4 Causes And 5 Ways To Prevent Weight Gain On Birth Control

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Weight gain after birth control is one of the causes why a few women disregard them. Several hormonal birth control methods include implants, hormone-releasing coils, vaginal rings, injection/shot, skin patch, and birth control pills. A few of the above use synthetic hormones to control or prevent ovulation (1) (2).

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) says that hormonal contraceptives are 99% effective when used correctly. However, many women suspect their usage due to this fear of gaining weight. But, no direct evidence has been found between birth control and weight gain (3) (4).

If you are doubtful about birth control usage, read on to know more. We provide you insight into birth control-related weight gain and a few tips to help you lose weight.

Do Hormonal Contraceptives Cause Weight Gain?

According to experts, hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control pills, vaginal rings, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and skin patches are unlikely to have a significant effect on a woman’s weight (5)(6). However, the effects differ from one woman to another. For instance, a 2009 literature review showed that oral contraceptives cause weight gain in women (7).

In contrast, a 2012 study demonstrated no effect on the body weight and composition of the women who had oral birth control pills (8).  Hence, experts concluded that no direct link exists between weight gain and oral contraceptives. The same is the case with vaginal rings, hormonal IUDs, and skin patches (5).

If a woman gains significant weight a few days or weeks after starting hormonal contraceptives, the plausible reasons for the same are (6):

  • Fluid retention triggered by high estrogen levels in the contraceptives

However, this doesn’t happen with every woman who uses hormonal contraceptives. Some women who don’t take contraceptives also gain weight as they age. It means there could be some other reasons for weight gain.

Note: Contraceptive shot/injection (Depo-Provera) is linked to weight gain (5). Progestin (synthetic progesterone) in Depo-Provera is believed to stimulate the brain’s hunger centers, causing overeating and weight gain (9).

What Are The Other Causes Of Weight Gain?

If not hormonal contraceptives, some of the reasons for you gaining weight include the following.

  1. Lifestyle changes: If you are under stress, not sleeping properly, or spending most of your time sedentary, you are highly likely to gain weight whether you take hormonal contraceptives or not. Hence, if you are experiencing unwanted weight gain, monitor your lifestyle closely and bring healthy changes.
  1. Dietary issues: Regular consumption of high-calorie, processed foods can cause weight gain. Then, even if you eat healthy, eating more than what you spend via physical activity can cause a calorie surplus. Hence, keep a watch on your calorie intake. You can consult a nutritionist and build a healthy eating plan for yourself.
  1. Metabolic slow-down: Aging, hormonal disorders, such as hypothyroidism, and certain medications, such as antidepressants, slow down metabolism, causing weight gain. If you have any metabolic problems or are on certain medications, talk to your doctor and understand if these issues are the reason for your weight gain.
  1. Muscle gain: Besides fat gain, muscle gain can also cause your weight to increase. So, if you have recently started doing resistance training, muscle building, or weight lifting, you are likely gaining weight due to muscle mass increase. In case of weight gain due to muscle gain, your inches won’t change, meaning your clothes will fit as usual, but your weighing scale will show a higher weight number.

Besides these, recent research suggests that some women might gain weight on birth control due to their genetic predisposition (10). The study focussed on etonogestrel contraceptive implants inserted under the skin to stop ovulation.

Are There Any Other Side Effects Of Birth Control?

Other than weight gain, hormonal contraceptives mention weight loss as their potential side-effect (6). Some other side effects that birth control may cause are (11):

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Sore breasts
  • Mood swings
  • Irregular periods
  • Skin changes, such as acne and breakouts
  • Reduced sexual desire

Most of these side effects subside as your body adjusts to hormonal contraceptives. However, you can consult your doctor if these effects worsen and affect your day-to-day functioning.

Note: A woman above 35 years of age who smoke should avoid birth control as their use increases her risk of developing blood clots and high blood pressure (12).

How To Prevent Weight Gain On Birth Control?

You can control and even prevent weight gain by following simple measures, such as the following.

  1. Let your body adjust to hormonal contraceptives. It’s crucial as some women may gain weight immediately after starting birth control. However, the weight gain in such cases is mainly due to water retention and not fat gain. Hence, as the body adjusts to birth control, the water retention will subside, and you will lose weight.
  1. Exercise regularly and stay active throughout the day. Doing so is crucial to burn out excess calories (if any) and keep your metabolism robust. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for adults every week to stay healthy and fit (13).
  1. Eat a well-balanced diet. Include low-fat, high-protein, high-fiber foods, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, beans, and low-fat dairy, to your diet. Break your three big meals into four to five small meals and eat everything in moderation. Remember, even if the food is healthy, its excess consumption can cause weight gain.
  1. Monitor your weight. It will help you know how much weight you are gaining and in what intervals. You can maintain a weight record and then discuss it with your doctor. They will evaluate your weight gain pattern and suggest the right way to manage it.
  1. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and fight dehydration, bloating, and thirst-related hunger. Experts recommend adults drink 1.5 to 2L (6 to 8 cups) of fluid each day (14). However, if you stay or work in hot and humid climatic conditions or indulge in vigorous-intensity exercise, you may need more water. So, drink water whenever you feel thirsty. Staying without water or long can cause thirst-related hunger pangs, leading to overeating.

Besides these, stay stress-free and have a minimum of eight hours of sound sleep to combat issues, such as bloating that causes weight gain.

What Are The Alternatives To Hormonal Contraceptives?

If you and your healthcare provider feel that hormonal contraceptives aren’t a good choice for you, then you can discuss non-hormonal contraceptives. Non-hormonal contraceptives include condoms, spermicides, diaphragm, cervical cap, Lea’s shield, contraceptive sponge, and copper IUDs. Whatever method of contraception you use, remember none of them is 100 percent effective against pregnancy prevention. So, understand the pros and cons of each method and then make an informed choice.

Hormonal contraceptives are more than 99 percent effective when used as directed by your healthcare professional. Although some of these methods might cause weight gain, clinical evidence shows that the weight gain is due to water retention and not fat gain. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and staying hydrated are ways to prevent weight gain on birth control.

Key Pointers

  • Hormonal birth control may cause weight gain by inducing water retention in the body and increased appetite.
  • You may also gain weight due to other factors such as slow metabolism or unhealthy eating habits.
  • Exercising regularly, maintaining a balanced diet, and staying hydrated are some of the measures to prevent weight gain.
  • You may consult your doctor about other contraceptive options to avoid gaining weight.

References:

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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more