Here's What Doctors Want You to Know About Weight Changes While on Birth Control
Wanting to lose weight when motivations are healthy (i.e., for health reasons or even just for personal preference, as long as it's not associated with harmful habits, like disordered eating) can be a beneficial goal. The CDC reports that even modest weight loss (between five to 10 percent of total bodyweight) can result in improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar.
But losing weight can be a challenge, one that some say is more difficult while on birth control. In fact, some women starting birth control complain of weight gain. Experts say the amount of weight gained from birth control is often minimal and, in general, tends to be rare; however, this may leave you wondering whether it's possible to lose weight on birth control. The doctors POPSUGAR spoke with assured us that with time and patience, your weight-loss goals don't have to suffer because you're on birth control. Here's what you need to know before getting started.
Does Hormonal Birth Control Cause Weight Gain?
Hormonal birth-control methods increase levels of progesterone in the bloodstream. And just like natural fluctuations in progesterone can lead to bloating and weight gain in the days leading up to your period, so too can the hormones found in birth control.
That's because progesterone is linked with water retention, Andrea Alexander, MD, FACOG, a board-certified ob-gyn in Texas and the author of "Black Maternal Mortality: Our Fight Back," tells POPSUGAR. "[It also] stimulates the part of the brain stem that is responsible for functions like digestion, and it increases hunger." That's why you may have cravings around your period or notice changes in your appetite after starting birth control. But this doesn't mean weight gain on birth control is inevitable. Dr. Alexander explained that it's highly individual, and some methods of birth control are more likely to cause weight gain than others.
Which Birth-Control Options Are Less Likely to Impact Weight-Loss Goals?
"There's been a lot of research on common birth-control side effects. And studies show that the pill, the ring, the patch, and the IUD don't make you gain weight or lose weight," according to Planned Parenthood. Whereas long-acting, reversible methods like the Depo-Provera shot or a birth-control implant (aka Nexplanon) may in fact lead to changes on the scale. For example, in one study tracking Depo-Provera users over 36 months, participants experienced an average weight gain of 11.25 pounds and a body-fat percentage increase of 3.4 percent. Black women are also most likely to experience weight gain when using long-acting forms of contraception, research shows. But again, Dr. Alexander stresses that there's "no hard number of pounds that you should expect to gain on a certain method," because everyone's body reacts differently.
Does Hormonal Birth Control Make It Harder to Lose Weight?
No, it shouldn't. But weight-loss results vary from person to person, whether you're on birth control or not.
Emily VinZant, MD, a board-certified family physician specializing in obesity medicine and a clinical associate professor at the University of Kansas, tells POPSUGAR that she often sees patients who complain of weight gain soon after starting hormonal birth control. But that doesn't mean a person can't be successful in losing weight, Dr. VinZant says. That being said, it may take a few menstrual cycles for your body to acclimate to the birth control and, therefore, a few months to understand how it may affect your weight-loss progress. If you're someone who's always struggled to lose weight, you may continue to struggle with weight loss while on birth control, especially with long-acting methods, Dr. Alexander notes. This is why it's important to discuss your medical history with your doctor and make a decision together about which method is right for you and your health goals.
Wondering how to lose weight on birth control? Well, whether or not you're on birth control, the same principles apply for losing weight — you need to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly, Dr. VinZant says. If you need some guidance, be sure to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. Dr. Alexander also suggests using a journal to track your progress — something both you and your physician can look back on.
— Additional reporting by Alexis Jones