Is Your Medicine Making You Fat?

For the many people who take prescription medication it probably comes as no surprise that your drugs often affect your weight -- and not in a good way.
Some of the medications that can cause the numbers on the scale to go up include birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, various mood stabilizers, diabetic medications and steroids. Let's break them down by class.

Birth Control Pills

Weight gain is a common fear for women who take birth control pills. Although it sometimes does occur, studies show that there as many women who lose weight on birth control pills as those who gain weight. There are a couple of reasons that birth control pills can cause weight gain -- one is the type of progesterone hormone in the pill. High androgenic (or male hormone) acting progesterones can increase your appetite and have some anabolic effects (the phase of metabolism in which simple substances are synthesized into the complex materials of living tissue) which can lead to weight gain.

High doses of estrogen in the pill can cause weight gain in the breasts, hips and thighs. To avoid weight gain, your healthcare provider should choose a low androgenic progesterone pill with a low dose estrogen pill. There are many from which to choose. When this combination is chosen, weight gain is minimal.


Despite what researchers previous believed, specific Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors (SSRI's), such as Prozac, Serzone, Paxil and Zoloft, have been proven to cause weight gain in some people. However, doctors believe new atypical antidepressants such as Wellbutrin do not have weight gain as a side effect.

With Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI's), such as Marplan, Nardil and Parnate, weight gain can range from 6 to 10 pounds or more. With Tricyclics and Tetracyclics, such as Elavil, Desipramine, Imipramine, Ascendin, Anafranil, Surmontil and Ludiomil, weight gain can be upwards of 10 pounds or more.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

You're not alone. Weight gain is a very common complaint from women who undergo this treatment. After age 35, we get deeper into perimenopause and our metabolism slows done... a lot! Not only does this natural slowing down occur but our bodies notice the decrease in our estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause. In an attempt to "help us," our bodies hold onto the fat. Fat cells make a small amount of weak estrogens.

So many times a woman starts an estrogen/progesterone product at the same time her metabolism is slowing down and her body is trying to retain the weight. This is why women associate starting HRTs with weight gain.


Weight gain is common after starting insulin therapy. Many people gain between 1 to 3 pounds as the insulin begins to control their blood sugar. Weight gain is more common in women than in men, but it's difficult to predict who will gain weight. Weight gain may be the result of a direct complication of diabetes or it may be related to the medication used to treat other complications, such as antipsychotics.

There are many reasons why people gain weight when they begin insulin therapy. One theory is that a person's metabolism slows down when blood sugars are controlled. The additional weight can increase your cells' resistance to insulin and may therefore increase your need for medication, creating a vicious circle of increased weight and insulin resistance.
Many people with diabetes, especially young women, stop taking insulin to try and control weight gain. This is dangerous for many reasons and should be avoided. People who do not take insulin as prescribed are very likely to have medical complications of their diabetes.


Steroids may cause you to retain salt and fluids so that your weight increases. Weight gain caused by fluid retention will gradually decrease when you stop taking the medication. Try to maintain a nutritious well-balanced diet while avoiding simple sugars such as cakes, pies and candies. Eat foods that contain natural sugar such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

Steroids can cause changes in your appearance. Your face may look swollen, your abdomen may get larger and you may develop acne. Although these changes are temporary, they can be emotionally upsetting. Talk with your healthcare team, family or friends if you need help dealing with your feelings.

What To Do?

In order to lose weight successfully while on medication, a combination of lowered calorie intake and increased activity works best. Decreased calories can be accomplished in several ways. One way is to simply eat smaller portions. Another option is to forgo higher calorie foods for those with lower calorie content.

Yet another way is to avoid foods with high fat content. What you need is a healthy meal plan that will allow you to lose weight and maintain that loss forever. For this kind of diet ALL foods are acceptable... in moderation. Your motto: "Don't cut out, cut back!"

The eDiets plan is just the diet you need. It can help you lose weight no matter what medication you take. Exercise is also important. The type of exercise recommended for weight loss and maintenance is aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise increases the body's need for oxygen because large groups of muscles which demand more oxygen are used. The heart must beat faster to furnish this oxygen. The heart's muscle tone and pumping action are improved and metabolism speeds up.