Alternatives to weight loss surgery

Alternatives to weight loss surgery may include lifestyle changes like diet, exercise and possibly weight-loss medication.

Losing excess weight can boost your health in many ways. But you may not need surgery to do this. Many benefits can be achieved by losing just 5% of your body weight. These include reducing your:

  • risk of diabetes
  • risk of heart disease
  • risk of cancer
  • blood pressure
  • triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood).

Other benefits of modest weight loss include:

  • improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin (improving blood glucose control)
  • if you’re overweight and have knee osteoarthritis, losing just 5kg can help slow disease progression
  • for people with type 2 diabetes, a low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet actually reverses the condition in 15% of people after 1 year.

How to lose weight

Weight loss sounds simple: You need to consume less energy (in the form of food and drinks) than you use. In practice, this can be difficult as your body fights to keep the weight on. There are lots of diet myths that can be quite confusing. Also, it’s quite common to react to emotional stress in your life by eating and drinking more than you planned to.

To lose weight you need to:

  • eat the right amounts of healthy foods
  • be more physically active
  • build muscle (because muscle burns more energy than fat)
  • make lifestyle changes that you can stick to so you can maintain your weight loss.

Talk to your GP before beginning a weight loss program, especially if you have health problems or you’re taking medication. Other medical professionals who can help you include dietitians, physiotherapists, exercise physiologists and psychologists.

Weight loss programs can help too, and you may be able to claim for this on your health insurance, depending on your type and level of cover.

Choose healthier foods

Eating the right amount of healthy food is essential. Fad diets that cause rapid weight loss aren’t sustainable in the long term so you’re likely to regain weight afterwards.

Talk to your doctor or a dietitian for advice on reducing weight gradually and permanently. Only make the changes you can live with and incorporate into your lifestyle.

Be more physically active

Regular physical activity is an important part of any weight loss program. It can also enhance your mood and cognition, strengthen your heart and muscles, improve your balance and boost your self-esteem. Another benefit is increased endorphins — your body’s natural painkillers.

Physical activity can be challenging if you’re not used to it. But academic studies reveal that small amounts of physical activity, even at low intensity or speed, can make a big difference. For example, running, even 5-10 minutes a day less then 10km/h, markedly reduced risks of death from all causes. For those who don’t do much physical activity, it’s encouraging to know that it’s novice runners who reap the most benefit from regular 10-minute jogs. Once you get moving and your fitness improves, you’ll need to increase the pace and intensity. 

One way to progress without spending too much more time on your feet is to try the 10-20-30 approach to running. This is an interval training routine devised by Danish scientists that involves jogging gently for 30 seconds, accelerating to a moderate pace for 20 seconds, then sprinting as hard as you can for 10 seconds. Repeat five times, rest for two minutes, and repeat five times again, twice a week. This session takes 12 minutes to complete. 

If this isn't for you, try and find an activity you enjoy that doesn't overtax your joints. 

Water aerobics is popular among dieters and is easy on the joints. If you’re unsure about it, try watching a class first to see if it looks right for you.

If you enjoy walking, try and find someone to walk with, to make it more interesting. Or maybe walk someone’s dog for them. It may help to walk with a goal in mind: going to the café, park or shops. You could also join a walking group.

Mall walking is another popular activity. Some shopping malls have groups that meet and walk circuits in the early morning. It’s a great way to exercise comfortably and get social support.

Join a gym. People of all shapes, sizes and ages work out in gyms. Most gyms have personal trainers who can design an effective program for you and encourage you if your motivation lags. 

You may be able to claim for exercise and gym programs through your health insurance if you have extras cover. Your doctor will need to approve and sign off on the program.

If your BMI is over 28, and you have diabetes, cardiovascular disease or osteoarthritis in your hips or knees, you may be able to claim for the Healthy Weight For Life program through HCF hospital cover. This 18-week program includes a healthy eating plan (including meal replacements) and an easy-to-follow activity plan. Find out if you're eligible

Other alternatives

If these measures aren't working for you, you could speak to your GP about weight loss medications or whether there's a newer, less invasive procedure that might be worth trying. 

Types of weight loss surgery

Learn about the different kinds of weight loss surgery you could be offered.


Information is provided by HCF in good faith for the convenience of members. It is not an endorsement or recommendation of any form of treatment nor is it a substitute for medical advice, and you should rely on the advice of your treating doctors in relation to all matters concerning your health. Every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, however HCF takes no responsibility for any injury, loss, damage or other consequences of the use of this information.