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Birth Control and Weight Gain: Where Science and Reality Collide

Posted Dec 12 2009 4:33pm 1 Comment
Reader Joshua was so amused by this pic, he had to add on his own ideas: ""Burger King - Have it Your Way" It just lends itself to the product. And then, sad as it is, my mind starts racing to other brand names that could be used in this manner. "Doral - Taste Me, Taste Me" "Hungry Man - How Do You Handle A Hungry Man?" or "Hungry Man - A Man Handler" which seems more appropriate. I'm going to stop now because I could do this all day. (That was an intentional pun, by the way)." It cracked me up so much, I'm bumping his comment up here. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

As any woman of child bearing age knows, there is currently a large debate going on between the scientific community and women everywhere. It involves a lot of numbers, studies, anecdotal experiences, thousands of websites and, yes, lot of tears (hormones are involved) but it distills down to this:

Science: Birth control does not cause weight gain!


Here's the problem - a very large and reputable study that came out earlier this year claims to have discovered once and for all that women on the pill don't gain any more weight than women not on the pill. These results don't jive with reality however.

Case #1, Gym Buddy X: Earlier this year she had the Mirena IUD, an intrauterine device that releases progesterone, put in. She immediately gained ten pounds and added an additional ten over the next few months. No matter what she did (and she is a very avid exerciser, I can vouch for that!) she was unable to lose them. She finally got it removed and lost 4 pounds that same week. Weight loss has been steady ever since.

Case #2, Gym Buddy Y: Recently she had the Mirena IUD put in after having a baby and while she had been steadily losing weight up to that point, suddenly her weight reversed itself and she has been gaining ever since. Obviously this does not make her happy.

Both Gym Buddies were told by their doctors that the Mirena did not cause their weight gain but reality begs to differ.

Men and Women are Not the Same
You might not have heard this but boys and girls are different. (Side note: thanks to Baby Sister, my three-year-old has discovered that not all people possess a penis - a fact he likes to point out loudly in public places. As in, "Mommy! Wook at dat lady! She not has a penis? Hey lady, you has no penis?!" Fun!) A man, once he has reached his adult size, may reasonably be expected to maintain that weight or close to it for the rest of his life. A woman however, if she chooses to have children will be forced by her biology to gain a lot of weight and then lose it in a relatively short amount of time and may even repeat the cycle multiple times if she wants more than one child. Even if she doesn't have children, her body still prepares every month for one and her hormones go up accordingly. All of this up-and-down with the weight and the hormones makes weight loss and maintenance an entirely different animal for women than it is for men. And so it is that hormonal birth control and weight become inextricably linked for us girls.

Which is why I can't buy the theory that birth control does not cause weight gain. Yes, I read the recent research showing that women on birth control don't gain any more weight than women not on it but there are several factors the researchers did not examine. For instance, the study only looked at one type of pill when there are many many hormonal birth control options available. In addition, other research has shown that birth control pills cause women to lose muscle mass. So it only makes sense to me that if our bodies gain fat and lose muscle during pregnancy through the use of hormones then the artificial manipulation of those hormones via birth control will also impact weight. Besides, a million anecdotal stories on the Internet can't all be wrong. Just Google "weight gain and birth control" to see what I mean.

Types of Birth Control
Not to get all 8th-grade health class up in here but basically you have two types of birth control: hormonal and non-hormonal. Non-hormonal sounds better right off the bat but currently it only includes two options - the Paraguard (copper T) IUD and condoms. The first works great - I had it before and loved it - except that it makes normal periods heavy and heavy periods unlivable, which is why I can't use it again. As for the second, well, if I have to tell you why condoms suck then you are probably still a virgin and don't need this advice. (Notice I did not mention the "rhythm method" as an option. I am so fertile that I don't even dare wash my husband's and my underwear together much less risk the calendar method.)

Which leaves us with hormonal birth control. You've got the patch, the shot, the Mirena IUD, the ring, 200 different types of The Pill and that weird thingie you get stuck under the skin in your arm. Did I miss anything? The problem, as it relates to weight gain, is that all of these options mess with your hormones. Most of them operate by simulating low levels of the pregnancy hormones thereby tricking your body into not ovulating. Low-level pregnant is not what I want my body to think it is.

After much histrionics (mostly on my part), fervent discussion whilst power walking the track with the Gym Buddies, conducting an informal Facebook poll (most popular answer? Abstinence... har, har, har) and hours of scouring weight loss sites, I have finally concluded that the three types of hormonal birth control least likely to make you gain weight are:
1. Yasmin (not to be confused with Yaz) - the pill marketed for PMDD.
2. The Nuva Ring
3. Ortho-tricyclin Lo

Unfortunately none of them are an option for me as I'm nursing. Why don't uteruses (uteri?) just come with an on/off switch?!

It is a cruel trick of our womanly nature that most of the ways to prevent pregnancy - a condition noted for its weight gain - cause weight gain. So what does a healthy-eating, frequent-exercising, mama-of-enough-kids do? Now that the Jelly Bean is out, I am trying to decide the best way to prevent any more Beans while at the same time dropping those last (always problematic) 10 pregnancy pounds. So help a blogger out: tell me your thoughts on birth control and weight. Did you gain weight? Lose weight? Go crazy? Which ones worked for you?

PS> I ran this post by my sister earlier as she's my inappropriate-joke filter (believe me, she has saved you guys from my warped sense of humor on more than one occasion) and her comment? "Charlotte, there is more to life than what you weigh." Which I suppose means that if 10 pounds is the price I have to pay to not get pregnant again, then perhaps I should just accept it and find more important things to worry about. Sigh.
Comments (1)
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i gained 40 lbs with my little girl. 2 weeks after i had her i had lost all of it but about 10 lbs. at 6wks after baby i got the mirena. i have now gained back 25 pounds! i'm getting mine taken out soon. also, my friend got one after her second child. she got up to about 270 pounds... now, about three  months after having it removed, she has lost 60 pounds!!!!!

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