Bariatric Medicine Doctor: Your Weight Loss Specialist

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What is a bariatrician?

A bariatric medicine doctor specializes in treating obesity and obesity-related diseases and conditions. Bariatricians provide medical, nonsurgical weight management. They focus on the overall health needs of people who are overweight (body mass index, or BMI, between 25 and 29.9) or obese (BMI of 30 or greater).

A bariatric specialist typically: 

  • Evaluates your medical history including your previous attempts at weight loss

  • Performs a physical exam

  • Orders and interprets laboratory tests, EKGs (electrocardiograms), and body composition analyses

  • Diagnoses and treats obesity and weight-related health conditions

  • Prescribes medications and exercise therapy

  • Recommends dietary modifications and behavioral modification therapy

  • Provides referrals to weight loss surgeons

Bariatric medicine doctors may also be known by the following names: bariatrician, bariatric specialist, diet doctor, or weight loss doctor.

Who should see a bariatrician?

You should consider seeing a weight loss specialist if you are overweight or obese and are ready to lose weight. Your body mass index (BMI) is a common way of defining overweight and obesity. Your BMI is a measure that uses both your height and weight. You are overweight if your BMI is between 25 and 29.9 kg/m2. You are obese if your BMI is 30 kg/m2 or greater.

A board-certified bariatrician has the expertise you need for medical and nonsurgical weight loss. If you are ready to see this type of specialist, talk with your primary care doctor for a referral. You should also check with your insurance company to see if you need a referral. To do your own research and set up an appointment, search for qualified bariatric medicine specialists who have good patient reviews.

When should you see a bariatrician?

A bariatrician can help if you have any of the following situations or conditions: 

  • You want to lose weight and are willing to make lifestyle changes.

  • You have tried various weight loss programs on your own without long-lasting success.

  • You have two or more risk factors for major obesity-related complications including coronary artery disease (CAD), high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

  • You often binge and feel distressed and out of control while overeating.

  • Your BMI is greater than 25.

Your waist circumference measures greater than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women

What does a bariatrician treat?

A bariatric specialist provides medical weight management for people who are overweight or obese. These specialists are more than diet doctors. Bariatric specialists are often family or internal medicine doctors with additional training. They provide a full spectrum of medical and preventive care for weight-related conditions and diseases including:

What does a bariatrician test?

A bariatric medicine doctor can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests including:

  • Body composition analyses including electrical bioimpedance, anthropomorphic measurements (using skin folds, limb circumference, and bone dimension), underwater weighing, and DEXA scan (bone density test)

  • Electrocardiograms record your heart rhythm

  • Laboratory tests including blood tests, urine tests, liver function tests, kidney function tests, cholesterol panels, and thyroid hormone levels

What procedures and treatments does a bariatrician do?

Bariatric specialists order or perform various procedures and medical treatments to manage obesity and weight-related health conditions. However, a bariatric medicine doctor is not a surgeon. If you need weight loss surgery, your doctor will refer you to a surgeon.

Common bariatric medicine procedures and treatments include: 

  • Behavior modification and counseling including self-monitoring, stress management, stimulus control, problem solving, contingency management (rewarding desirable behavior), cognitive restructuring, and social support

  • Dietary modification including calorie reduction, portion size control, and long-term changes in food choices

  • Exercise and physical activity including structured exercise programs, participation in sports, household
    chores that increase activity, and changes in habits such as using stairs when possible

  • Medications including liraglutide (Saxenda), lorcaserin(Belviq), and orlistat (Alli, Xenical), among others

Bariatrician training and certification

To find a highly qualified weight loss doctor, look for a doctor who is board certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM, formerly American Board of Bariatric Medicine). A doctor may practice bariatric medicine without becoming board certified in the specialty, but certification verifies that a doctor has the knowledge, skills and experience to provide excellent care.

A board-certified bariatric medicine doctor is an MD or DO who has completed onsite fellowship training or continuing medical education in obesity medicine. The doctor must also pass a written exam for ABOM certification.

To maintain board certification in obesity medicine, a doctor must complete a recertification exam every 10 years.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 21
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  4. Qualifications for Certification: Fellowship Pathway. http://www.abom.org/eligibility-cme-pathway