Hormonal contraception is a method that uses synthetic hormones to regulate or cease ovulation and prevent pregnancy (1). Birth control pills, implants, hormone-releasing coil, injection/shot, vaginal ring, and skin patch are different hormonal birth control methods used for contraception (2).
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), when used correctly, hormonal contraceptives are more than 99 percent effective in pregnancy prevention (3). Yet, several women avoid them due to the fear of gaining weight. However, no direct link between weight gain and birth control has been found (4). So, why is that some women gain weight on birth control?
Read this post as we give you an insight into weight gain on birth control with some tips that can help you lose or prevent weight gain.
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
- Increased appetite due to high progesterone levels, causing women to overeat
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- What are the different types of contraception?.
- Contraception: Hormonal contraceptives.
- Hormonal Contraception.
- Birth Control Myths.
- FSRH CEU Statement: Contraception and Weight Gain (August 2019).
- Contraception: Do hormonal contraceptives cause weight gain?
- Daniela Hani et al., Weight gain due to hormonal contraception: myth or truth?.
- Teens and Depo-Provera: a good match?.
- Genes may play a role in weight gain from birth control.
- Side Effects of Hormonal Contraceptives.
- Birth control methods.
- How much physical activity do adults need?.