The connection between birth control pills and weight loss sparks a contentious debate in the medical community. On one side are doctors backed by years of research that says that combination pills don't affect your weight, and on the other side are legions of birth control pill users who attribute their unwanted pounds to the pills after reading that weight gain is a possible side effect. The truth is that they're both right, and that a simple pill switch may help you shed the extra weight.
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Bariatric surgeon Dr. Carson Liu says that combination pills may lead to weight gain due to the actions of the individual hormones. "Estrogen can cause retention of salt and water, while Progesterone can make you very, very hungry," he notes. Both factors can quickly lead to unwanted weight. University of Texas Medical Branch's Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Dr. Tristi Muir disagrees, however, citing research that showed no link between weight gain and oral contraceptive pills. She says, "The fact is that as women age, they gain weight. A study in Sweden found no difference in weight gain over time between those that took OCPs and those that did not. On average, people in both groups gained approximately one pound per year." So the bottom line is that your weight gain may not be the fault of your pill, but switching may help you and isn't likely to hurt you.
If you are convinced that your combination pills are contributing to weight gain or keeping you from losing weight, switching to a single hormone may help. Dr. Muir recommends steering clear of progesterone-only injections or implants, because they have been shown to lead to a decrease of lean mass, which can lead to weight gain. Dr Liu agrees, noting that a low-dose estrogen only pill may be a better option -- although it may still affect your weight, it may be more manageable than the combination pill.
Alternative Birth Control
If the prospect of battling a pill over your weight seems exhausting, talk to your doctor about switching to a non-hormonal form of birth control. Dr. Muir recommends condoms, diaphragms and IUDs for temporary measures, or you might consider more permanent methods like vasectomy or tubal ligation if you are not planning to have children. These options will leave your weight unaffected, and will not interfere in your weight loss.
Lose the Weight
If you choose to remain on birth control pills, Dr. Liu recommends you "be careful with the amount of salt and starches [you] intake, cut out sweets, and maintain healthy eating habits." Both doctors feel that healthy food choices are the key to the equation, especially if you have an increased appetite. Daily exercise is important because the calorie burn can help mitigate some of the calories you take in throughout the day. Both doctors also agree that ultimately, every woman reacts differently to hormones. If you cannot lose weight despite a healthy diet and frequent exercise, consult your doctor about changing your birth control.