Does Birth Control Affect Your Body Weight?

Aditi Shenai

May 9, 2022

Birth control is the collective term for a series of methods to prevent pregnancy. It is also known as contraception. It works by preventing sperm from fusing with the ova. There are various birth control methods. It includes contraceptive pills, barriers, and surgical interventions.

Birth control medications tend to cause changes in body weight in some segments of the women population. Some women said that they gained weight, while others reported losing weight. There are combined contraceptives that increase appetite. And few hormonal contraceptives cause weight gain by fluid retention and increased body fat. This article elaborates on the cause of change in body weight following birth control pills. 

Types of Birth Control

Birth control methods differ in their onset of action, efficiency, adverse effects, and way of use. The various techniques are selected based on certain factors. It includes your age, overall health, medical history, prevailing health conditions, etc. It also depends on how long you should prevent pregnancy. 

1. Hormonal Methods 

Hormonal contraceptives contain a small amount of human-made oestrogen and progestin hormones to restrict ovulation. Examples are oral contraceptive pills, vaginal rings, shots, patches, implants, and intrauterine devices (IUD). Besides birth control, hormonal contraceptives treat hormonal imbalances. It helps with Polycystic Ovary disorders (PCOS), endometriosis, dysmenorrhea or painful menstruation. 

Hormones in contraceptive pills prevent pregnancy by the following mechanism:

  • Interrupts or prevents ovulation or the discharge of egg or ovum from an ovary. It stops the fusion of eggs and sperm.
  • Thickens the cervical mucosal lining to prevent sperm from reaching the uterus.
  • Thinning the uterine wall lining to inhibit the fertilised egg from implanting into the uterus

2. Barriers

Barrier methods inhibit the sperm from reaching the uterus. Condoms, diaphragm, spermicides, and more are the barrier methods.

3. Emergency Contraception

Emergency birth control is for instances of unprotected sex. It includes emergency contraceptive pills.

4. Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARC) 

LARC consists of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants. They are inserted or implanted into your body and offer a long-term effect. It lasts for years.

5. Sterilization

Sterilization is a surgical birth control procedure and is permanent. For women, tubal ligation closes off the fallopian tubes. As a result, it keeps the sperm from reaching the egg. In a vasectomy for men, the vas deferens tubes are cut and tied to prevent the release of sperm into the semen. Unfortunately, sterilization is not successfully reversible. There also is no guarantee that you will be able to become pregnant afterwards. 

Is There a Healthy Birth Control Method?

There is no standard birth control method suitable for everyone. You need to weigh the pros and cons and then decide. However, your doctor can help you with the best way that works based on the following:

  • Age
  • Overall health
  • Medical history
  • The efficiency of the birth control method
  • Underlying disorders like diabetes, blood pressure and PCOS
  • Hormonal imbalance 
  • Side Effects
  • What budget you are working with
  • How reliable do you need your birth control to be

Does Birth Control Cause Weight Gain?

Certain studies show that women have gained little weight with contraceptive methods. A combination pill is more likely to cause weight gain because it contains oestrogen. In addition, it includes hormonal combinations of drugs and patches. Excess oestrogen may cause your body to retain water. Theoretically, it may be due to fluid retention and fat deposits. However, there is no concrete evidence that permanent weight gain occurs from birth control. 

Increased appetite is another symptom noticed in some women who are frequent with contraceptive pills. Therefore, you can check with your doctor for an alternative method. Non-hormonal pills, condoms, cervical caps, and diaphragms are not associated with undesirable weight gain. Moreover, a healthy and nutritious diet along with less salt helps to regulate weight following contraceptive methods. High salt or sodium levels while taking a hormonal birth control pill may cause water retention. People misunderstand it as weight gain.

Mechanism of Weight Gain from Birth Control Pills 

Weight gain may result from fluid retention, hormonal imbalance, and body fat distribution. However, this is reversible, and such changes reverse on cessation of the birth control pills.

Progesterone is a hormone content in birth control pills:

  • It is associated with fluid or water retention, which causes a gain in weight despite your routine diet.
  • The hormones in the contraceptive pills may alter your body function and metabolism.
  • It also stimulates the synthesis of hormones associated with hunger and digestion.

Hunger hormones promote cravings during your menstrual period. Similarly, you may experience changes in your appetite with contraceptive pills. Thus, a weight loss may not be effective as long as you are on regular contraceptive drugs.

Similarly, hormone levels may vary during puberty and menopause, affecting the body’s composition. For example, adolescent females taking birth control pills for acne might see weight changes. However, it can be due to their puberty related hormonal changes and not directly related to the birth control pills. In addition, hormones may impact your food cravings during the menstrual cycle. Additionally, some people with hormonal pills may develop bloating or changes in the fat amount and distribution across the body. Again, this creates an experience of weight gain. 

Contraceptive Pills and Obesity

Study shows that being overweight or obese may affect the efficiency of hormonal birth control pills. Moreover, obese women are likely to experience infertility to a more significant extent. Obesity imbalances the metabolism. Thus, it poses multiple challenges to women, including weight gain. Thus, causing irregular menstruation and ovulation.

Moreover, they are at high risk for diseases associated with hormonal imbalances. Polycystic ovarian disease is one of them. It is one of the causes of infertility. In some women, taking birth control pills affects the body’s calorie-burning rate. As a result, it contributes to changes in your weight. Birth control pills do not lead to obesity. However, their rate of action slows down in obese women. 

How Do You Avoid Weight Gain From Birth Control Methods?

Avoiding possible birth control-related weight gain is similar to the steps taken for healthy weight management. If a woman is concerned about birth control pills causing gain weight, she should talk to her doctor. A doctor may recommend medications with a lower hormone dose to lose weight. 

Other methods to prevent underside weight gain during contraceptive pills course are:

1. Eating a Well Balanced and Nutritious Diet

Ensure a low fat, low calories and high protein diet. Include more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fatty fish. Fruits and vegetables are high in dietary fibres, helping to keep you satiated for a longer duration. High satiety prevents you from overeating or unhealthy bingeing. Moreover, they also contain essential minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.

Antioxidants are compounds that suppress oxidative stress on cells. Oxidative stress is responsible for weight gain. Moreover, the fibres bind with unhealthy fats or cholesterol. This binding facilitates the easy elimination of fats from the body. Fat elimination prevents unwanted fatty tissue buildup that tends to add to your weight. 

Additionally, arginine is a compound present in most fruits, especially watermelon. Therefore, arginine has the potential properties to burn fat. Sticking to 1,200 and 1,500 calories per day for women is one way to lose weight while taking birth control pills.

A variety of seafood is dense in Omega 3 fatty acids. Therefore, they effectively enhance the High-Density Lipids HDL or good cholesterol in your body. Omega 3 fatty acids also prevent unhealthy fat distribution or accumulation in the body. In addition, study shows that Omega 3 fatty acids help fertility. Besides, they regulate the hormones associated with ovulation, Blood circulation to the uterus and other reproductive organs. Thus, enhancing overall reproductive health may have been imbalanced due to the long-term use of contraceptive pills.

Additionally, refrain from junk foods, refined food products, excess sugar, and salts. The saturated and trans fat present can contribute to obesity and weight gain. 

2. Exercise

Exercise is essential for overall health, but it becomes even more important when losing weight. For example, a study shows normal, brisk walking or jogging for at least 20 minutes helps weight loss. Some examples are swimming, walking, running, cycling, and yoga. 

3. Hydration

Drink plenty of water and other fluids like fresh juices. It helps limit bloating. Bloating gives a feeling of increased body weight. Moreover, when you are well hydrated, you may not feel a craving for snacks. 

Possible Side effects of Hormonal Birth Control Methods

No birth control method claims to be 100 percent effective or safe. Every way has its pros and cons. The adverse effects of hormonal birth control are nothing different. Therefore, check with your health care provider before adopting any hormone-induced contraceptives. The adverse effects include:

  • Contraceptives with oestrogen content may increase blood pressure. If you have a history of blood pressure, you should avoid it due to the high risk of stroke and heart attack. Moreover, women who smoke are also prone to developing blood pressure with hormonal contraceptives. 
  • Breast tenderness or pain are other adverse effects of hormonal contraceptives. Contraceptive pills with a higher concentration of progestin than the combination of oestrogen and progestin are less likely to experience pain in the breast. Oestrogen and progesterone are hormones associated with the female reproductive system. They are linked with breast pain during the menstrual cycle or a few days before periods. Contraceptive pills alter these hormones. Thus, you may experience even more uneasiness and pain in your breast. 
  • Study shows that hormonal contraceptives cause headaches. It is one of the common adverse effects of hormonal birth control pills. As you take these pills, your oestrogen levels drop. Oestrogen regulates the synthesis of certain hormones that control pain sensations. Thus, low oestrogen levels naturally worsen headaches, including migraines. 
  • Progesterone and oestrogen are hormones that affect your mood swings. As mentioned above, oestrogen in pills affects the synthesis of various hormones in the brain. Hormonal imbalances can cause anxiety and depression.
  • Some women have experienced weight gain with hormonal birth pills due to water retention. It also affects the fat distribution in your body—changes in fat distribution results in a change in body shape, including face shape.
  • Vaginal discharge, nausea, uneasiness, and sweating are other side effects. However, they are likely to regress once your body adapts to your body. In addition, cessation of drugs regularises your body weight. Nonetheless, it would help if you inform your doctor of the presence of abnormal changes. 

The Bottom Line

Birth control is an effective method to prevent pregnancy. There are different methods of contraception. However, hormonal contraceptives may cause a change in your body weight. Therefore, it can be weight gain and weight loss. Nonetheless, the weight difference is from water retention and body fat distribution. Resorting to non-hormonal contraceptive methods can prevent such side effects. 

Weight loss from birth control pills is due to the diuretic properties of certain hormones. The elimination of fluid content results in body weight loss, causing a misconception about pills induced weight loss. Age, dietary patterns, and physical activity can be other factors for weight gain. There is no scientific proof that these drugs cause weight loss or gain. Additionally, there are multiple methods to control body weight. A healthy diet and regular exercise effectively manage body weight while taking birth control pills. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Is it hard to lose weight while on birth control?

A. No, it is not hard to lose weight. It is possible to lose weight while on the birth control pill, but every woman’s body is different. Start by eating healthy and moving around more. If you’ve been having food cravings, it may be helpful to keep a daily calorie limit.  

Q. Which birth control pill causes the most weight gain?

A. Not all birth control pills are created equal. For example, some women experience weight gain after taking progestin-only birth control. However, a combination of medications with progestin and oestrogen is more likely to influence your weight. But the effects of hormonal pills on weight are not permanent and do not cause a significant weight gain.

Q. Does birth control cause obesity?

A. No birth control does not cause obesity. However, it may cause weight gain. It is due to the progestin and oestrogen enhancing appetite and fluid retention. Weight gain from taking birth control pills is rare and is a temporary side effect. It’s often water weight, not extra fat. Thus, birth control pills are not causative factors of obesity. But these pills do fail to work appropriately among obese women.

Q. How do you lose hormonal weight gain?

A. It reduces with the cessation of hormone-induced birth control drugs. Moreover, you can make lifestyle modifications. It includes a healthy and nutritious diet and regular workouts.

Q. What is the healthiest birth control? 

A. Female sterilisation or tubal ligations is the healthiest and safe contraceptive method. It does not affect your hormone levels. Moreover, it is almost 100 percent effective. But conceding is next to impossible after sterilisation. Abstinence is another safe birth control that is safe and effective. 

Q. Can birth control make you lose weight if you have PCOS?

A. No, birth control pills do not cause weight loss in PCOS. However, they are effective in the treatment of Polycystic Ovarian syndrome.

Q. Does birth control change the shape of the face?

A. Some women can experience weight gain with hormonal birth pills due to water retention. As a result, it alters the fat distribution in the face. 

Q. What birth control has the lowest hormones?

A. Non-hormonal contraceptives are free of hormones. They include intrauterine devices, surgical sterilisation and likewise. They are practical and protect you from the side effects of hormonal birth control.

About the Author

M.Sc in: Dietetics and Applied Nutrition from Manipal University. Worked: All over India and have been involved in helping set up nutrition departments in start ups. Interested in lifestyle based nutrition. Mantra: A healthy lifestyle isn't a choice to be made or discarded, it's a way of life!

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