Sneaky Medications That Cause Weight Gain—and What to Do About It

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Unfortunately, weight gain can result due to a slew of different factors. Poor eating decisions, lack of movement, Mother Nature taking her course, or, perhaps more surprisingly, your medication. It turns out, there are some sneaky troublemaking pills out there that secretly cause you to gain weight. Here, some of the biggest culprits according to the professionals.


According to nutritionist Ilana Muhlstein, birth control, IVF medications and other meds that affect a woman’s estrogen or hormone levels can absolutely cause weight gain. “Estrogen in high doses can increase appetite and fluid retention. If you feel like this may be the case for you, you can speak with a doctor about a different form of birth control,” explains Muhlstein. 

“The medications that prepare a woman for IVF may increase food cravings, slow metabolism and cause water retention as well. In both of these cases, the weight gain is typically minimal and temporary.


While the medication itself doesn’t chemically cause weight gain (like a medication that causes water retention), antidepressants work in two ways to consequently make you eat more, says Pittsburgh bariatric surgeon Joseph J. Colella, MD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro, not only increase your appetite, but also make you care less about what you are eating. “The chemical effect from the medicine increases serotonin which stimulates your appetite as well and makes you stress out less about the kinds of foods you’re eating,” says the doctor.


Most women take diuretics, or water pills, to treat hypertension (high blood pressure), but many also take them to de-bloat, or temporarily lose weight, as the medication increases the excretion of water from the body. However, Dr. Colella states that diuretics can actually cause you to gain weight. “If you take them frequently, your body becomes chronically thirsty and our brains aren’t good at distinguishing thirst from hunger,” he says. Your brain will tell you to eat more because it thinks you are hungry, when really you’re just thirsty due to water loss. “Your caloric consumption goes up despite the fact that you might be losing some water weight, which will hurt you in the long run.”

Sleeping pills

Like anti-depressants, sleeping pills work on the GABA receptors in the brain, which help to control your level of alertness or relaxation, and also can make you constantly hungry without you realizing it. Plus, sleeping pills like Ambien, have also been found to cause sleep eating or unconscious eating. 

How to Beat It

If you are taking any of these medications and notice a change in body weight, have a conversation about your options with your primary care physician before discontinuing use.

The good news: there are ways to curb some of the excess weight. “If you feel like you’re experiencing increased hunger and fluid retention especially, then drinking more water is important,” says Muhlstein. “It can reduce hunger and help flush out excess salt from the body, help with portion control and may even boost your metabolism.”

Another way to stop excess cravings: eating more low starchy veggies like cauliflower, green beans, and brussels sprouts. “Swapping out carb-heavy meals for meals with more veggies is an effective way to address increased hunger while achieving weight loss,” contends Muhlstein. “These veggies are low in calorie and high in volume, so they have a great bang of satisfaction for a low calorie buck—plus, they are high in potassium and fiber which can reduce water retention and improve your digestion.”

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