Medication is a welcome relief for a wide variety of physical and mental issues, but when your medication leads to weight gain, it can be frustrating and confusing. Trading one health challenge for another is never a good idea, so what can you do to find a solution for each?
First, it’s important to understand the common reasons that certain medications cause weight gain. Sometimes weight gain comes from the medication itself, however, most often the side effects created by the medication indirectly lead to weight gain. These side effects include:
There are several categories of medication that can hamper your weight loss efforts, including antipsychotic, diabetes and antidepressant medications, as well as steroids. Becoming more knowledgeable about the different types of medications that can cause these side effects can be very helpful, especially if you are taking a new prescription or if being overweight is already a concern for you. However, it’s important to note that not all of the medications in each category cause weight gain. Specific examples include:
Start by familiarizing yourself with the side effects of any new medication by talking with your doctor and/or pharmacist. If weight gain is a known side effect, it’s not a guarantee you’ll gain since many side effects don’t impact all patients. That’s why it’s important to monitor your body for any changes after starting a new prescription. In most cases, weight gain should be noticeable within the first six months. If this happens, analyze other potential contributing factors, such as a change in your diet or exercise habits, or an increase in your stress level. If nothing else in your routine has changed, it is likely that your medication is causing you to gain weight. So, where should you go from there?
According to Emily Weaver, BSN, RN, AGPCNP, a nurse practitioner with True You Weight Loss, it’s important to be your own advocate. Have a conversation with your provider to investigate if there is an alternative medication you can take. Weaver reminds us that there is nothing wrong with the medications that have weight gain as a side effect—they are tried and true and work well for the issues for which they are indicated to treat. However, having an open discussion with your provider is a critical way to ensure vital adjustments are made, whether it be a reduced dosage or a substitute medication that involves less risk for weight gain. For example, the diabetes medication metformin can actually cause weight loss or be weight neutral. If you are working with a nurse practitioner or registered dietitian through a medical weight loss clinic, you can also lean on him or her for advice concerning your list of current medications.
“When I look at a medication list for a new patient, I will review it closely to identify any prescriptions that may be contributing to weight gain,” explains Weaver. “Then, I encourage my patients to talk with their prescribing doctor and request an alternative. Ninety percent of the time, there are good alternatives, but you will never know that until you have a candid conversation with your medical provider.”
Weaver also reminds us that many medications—such as those for diabetes and blood pressure—may not be necessary if there is underlying obesity that can be treated and resolved.
“In many cases, treating obesity can resolve other health problems,” explains Weaver. “Engaging in a comprehensive weight loss plan that includes diet, exercise, nutrition counseling, psychological therapy, and/or a weight loss procedure like we offer here at True You Weight Loss can lead to significant weight loss. We know that losing even just 5-10 percent of your body weight can have a major positive impact on a patient’s overall health—and often leads to the discontinuation of numerous medications. In addition, treating obesity and losing weight is known to improve mood and emotional well-being. Therefore, weight loss can also be effective in helping you eliminate medications for such conditions as depression and anxiety.
The bottom line? Better nutritional habits, more physical activity and better sleep habits are crucial to managing health challenges, feeling stronger, and supporting the treatment of issues that could be slowing your weight loss success.