9 Effective Ways To Lose Weight Gain Caused By Medication

Medications can help you feel better mentally and physically, but they also come with side effects. Among the most bothersome for many people is weight gain. Several types of medication, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, corticosteroids, diabetes medications, and certain mood stabilizers, can lead to weight gain (via AARP). 

This happens for a variety of reasons. Some drugs alter the body's metabolism, leading to increased fat storage or changes in appetite. For instance, antidepressants, like certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) impact serotonin levels, influencing both mood and appetite. Antipsychotics can interfere with your body's ability to process glucose and store fat, contributing to weight gain.

It's not just the physical changes that are bothersome. Unexpected weight gain can lead to emotional stress, affecting your self-esteem and mental health. Furthermore, weight gain might increase the risk of other health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems.

The good news is that you don't have to just accept it. Your doctor might be able to make medication changes or adjustments. And you can do a lot on your own to mitigate the effects by adopting healthy lifestyle habits, including making changes to your diet, exercising regularly, and controlling stress levels. Getting help from a nutritionist, dietitian, or therapist can help get you on the right track to a healthy weight despite the medication's effects. 

Talk to your doctor

Whenever you experience side effects from a medication, it's important to let your doctor know. Communicate detailed information about any noticeable changes in your weight, appetite, and lifestyle since starting the medication. This information helps your doctor assess the situation and make informed decisions about your care.

If you have gained a lot of weight and it might pose health problems, your doctor may switch your medicine to one within the same class (via University of Rochester Medical Center). Medications with similar therapeutic uses may not have the same side effects, or they might affect your body differently, causing fewer side effects. You might also be able to take a lower dose of your medication, which can potentially reduce side effects. Your doctor will consider the pros and cons of changing medications, and how that might impact your health.

Your doctor will also consider other approaches to manage both the medical condition and the weight-related side effects. These may include lifestyle modifications that could help offset the weight gain. Your doctor might recommend dietary changes, increased physical activity, or consultations with a nutritionist. Regular monitoring of your weight and overall health is important throughout the treatment period.

Meet with a dietitian

After you consult with your doctor, meeting with a dietitian is a good next step. Research shows that working with a dietitian on your weight-loss goals is much more effective than going it alone (via Healthcare). Ask your doctor for a referral, or look for one with a clinical background who may have a better understanding of weight gain associated with medications. When addressing weight gain from medication, a dietitian will conduct a thorough assessment of your current eating habits, lifestyle, and medical history. They'll consider the specific mechanisms by which the medication may be influencing your weight and work together with you to devise a nutrition strategy that complements your treatment plan. This may involve adjusting your diet to account for changes in metabolism, appetite, or nutrient absorption associated with the medication.

A dietitian can also provide practical guidance on making healthier food choices, managing portion sizes, and incorporating physical activity into your routine. Their expertise extends beyond simple weight management, encompassing the broader goal of promoting overall well-being through a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, a dietitian can offer emotional support and motivation, recognizing the challenges that often accompany changes in weight. Regular follow-up appointments allow for ongoing adjustments to the dietary plan based on your progress and any new health considerations.

Reduce your sugar intake

One of the best dietary adjustments you can make to help lose the weight caused by your medication is to reduce or eliminate sugar in your diet. Excessive sugar consumption is strongly linked to weight gain and obesity. Sugary foods and beverages contribute to an increase in calorie intake without providing essential nutrients, leading to an imbalance in energy consumption. Extra calories your body can't use are stored as fat, and that's the primary way people put on weight. High sugar intake can also disrupt appetite regulation, meaning you may feel hungry sooner after eating and therefore overeat (via Healthline). If your medication is interfering with your metabolism or making you feel hungry, eating added sugars is going to compound the problem.

To reduce the sugar in your diet, eat fewer processed foods and read food labels to identify hidden sugars. Condiments, yogurt, and cereals are major culprits when it comes to hidden sugars. Sugars may also be hiding behind aliases, such as fructose, dextrose, maltose, and sucrose. Replace sugary snacks with whole, nutrient-dense alternatives like fruits or nuts. Gradually reduce the sugar in your beverages, opting for water or herbal tea. Cook at home to control the ingredients in your food, and use natural sweeteners like honey sparingly. Or, swap sugar for natural sugar substitutes like stevia. 

Skipping even one or two sugary foods each day can make a big difference in cutting calories and counteracting your medication's effects on your weight. 

Eat more fiber and protein

As you cut out empty calories from sugar, add in more healthy, nutrient-rich foods. Foods high in protein and fiber are especially good choices when it comes to weight management. Protein is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in building and maintaining muscle mass, which can help increase your metabolism and burn more calories. Additionally, protein can help you feel fuller for longer periods of time, which can help reduce your overall calorie intake (via the Cleveland Clinic).

Fiber is another nutrient that can aid in weight loss. It helps regulate your digestion and keeps you feeling full, which can prevent overeating. Fiber also helps regulate blood sugar levels, which can prevent blood sugar spikes and reduce food cravings. Another benefit of fiber is its prebiotic content. Healthy bacteria in your gut (called your microbiome) feed on prebiotics and multiply, improving digestive health. Prescription medications can have a negative effect on microbiome health, and poor gut health has been linked to weight gain (via Gastroenterology and Harvard Health Publishing). 

Focus on eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Some examples of high-protein foods include lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, and legumes. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.

Stay hydrated

Weight loss isn't just about what you eat. What you drink — or rather, how much you drink — can make a big difference, too. Drinking enough water throughout the day can help you feel full and reduce your appetite, which can help you consume fewer calories (via John's Hopkins University). Also, when you're dehydrated, your body may mistake thirst for hunger, leading you to eat more than you need to. Additionally, drinking water has been shown to give metabolism a slight boost, which can help counteract a medication's metabolic effects and help you burn more calories. Lastly, proper hydration helps you have more energy and feel better when you're exercising. Regular exercise is an important part of weight loss, and if you feel better and more energetic, you're more likely to stick to an exercise plan.

Women need 11 cups of fluids per day, while men need 15 cups. About 20% of that can come from foods such as soups and water-rich vegetables. However, some medications can actually increase the risk of dehydration, so you might need to drink even more water than the standard recommendation (per research published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics). A good way to know whether you're drinking enough is to look at your pee. It should be light yellow in color. If it's darker than that, it means you're dehydrated. 

Increase your activity level

Increasing your physical activity level can help you combat the effects of medication on your weight. When you're active, your body uses more energy, which can help you burn more calories to create the calorie deficit needed to shed pounds. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, or a combination of both (via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

In addition to aerobic activity, strength training and building muscle mass can also help you lose weight (via Healthline). Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so having more lean muscle mass can boost your resting metabolism. Some examples of moderate aerobic activities include brisk walking, cycling, and swimming. Vigorous aerobic activities include running, hiking, and playing sports. Strength training exercises can include using weight machines, resistance bands, or your own body weight.

The fact is that certain medications (many of which can cause weight gain) can also cause fatigue. This can make it much harder to generate the energy to work out. If fatigue is dragging you down, speak with your doctor. Do as much as you feel able to do, even if that's a short walk. You can also find small ways to increase your physical activity throughout the day. For example, you can take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away from your destination, or take the long way to the bathroom at work.

Boost your gut health

One of the reasons medications may cause weight gain or make it hard to lose weight is because some of them can negatively affect gut health, according to a paper in the journal Gut. The gut microbiome is a collection of healthy and unhealthy microorganisms living in your digestive tract involved in regulating your metabolism and immune system. Research published in Gastroenterology shows that an imbalance in the gut microbiome can lead to a variety of health problems, including obesity.

The microbiome has an impact on appetite and food cravings. Certain types of bacteria in the gut can increase the production of hormones that regulate hunger and satiety, which can help reduce overeating and promote weight loss when the microbiome is balanced. Some types of bacteria can also help break down dietary fiber into short-chain fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity (via Harvard Health Publishing). 

Keep your gut healthy by maintaining a diet rich in fiber and fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. These foods can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and reduce the growth of harmful bacteria. Additionally, it's important to avoid processed foods, sugar, and artificial sweeteners, which can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome.

Boost sleep quality and energy levels

Many medications can affect your sleep. Some may cause insomnia, while others may make you feel drowsy and fatigued. Neither outcome is beneficial for your weight. Research has found a link between poor sleep and metabolic disorders, weight gain, and an increased risk of obesity and other chronic health conditions (via Sleep Foundation). This is because sleep deprivation affects hunger hormones, increasing appetite and reducing feelings of fullness. People who are sleep-deprived also tend to choose foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates. In addition, feeling fatigued from a lack of sleep can make it hard to have the energy to exercise. The same is true for medications that make you feel drowsy and fatigued.

If your medication is causing you to toss, turn, and lie awake at night or feel sleepy throughout the day, speak with your doctor. To improve sleep quality, stick to a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Additionally, create a relaxing pre-sleep routine, limit screen time before bedtime, and ensure your sleep environment is cool, dark, and quiet to promote a restful night's sleep.

Following a regular sleep schedule can also help you combat fatigue. First thing when you wake up, expose yourself to daylight, which will help make you feel more alert. Light exercise can also help boost energy levels. And be sure to eat a nutritious diet with lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats.

Manage your stress levels

When you experience stress, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite and encourages the storage of fat in the abdominal area (via Cleveland Clinic). This can lead to overeating and weight gain, particularly if you tend to eat unhealthy foods for comfort. Stress can also negatively affect sleep quality, which may lead to further weight gain. Hormonal imbalances caused by stress cause an increase in insulin levels, which can lead to the accumulation of body fat. Additionally, stress can cause an increase in the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite and can lead to overeating (per MedicalNewsToday).

To manage stress, it's important to address the underlying cause. If an illness is increasing your stress levels, speak with your doctor. They may recommend counseling to help you cope. Lifestyle changes can also help, such as getting regular exercise, practicing relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation, and seeking support from friends and family. It's also important to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. And, getting enough sleep is essential for managing stress and maintaining a healthy weight.