Ask LH: Do I Need To See A Doctor Before Changing My Diet?

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Dear Lifehacker, In the past, I've assumed most doctors are charlatans, and only visited them in matter of dire emergency (needing a sick note for work, week-long flu, etc.). I am now reaching a point in my life where my body and mind are getting older and I am reconsidering past decisions.

I have a few health problems – I am overweight and I live a lifestyle that makes type 2 diabetes quite likely. I currently weigh in at about 120kgs and I am the largest person I know. About a year ago I went on a mission and managed to lose 20 kilos over four months - but then during a holiday I had that first bite of KFC in over a year and it was over! I did it the next night and the next til I went home. Fast forward to today and I have put even more weight on and I now have a closet full of clothes that no longer fit.

So here's the thing. I have read on numerous fitness sites that you should see a doctor before embarking on a diet or fitness plan, to make sure you are not going to hurt yourself in the process. How important is it that I seek medical advice before trying again? And how do I find the right doctor for me? In the past, I've tended to see whoever was available at a medical centre. Any advice? Thanks, Weight Lifting

Dear WL,

Given your health issues and age, you should definitely seek out a health professional before you even think of hitting the gym. Start off by getting a general check-up to assess if there's anything wrong with you.

A GP will be able to give you a complete health assessment so ring up the doctors' clinics in your local area and find one who is willing to take on new patients. (To help your chances, mention your diabetes concerns during the call.)

During the visit, you're going to get asked a lot of personal questions such as eating patterns, weight history, smoking/drinking habits, your family's history of heart disease and any medications/drugs you’re currently using. From your post it sounds like you don't particularly trust doctors, but these questions are designed to help.

We wouldn't be too concerned about finding the "right" doctor either. If it turns out you do have type 2 diabetes or something similarly serious, you'll probably be referred to a specialist who will be specifically trained to provide the best treatment.

To further put your mind at ease, a recent study showed that just three percent of doctors account for nearly half of all registered complaints in Australia. In other words, your chances of landing one of these bad apples are incredibly small. That said, it's probably still worth asking local friends and family members for an unbiased opinion of the doctors in your area.

When you get down to it, the most important factor is how well they communicate — if you feel the doctor could be explaining things better or more warmly, simply move onto someone else.

As for weight loss itself, we'd suggest dietary improvements combined with a simple exercise plan to start with, such as walking more often. Your doctor will be able to offer more specific advice here, but as long as you don't attempt a ludicrous Biggest Loser-style exertion fest, the risks should be relatively small.

If you're serious about getting healthy, you might also want to hire a personal trainer or nutritionist who will be able to tailor an exercise regime and diet that fits your specific requirements. The more structure and guidance you have, the faster the results are likely to be.

For a more cost-effective approach, you can check out the scores of weight-loss tips on our website by clicking here. You can also find highly useful advice via the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines (PDF). Good luck with it all!

Cheers Lifehacker

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