obesity. It is only an option for patients who:

  • Have tried all non-surgical measures of weight loss under the supervision of a doctor without sufficient results
  • Have a BMI of 40 or above, or have a BMI of 35 to 40 in combination with a serious health condition that would benefit from weight loss, such as diabetes or high blood pressure 
  • Are fit enough to undergo anaesthesia and surgery
  • Are prepared to commit to long-term follow up and lifestyle changes

Are weight loss retreats and bootcamps worthwhile?

Weight loss retreats and bootcamps can be worthwhile. It can be helpful to start your weight loss process away from home in order to get some distance from your old lifestyle habits and temptations. Many retreats offer programmes and services tailored to your needs. Make sure to develop sustainable eating habits and an exercise routine that you can carry on with when you go back home.

Q&A

What is BMI?

BMI stands for body mass index and refers to a person’s weight in relation to their height. The BMI serves as a rough guide of what is considered a healthy weight for your height. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 to 24.9. However, BMI is not always reliable as it does not take into consideration a person’s body composition.

What happens to the fat you lose?

When you lose weight, excess fat is broken down into carbon dioxide and water. Water can be reabsorbed by the body or is excreted in urine, faeces, sweat and other bodily fluids. You exhale carbon dioxide through your lungs.

What time of day should I eat to reduce weight gain?

Your total calories for each day are more important than the time of day that you eat them. Try to maintain a daily calorie deficit to reduce weight gain. The best time to eat depends entirely on your lifestyle and daily activity. You can try to work out which mealtimes work best for you in terms of staying full for longer and resisting snacking.

Are over the counter weight loss supplements safe and effective?

Weight loss supplements should only be used following a consultation with a healthcare professional. Before purchasing any over the counter weight loss supplements, make sure to talk to a pharmacist for advice to determine whether they are safe or effective. Weight loss supplements do not replace the need for a healthy calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise.

Why do I need to exercise if I’m on a diet?

Exercise is the best way to maintain a healthy weight. Dieting without exercise is unwise, as it will make it harder to keep off the lost weight, and cause you to feel weak. Crash dieting in particular can cause the body to burn muscle instead of fat and can negatively affect your health. Sustainable weight loss requires a healthy diet and regular exercise.

How does my metabolism affect my weight?

Metabolism refers to the process within which your body converts what you eat or drink into energy. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body needs to stay alive and function properly. The metabolic rate differs according to age, sex, size and body composition. If you are eating too much and not exercising enough, the excess calories you consume are not needed for energy and will be stored as fat. Muscle requires more energy to maintain than fat stores, so losing excess fat and increasing your muscle mass will speed up your metabolism by increasing the amount of energy required for your body to carry out its basic functions.

Does weight loss slow with age?

Losing weight tends to get harder as you get older. This is often due to changes in lifestyle, such as a stressful work life which leaves little time for exercise or conscious eating. Retirement can dramatically reduce the amount of physical activity in your day-to-day life. As you get older, your muscle tissue naturally diminishes and your body becomes less efficient at replenishing damaged muscle cells. At this stage, your body requires less energy and is more likely to store excess calories as fat. Wear and tear to muscles and joints can cause people to feel less agile with age, and exercise becomes more of a challenge.

How does menopause affect weight loss?

Most women experience some weight gain with menopause. The natural decrease in oestrogen levels causes your metabolic rate to slow down and your body uses starch and glucose less effectively, which can increase fat storage. Regular exercise can help to control weight gain after menopause, as well as improving your overall health, but will need to be maintained to have long term results. Exercising with weights is especially important for building muscle mass, strengthening your bones and improving your metabolism.

How does PCOS affect weight loss?

Women who suffer from the hormonal disorder polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) often struggle with weight gain. PCOS can cause insulin resistance, which means the body has difficulty using the hormone insulin to convert sugars from food into energy. As a result, insulin and glucose can build up in the bloodstream. These high levels of insulin trigger an increase in the production of androgens, which can cause hair growth, acne, irregular periods and weight gain.

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