Video: Pills work best with dieting, exercise

By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/16/2005 7:36:48 PM ET 2005-11-17T00:36:48

Stacy Borans is a doctor herself. She knows all about healthy eating. But she had never been able to lose weight with a diet — or diet pills.

"I got into the, 'Nothing's ever going to work for me. And I'm just, you know, going to give up,'" she says, laughing.

So she enrolled in a study at the University of Pennsylvania that used a combination approach, and she lost 60 pounds.

Tom Wadden, Ph.D., is the director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

"The mistake that has been made," saysWadden, "is that people expect the medications to act alone without an individual trying to change their diet and physical activity."

The study combined a weight loss drug called Meridia, which has been on the market for eight years with modest success, and a behavior modification program in which people attended counseling sessions to change their eating habits, such as taking smaller portions.

Over a year, people who just took the drug lost an average of 11 pounds. Those enrolled in behavioral modification alone lost 13 pounds. But those who got both lost 27 pounds.

Borans says that the counseling sessions, along with a food journal, made it easier to lose weight.

"I think it keeps you honest," says Borans, "And so it's harder to cheat when you're doing that."

She says the drug has also been critical for keeping the weight off, adding, "It eliminated a lot of the cravings for chocolate and french fries and, you know, pizza."

Weight loss drugs have a troubled history. Amphetamines can be addictive. Fen-Phen caused heart problems. But experts says Meridia could be the first of a new generation of weight loss medicines that could prove safe — and effective — especially when combined with proper dieting and exercise.

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