Millions of people have fibroids — benign growths in the lining of the uterus. These noncancerous tumors can cause issues such as pain, bleeding and prolonged menstrual periods, per John Hopkins Medical, and they can also mess with your weight.
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Unfortunately, fibroids may not only lead to weight gain — they can also make it difficult to lose weight. But even though it may be more challenging, yes, you can lose weight with fibroids if you take the right approach.
Here, you can find out why fibroids are connected to weight gain, what to do to lose unwanted weight and whether losing weight helps to shrink or prevent fibroids.
Fibroids and Weight Gain
Up to 80 percent of people assigned female at birth (AFAB) will have uterine fibroids at some point, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And while they don't always cause symptoms, some fibroids can grow pretty large and heavy (think: watermelon size) and make the scale go up.
"As fibroids themselves grow, their weight increases. Some fibroids can grow similar in size to a full-term baby. Such large fibroids can actually be visibly protruding from the abdomen," says Yana Markidan, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn with Antheia Gynecology in East Windsor, New Jersey.
Uterine fibroids can also cause heavy bleeding, which could possibly lead to anemia. And anemia can actually be a weight-gain culprit. Iron-deficiency anemia is a condition when your blood lacks enough iron to make healthy red blood cells, per the Office on Women's Health (OWH). Your body needs iron to help carry oxygen through your blood to various parts of your body to keep it functioning. And according to the University of New Mexico, you need sufficient oxygen to burn calories and fat.
What's more: "Weight gain can be a result of overeating in women with fibroids," says registered dietitian Ashley Kravitz, RD, owner and CEO of Nutrition Specialists of New Jersey. "The overeating can be a result of anemia from significant blood loss. Women may also decrease their exercise because their iron deficiency makes them extremely lethargic."
Weakness, shortness of breath and dizziness are also common symptoms of anemia, according to the OWH.
How to Lose Weight With Fibroids
When it comes to weight loss in general — whether or not you have fibroids — slow and steady is the way to go. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends aiming to lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week. And rather than crash diets or detoxes, it's better to use sustainable methods that allow you to maintain your weight loss over time.
Here's how to get started:
1. Count (and Cut) Your Calories
To lose weight, you'll need to burn more calories than you take in on a daily basis — in other words, you'll create a calorie deficit. The CDC recommends finding your maintenance calories (the amount you're currently eating to maintain your weight) and subtracting between 500 and 1,000 calories per day.
There are a few ways to do this, but the easiest is to use a calorie-tracking app like LIVESTRONG.com's MyPlate app, which will help you figure out the right calorie target based on factors like your current weight, age, activity level and weight-loss goal.
Keep in mind that you shouldn't fall below 1,200 calories a day if you're AFAB, according to Harvard Health Publishing, or you'll put yourself at risk for nutritional deficiencies and other issues.
2. Adjust Your Diet
Calories aren't everything, though. To support a healthier body, you need a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from all the food groups, according to the CDC.
Choose nutritious foods like:
- Lean meats and fish
- Fresh fruits and veggies
- Whole grains like oats, barley and brown rice
- Healthy fats like avocado and olive oil
And limit or avoid the following:
- Trans fats in fast food and processed baked goods
- Added sugars (check ingredient labels)
- Refined carbs like white bread and white rice
- Soy-based products (think: soymilk, tofu)
Red meat should be very limited as well, per the Mayo Clinic, as it may be linked to a higher risk of fibroid growth.
"There are some studies that show diets rich in green leafy vegetables help to slow down fibroid growth," says Dr. Markidan. "And diets rich in red meat can increase fibroid growth."
As for soy products: "I would recommend avoiding foods that have an effect on estrogen such as soy-based products because they can have an impact on this hormone-related issue as well," Kravitz says.
3. Get Moving
Working out could get tricky if you're feeling uncomfortable or tired, but moving your body may help with the pain of fibroids, according to the Mayo Clinic. Walking or light jogging, swimming, biking or any other cardio will also burn calories and help get the scale moving.
Looking for something even more low-impact? Try yoga or Pilates. (Pro tip: Finding a workout buddy makes it more fun and motivating!)
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity every week.
4. Add Strength Training
If you have the energy, pick up some weights and strength train. A May 2015 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise concluded that weight-lifting burns a good number of calories and helps prevent your metabolism from slowing down. Those with higher amounts of muscle mass burn more calories at rest than people with less lean muscle.
How much should you do? The Physical Activity Guidelines suggest doing full-body weight-bearing exercises at least twice a week.
5. Address Anemia
Because anemia can potentially hinder weight loss, Kravitz encourages people with fibroids to get the condition under control as soon as possible. "I would definitely address anemia to ensure adequate energy levels are met to help with increased physical activity," she says.
If you suspect you have anemia, see your doctor, who can order a blood test to confirm the diagnosis and recommend appropriate iron supplements and/or diet changes to manage symptoms.
Certain Treatments Can Aid Weight Loss
"If the fibroids are causing symptoms that prevent a woman from leading a healthy life, they can be addressed either surgically or with nonsurgical procedures that will shrink them," Dr. Markidan says. In other words, if you're putting in the effort to no avail, there are different treatments to consider.
Depending on the size and location of the fibroids, along with your symptoms, age and whether you want to have children, some treatments — like drug therapies — will keep your symptoms (like heavy bleeding) at bay. Other more invasive treatments (think: surgery) can shrink or remove the fibroids, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Treatments that focus on heavy bleeding and irregular periods may help with fatigue and overeating, while surgically removing a very large fibroid will make the scale go down automatically.
Talk to your primary care doctor or ob-gyn about your treatment options.
Does Losing Weight Help Prevent Fibroids?
People who have overweight are on the "at-risk" list for developing uterine fibroids, according to the OWH. The risk is two to three times greater than average for those who have obesity, due to hormonal imbalances.
Excess body fat — especially belly fat — disrupts the normal balance and functioning of hormones in the body, according to Harvard Health Publishing. By losing weight, hormones should stabilize, and the risk of fibroids may go down.
Can Losing Weight Shrink Fibroids?
Unfortunately, losing weight or changing up your diet won't shrink fibroids.
"There is no relationship between losing weight and fibroid shrinkage," Dr. Markidan says. "However, a healthy diet rich in green vegetables and citrus fruits may prevent fibroid growth."
When to See a Doctor
Contact your doctor if fibroids cause pain or symptoms so intense that they interfere with your daily life. See your doctor if you have extremely heavy menstrual bleeding, which may lead to anemia. Constant pelvic pain or pain with intercourse are also reasons to seek medical attention.
- John Hopkins Medical: "Fibroids"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Uterine Fibroids"
- Office on Women's Health: "Iron-Deficiency Anemia"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight"
- Mayo Clinic: "Reduce Your Risk of Uterine Fibroids and Manage Symptoms"
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise : "Exercise Training and Energy Expenditure following Weight Loss"
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Uterine Fibroids"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Losing Weight"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calorie counting made easy"
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition