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The Pill and Weight Loss

The Pill and Weight Loss

We’re sure that everyone has heard about birth control and many of the negative side effects that can come along with it. But the most debated side effect out there is the potential weight fluctuations and weight gain associated with birth control, and is often the most common reason that women choose to discontinue or avoid it. Nowadays, birth control comes in many different forms such as intrauterine devices (IUD), subdermal implantation (the bar), an injection or most commonly; oral contraception such as the combination pill. Hormonal birth control uses synthetic hormones such as progestins that prevent ovulation from occuring. For the sake of keeping this blog post short and sweet, we will only be discussing the contraceptive pill and its influence over weight. 

The current literature and research regarding the pill and how it may influence weight is very inconsistent, and seemingly varies considerably between individuals. This is consistent with what you’d expect as each individual has their own personal characteristics, body fat percentage, hormones etc, all of which are factors that can implicate changes. The two most common reports amongst women who use oral contraception is that it has caused them to gain weight or hindered their ability to lose weight, however this is often temporary as a result of water retention, and not actual weight gain. 

The contraceptive pills of today use hormones at a much lower level than they used to. The pill contains hormones such as estrogen and progestin (synthetic version of progesterone), which are similar to the hormones that are produced by the ovaries. Some contraceptive pills incorporate the mixture of both estrogen and progestin and are called combination oral contraception. The combination of these two hormones has been shown in the literature to cause more weight gain likely due to the estrogen. Additionally, progestin can lead to an increase in appetite as well as water retention which therefore appears as weight gain. Some studies have also indicated that if you have a higher body fat percentage, you’re more likely to gain weight. Birth control can also reduce testosterone levels which can lead to reduced performance in the gym and have an impact on your training, strength and ability to gain muscle mass. 

Alternatively, a number of studies have looked closely at the relationship between weight gain and hormonal contraception. The majority of these studies showed varied evidence that birth control pills have any impact on weight gain. In today’s society, most pills lack the estrogen levels to initiate weight gain and can instead give off this illusion due to the water retention that takes place, which is not actual fat gain. When commencing your pill and experiencing a significant increase in weight, this can instead be a result of lifestyle factors more so than the hormonal implications of the pill with behaviours such as a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy eating habits and changes to metabolism impacting weight. These factors are large determinants of weight and should be considered as more influential than the hormones in the pill.  

Like all medications, the pill has side effects that need to be considered from a personal perspective. When first beginning the pill, you may experience an increase in weight due to water retention, not actual weight gain. Just remember this is temporary and, with time, will correct itself as your body adjusts. Additionally, if your birth control contains a higher level of estrogen and progestin, this can cause greater fluctuations in weight, so ensure you speak to your GP if you are experiencing weight gain as a result of your birth control and they will be able to work with you to identify a suitable alternative as different pills will work best for different individuals. If you are concerned about the risks associated with the pill, we encourage you to discuss this with your GP or a trained medical professional. Most of all, the largest determinant of weight is your health behaviours and habits, so ensure you are keeping active and eating a well balanced diet and you will achieve your weight goals in no time. 

If you are looking at education yourself further and taking more control over your diet and weight loss journey, reach out to us to get started with our personalised coaching services.

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