Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Dr. Amanda Velazquez
Jul 15, 2022 Nicole Levine
"Obesity is not a disease of willpower. Over 40% of the nation is affected, not because they're not motivated enough or they lack willpower, but because it's truly a disease."
What drew you to the field of medical weight loss?
Dr. Amanda Velazquez: I've always been passionate about nutrition. I'm Mexican American and grew up in a household with food at the center of our culture.
After I finished college with a degree in nutrition, I figured I'd go to med school and learn a lot more about nutrition, health promotion and disease prevention. But we really don't get much nutrition education in med school, and I couldn't figure out how to help my patients lose weight effectively.
So, I started exploring that more, and there was a fellowship at Boston University focused on obesity, medicine and nutrition. That gave me the education and experience to understand that obesity is a disease like any other disease, and we need to treat it that way.
What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding about obesity and weight loss?
AV: A lot of people assume that obese people have difficulty losing weight because they lack willpower. Obesity is not a disease of willpower.
This is a disease with a deep, complicated pathophysiology, just like any other medical condition. The body is trying to fight you to keep you at your highest weight, which is what we call the set point.
When people try to lose weight over and over again and are not able to maintain that weight loss, it's actually because their body is fighting against them. That's why we see so many people dealing with obesity.
Over 40% of the nation is affected, not because they're not motivated enough or they lack willpower, but because it's truly a disease.
We have better tools than ever to treat this disease. In addition to lifestyle changes, we have surgery and medications that have been developed in the past 10 years. These treatments help your body let go of that set point and not fight you so hard.
You identify as a foodie. How do you balance loving food with your profession?
AV: They're not mutually exclusive. I grew up with the idea that food is love, and I learned to cook from my mom. That was very meaningful for me because she has lived in several countries, so I got to learn a lot of different cuisines.
We always had vegetables. You know how if you don't brush your teeth, you feel a little odd that day? If I don't have a vegetable in my meal, it just feels odd to me. So that's a big part of how I eat. I noticed over time that my body felt different when I ate more prepared foods or got tons of fast food.
We went through a period that was really telling for me in high school. My mother was sick, and at the same time, the house next door caught fire. The houses in Chicago, where I grew up, are very close together, so our house had a lot of damage. We had to eat out for a year.
I really missed those home-cooked meals and being able to eat a more balanced diet. So, even when I'm eating out, I like to include lots of fruits and vegetables and make more plant-based choices.
Now I cook a lot, and I put my cooking videos on Instagram.
What foods should vegetable skeptics try?
AV: We love tempeh and crispy tofu at our house. We like putting those into a Caesar salad. We also make a lot of tacos. We get some soy chorizo, sauté a bunch of vegetables and pair it with homemade refried beans. All those things are hard to resist, even though it's all veg.
How do you unwind?
I love gardening and going to the beach. I'm a huge foodie, and I love hanging out with my cats, Bootsy and Ruellia. I also like yoga.
My husband used to tell me I need to stop going to the cat cafe to do yoga with the cats there when we have our own and I could do it at home. It's this very magical place that, pre-pandemic, you could come in, have tea and do a yoga class.
They have all these rescue cats there, ranging from kittens to seniors. And they just roam while you're doing your yoga class. Of course, 90% of us are completely distracted by the cats, so you get about three good stretches in, but you're just immersed in so much kitty love.
And you can adopt the kitties if they need a home, so it's wonderful.