Orlistat - Does it Really Work for Weight Loss?
Orlistat is an effective weight management treatment that can help you with your weight loss journey. Learn more about how Orlistat works.
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This content was reviewed and approved for its accuracy on 11/05/2022 by Professor Frank Joseph

Photograph of Professor Frank Joseph, weight loss expert for myBMI

Orlistat – Does it Really Work for Weight Loss?

 

Let’s be honest with ourselves — who has heard of weight loss medication and immediately thought that they’re being scammed or given something that just won’t work?

 

I’m sure I’m not the only one with my hand raised here, but it’s time we all brought our preconceptions up to date.

 

Weight loss treatments have come a long way in recent years, and the ones available on prescription and over the counter nowadays are not only effective but won’t be found in a dodgy internet ad designed to help you lose nothing but cash.

 

With that being said, Orlistat is one of the weight loss medications that seems to have raised a lot of questions, especially about its effectiveness.

 

This is why we’re going to take some time today to look into how Orlistat actually works and why it can help you lose weight.

 

What do Orlistat capsules do?

 

Orlistat is a type of medication called a fat binder, and it does exactly what it says on the tin.

 

When you take Orlistat capsules the active ingredient binds to the fat in your food so it can’t be digested and is passed from your body.

 

The excess fat is passed through your poo, which is why one of the most common side effects of this medication is oily or fatty poo.

 

This symptom can be reduced by eating less fat or spreading your daily fat intake out more evenly throughout your daily meals.

 

How does Orlistat work?

 

So, Orlistat binds to fat and passes it from your body — why will that help you shed the pounds?

 

When you take Orlistat capsules, around a third of the fat in your meals is unable to be digested, effectively reducing your fat intake and therefore, the calories your body has to use.

 

Another reason why this medication is so effective is that you will usually need to change your diet so you’re not taking in more fat than Orlistat can handle.

 

During your treatment, you should eat a diet that contains an average of 30% of calories from fat.

 

For many, this is a lower-fat diet than they may usually eat, meaning a lower calorie intake which will naturally contribute to your weight loss.

 

Pair this lower-calorie diet with regular exercise and your efforts should add up to a steady loss that will get you to a healthy weight.

 

How long does it take to work?

 

Orlistat works right away, binding to the fat in your food from your very first dose.

 

However, this doesn’t mean you’ll lose a lot of weight immediately.

 

Slow and steady always wins the race with weight loss, and Orlistat will help you to reduce your calorie intake for a gradual and sustained loss, rather than causing an unrealistically fast drop.

 

If you’re the impatient type who wants results immediately this may be a little disheartening, but trust us, a steady weight loss of around a pound a week is always the best option.

 

The slower pace will help you to develop better habits around your diet and exercise routines, which will help you maintain your weight loss after you reach a healthy weight and end your treatment.

 

How much weight will I lose?

 

If Orlistat is the right treatment for you, you should see a loss of 5% of your starting body weight within 12 weeks of starting treatment.

 

To put this into perspective, if you start your journey at 220lbs, you should lose around 11lbs within this 12 week period.

 

After this time, your prescriber or pharmacist will usually want to check in and see how your progress is going, whether you’re on track to hit your 5% loss target, and whether you’re having any side effects.

 

This will help your healthcare team to make sure you’re taking the right treatment for you and will be an opportunity for you to ask them any questions you may have about your weight loss journey so far.

 

Does Orlistat burn existing fat?

 

Orlistat doesn’t do anything to the fat cells that are already in your body but binds to the fat in your food.

 

This helps to reduce your calorie intake, leaving your body to use the fat you have stored for energy.

 

When you eat more calories than your body needs, it’s stored to use later as fat — this is why you gain weight in the first place.

 

By making your body use up these fat stores by reducing your calorie intake over a long period of time, you can lose weight slowly and sustainably.

 

Does Orlistat work if I’m not eating any calories?

 

Orlistat only works when there is dietary fat in the food you’re eating — it doesn’t work if there are no calories in your food.

 

If you’re eating food with no calories or are skipping a meal for some reason then you will not need to take this medication, as there’s nothing for it to do!

 

Of course, we don’t recommend that you do this often — a healthy balanced diet is essential and a balanced diet includes some fats.

 

It’s best to break up your fat intake between the meals you’re going to eat every day, as this will give Orlistat a chance to work without leaving too much undigested fat to be passed through your system.

 

Do Orlistat, Alli and Xenical all work in the same way?

 

Orlistat is an active ingredient which is used in brand name treatments including Alli, Xenical, and Orlos.

 

This means that all of these treatments, including generic Orlistat capsules, work in the exact same way and are usually available in the same strengths.

 

The only major difference you’re likely to notice is how you can obtain these medications.

 

Although Alli, Xenical, Orlos and some other products which contain Orlistat are all available over the counter from pharmacies, Xenical is only available on prescription.

 

This is due to the strength of the capsules you’ll be given — prescription Orlistat can be given in 60mg or 120mg capsules, whereas over the counter options are only available in 60mg capsules.

 

 

We hope we’ve cleared up some of the myths surrounding Orlistat and made you feel more confident in your weight loss treatment.

 

Remember, always obtain weight loss treatments from a reputable health care professional (you can find our credentials here) so you can be sure that you’re getting the right medication for you.

 

If you’re still unsure about weight loss medication and would like to learn more, we think you’ll love our other articles!

 

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