Will birth control make me fat?

Most health providers realize how much we worry certain birth control methods will make us gain weight. The good news is that birth control does not make you fat! How much weight you gain, or lose, is caused by how much energy (food and drink calories) you put in your body, compared to how much energy you burn up (sleeping, breathing, moving, and of course all kinds of exercise use up energy).

If you have stayed about the same weight for a while you’re probably taking in about as much energy as you are using up. And, if you’ve gained weight, it means that you are taking in more than you are burning up. Sometimes it’s obvious why you are consuming more calories – like you have a new Mocha Frappuccino habit- or why you are burning less – like you used to play sports and now you have a desk job. Sometimes it can be harder to figure out why you are gaining weight, but the answer always has to do with taking in more energy than you burn. Diets don’t really work in the long term because they end up making most people feel deprived and sometimes obsessed about their weight. What does work is to make important lifestyle changes that you can live with- like drinking plain water (not sports drinks, sweet tea, juice, or soda), eating 5 fruits and veggies each day, living without Doritos or Oreos in your kitchen, and finding ways to be more active. (Turning off the TV or laptop and getting outside is a start!) Check out the Live Well Colorado website for more ideas about a healthier lifestyle, and how small steps can add up to something big.

So, back to birth control. Absolutely no birth control method has calories in it, so it won’t ever cause weight gain in that way. When studies of birth control pills are done, women in the study who get real pills with hormones and women that get fake pills with nothing in them (also called placebos) gain weight at absolutely the same rate. The reality is that most Americans – both women and men will gain a few pounds each year, but this is NOT because of birth control.

There are some other things to know about why many people (including health providers) get confused about this issue. Older types of birth control pills, because they had higher levels of estrogen than current pills, were more likely to cause water retention (sometimes called “water weight”). This is a very UN common side effect with current pills, but if you think it’s a problem for you, try switching to an ultra-low dose pill or try a non-estrogen method (for example, an implant or an IUD). Also, if water weight is the cause of your weight gain, it will all go away once you stop that method. The other thing to know is that Depo-Provera, for some women (and it is impossible to predict who it will be) may make them have more of an appetite. They won’t gain weight if they don’t eat more, but because they are hungrier, those women may eat more, which will lead to weight gain. Lots of women stay the same weight or lose weight on Depo too, so if you think it’s the right method for you, don’t be afraid to give it a try!

The great news is that if this weight gain thing is an issue that you’ve been worried about – and you feel like you’ve tried everything – don’t give up! You can always go for a birth control method that has no hormones at all (like the ParaGard IUD) and you can always consider the ins/outs of your energy balance to really understand what is going on. The bottom line is that birth control doesn’t make you gain weight and I can’t say the same about the alternative (getting pregnant).