Helping your customers manage their weight

The growing number of consumers seeking smarter diet and lifestyle solutions to improve personal health means there are plenty of people coming into your pharmacy looking for assistance. As a pharmacy assistant, you need to ensure the information that you supply to your customers is quality information supported by evidence. The information you provide should be consistent with national guidelines and emphasise the importance of a balanced diet and regular exercise.

How much do you know about food and what is considered a healthy weight? Just as someone can be considered unhealthy for being overweight, someone else could be considered underweight and therefore also unhealthy. This article will cover the basics of weight management and how you can assist your customers.

The basics: the components of food
Everything we put in our bodies can make a difference to our health. The components found in food are protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, water and fibre, and each are either a macronutrient or a micronutrient.

Macronutrients supply us with energy, we pull that energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. When we eat more macronutrients than we need, it’s converted by our body into fat. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, but protein and fats are used too. In fact, some people need more protein as an energy source than others: breastfeeding women, adolescents, men and those recovering from illness.

As you may have guessed, micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals our bodies absorb and are required in small amounts so your body can regulate and control body processes.

Many people have difficulty in finding the right balance of macronutrients and micronutrients, which can lead to a range of issues, including weight gain or loss; more serious issues such as Type 2 Diabetes or heart disease; and general feelings of being tired and unwell. Understanding your right balance of food through looking at your diet is a great place to start.

What does a healthy diet look like?
A healthy diet is made up of a variety of foods, including fruit, vegetables, cereals, dairy and proteins. But, how much depends on a person’s age and lifestyle.

An example of what a person aged over 4 years may eat:

Number of serves Serving example
Bread/cereals/rice/pasta/noodles Between 3 and 12 2 slices of bread or 1 cup of rice
Vegetables Between 2 and 9 1 cup of salad or ½ a cup of cooked vegetables
Fruit Between 1 and 5 a medium-sized apple or 2 tablespoons of dried fruit
Dairy Between 2 and 5 1 cup of milk or a small tub of yoghurt
Meat/fish/poultry/eggs/nuts/legumes Between ½ and 2 2 eggs or 1 fish fillet or 2 slices of roast meat

You’ll notice that biscuits, cakes and chocolate don’t make it onto the list – while we love to eat them, they should only be eaten occasionally and in small amounts as they contain a lot of salt, sugar and fat (all those extra macronutrients we don’t need).

The Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013 has listed these important principles as a starting point for a balanced, healthy lifestyle:

  1. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.
  2. Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five food groups every day.
  3. Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
  4. Encourage and support breastfeeding.
  5. Care for your food and store it safely.

It is also important to remind customers of the importance of water! Whatever nutritional plan they are on, they need to drink plenty of water – 1.5-2 litres a day (8 glasses) a day at a minimum, more when it is hot or during exercise.

So how can you help?
In the market currently, there is a huge range of weight management options available in community pharmacy:

  • Medicine therapy, such as Xenical (S3) or some prescription only options.
  • Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCDs) or meal replacements – many pharmacies have their own brands as well as well-known brands like Optifast.
  • Educational patient change models.
  • Weight gain products such as, Sustagen, Ensure and Enlive Plus are commonly available.
  • Pathology reviewed.

In many cases, just one of these options on their own won’t necessarily do the job, so recommending a combination of the above may be the solution. You may even be able to suggest complementary medicines or health products that will help them with the weight management process. For example, if one of your regular customers comes in each week to buy their meal replacement products, take a few minutes to chat with them about their progress and see if they may need something else – they might find a fibre supplement useful if they haven’t been feeling quite regular with their new eating plan.

When deciding which of these to recommend to your customer, you need to follow pharmacy protocols such as, Ask, Assess, Advise. For example:

  • Ask if the product is for the customer or for someone else.
  • Ask the age of the person the product is for.
  • Ask if the customer has tried any other products.
  • Ask if they have any other health conditions.
  • Ask what medications the customer takes.
  • Ask if they know their BMI.

Whether someone is trying to lose weight or gain it, it is important to understand the customer’s lifestyle so you can recommend the best product for them. These questions will help you assess what that person may need to get them started. You may even be able to help them in other ways – perhaps they haven’t had their blood pressure checked in a while or they haven’t been sleeping well so a discussion about sleep apnoea would be relevant.

This article is based on a Certificate IV in Community Pharmacy unit, SIRPPKS015A Provide information, products and services on diet, nutrition and weight management.

Is health and nutrition an area you’d like to learn more about? A Certificate IV in Community Pharmacy can give you the knowledge you need. For more information or to enrol visit the website.

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