Packing on the Pounds: Do Birth Control Pills Cause Weight Gain?
If you’ve just started the pill and you’ve noticed the number on the scale inching up, you’re not alone. Do birth control pills cause weight gain? Some doctors may tell you otherwise, but weight gain can be a real side effect of hormonal birth control, and a truly upsetting one at that. Wondering the reasons why and how? We’ve got allll the details.
Hold on, am I gaining weight?
Yes, you very well may be. Though it doesn’t happen to everyone, many women experience weight gain when first starting the pill. Everyone is different, and every body responds differently to hormonal birth control, and unfortunately, some of us start taking an L when it comes to packing on those pesky lbs.
How exactly is my birth control changing my weight?
There are a couple factors in play regarding weight gain and birth control:
- Bloating. It’s no secret: hormonal birth control can cause bloating. A true shame, we know. Bloating can dampen your mood, cause overall discomfort and make it harder to fit in those favorite pair of jeans. Why does this happen? H-O-R-M-O-N-E-S.
Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels can cause water retention, especially in your breasts and hips. (Ever wonder why your boobs feel extra sore when starting the pill? This is partly why.) Water retention in the body can definitely affect your number on the scale. Bloating, usually subsides 6 months after starting the pill (TYVM!), but while it’s there, it’s certainly no fun.
- Increased appetite. Like bloating, increased appetite can also be a side effect of starting hormonal birth control. Again, it all has to do with changes in hormone levels. Estrogen plays a role in appetite and is actually known to curb dreaded hunger pangs. So it makes sense that lowered levels of estrogen would have the opposite effect. Because the pill often causes a dip in estrogen, you will find yourself feeling hungrier and less satisfied by what you eat. Progesterone, on the other hand, can stimulate your appetite. Progesterone levels rocket during the two weeks between ovulation and your period, hence those crazy PMS cravings. (Chocolate, anyone?) Though increased appetite doesn’t have to lead to weight gain, it often doesn’t help. Noshing on junk food and satisfying those serious cravings can result in extra calories adding up.
- Hypothyroidism. This is an important one. Your thyroid gland helps regulate certain body functions, including your metabolism, by secreting distinct thyroid hormones into your bloodstream. Having too many or too few of these hormones can seriously throw your system out of whack. Hormonal birth control depletes vital nutrients that your thyroid needs to function such as selenium and zinc, and with the lack of proper nutrients, your thyroid can stop making, activating and using thyroid hormones. Because thyroid hormones control the function of your metabolism, not having the proper amount of them in the bloodstream can affect your weight. Therefore, having too little thyroid hormones, known as hypothyroidism, can cause you to pack on the pounds.
Could something else be at play?
Absolutely. Lifestyle and behavior can influence weight for sure. Where does birth control fit in, you ask? Many women start taking hormonal birth control around their early 20s – a time when many life changes occur and things may feel a little chaotic. Think about it. There are several reasons to use hormonal birth control, like such as to regulate your periods and alleviate PMS, but the main purpose of taking the pill is usually to prevent pregnancy. When did you start having sex? Though the age varies for everyone, many women start being sexually active around the time they start college. College and post-college are crazy stressful times. You could be starting a new job, starting a new relationship or beginning to worry about your finances, and it can definitely feel as if your life’s all over the place. It only makes sense that weight gain is more likely during this time. (ugh, that Freshman 15 tho.) Of course, this isn’t true for everyone, but it’s worth considering.
Is there anything I can do?
There are plenty of steps you can take to lessen the chances of weight gain caused by birth control.
- Work out to reduce bloating. Bloating sucks, but there are ways to help reduce it. Physical activity definitely lessens water retention (and burns calories!), so getting daily exercise is key to warding off that unneeded extra weight. Consuming less salt can also help. Another method? Drinking more water. No seriously, it flushes everything out of your system.
- Take selenium. Remember your thyroid? Not getting enough selenium can keep thyroid hormones from functioning properly. When you take the pill, your selenium levels are reduced and your absorption rate can plummet. Adding selenium to your regimen will help keep your thyroid in top shape. Plus, it’s also an antioxidant that offers protective benefits against cancer. Selenium for the win!
- Get enough zinc. Another mineral important to thyroid health is zinc. Zinc is super important for many bodily functions including playing a major role in hormone health. If your thyroid gland lacks adequate zinc, it is prevented from activating and using thyroid hormones, which leads to lower levels of active thyroid hormones in circulation. Zinc can help ward off hypothyroidism and avoid weight gain.
- Replenish your tyrosine levels. Women taking the pill have lower levels of tyrosine which can affect the production of neurotransmitters as well has hormone metabolism. Tyrosine is a precursor for the production of thyroid hormones, and lowered levels of this amino acid cannot only cause weight gain, but it can also cause fatigue, irritability and poor memory.
- Switch up your birth control pills. Are you on a progestin-only pill? Think about switching. Because it causes increased appetite, lessening the amount of progesterone intake can help curb those cravings. Worried about the estrogen levels in your combination pill? There are pills that have lowered levels of estrogen, which lessens the drop in estrogen that occurs around your period. Seriously worried about your weight? You can also change your method of birth control. Copper IUDs release no hormones, so you can avoid messing with your hormone levels all together. Make a visit to your OB-GYN or talk to your doctor about your concerns and find out what will work best for you.
Though hormonal birth control can cause weight gain, it doesn’t have to. Send those lbs. to the left, to the left with our Top Up Tonic. Top Up Tonic replenishes the vital nutrients that are especially crucial to thyroid hormone production. A healthy thyroid helps abate the occurrence of weight gain that is so commonly caused by hormonal contraception. By providing the selenium, zinc, iodine, and tyrosine that your body needs, our Top Up Tonic fosters optimal thyroid health, which can help keep weight gain at bay. Top Up Tonic can help you feel like yourself again. And remember: you aren’t defined by a number on a scale.
If you're interested in finding out other side effects that your birth control could be causing you, check out our blog post on the 16 most common unwanted symptoms of birth control.