Drugs, side effects, and weight gain
Updated: Jun 14
So far on this journey I've presented that what you eat has a huge impact on your health and your weight. Watching both portions and quality of food can make a huge impact. But there's also a wild card in the weight loss journey that can throw things off track, and that's drugs. Drugs, while not containing calories themselves, can alter our behavior and metabolism in complicated ways that change our bodies. In most cases we will call these side-effects, because the purpose of the drug has nothing to do with your weight at all.
Some of these drugs are prescription only, and some are included in popular eating, drinking and smoking activities. But they all have profound effects on the body, some of which we still don't understand. Here are some examples.
1- Alcohol. Drinking alcoholic beverages generally causes people to gain weight. Not only are they empty calories devoid of nutrients, but they change our behavior in ways that sabotage us. Booze puts pressure on the liver and slows burning of fat, slowing the body's metabolism in the process. It also is known to increase hunger and remove inhibitions, resulting in poorer food choices. Alcoholism can deteriorate the quality of sleep, which has a long host of side effects including weight gain.
2- Nicotine. Smoking cigarettes and vaping deliver this addictive drug to the brain, with the result that smokers are often skinnier than those who don't smoke. Nicotine is an appetite suppressant, and cessation of smoking is believed to cause weight gain as people break the habit. The dangers of smoking are well-known including lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and high blood pressure, and the risks of being a few pounds skinnier are not worth it. Nicotine is a dangerously addictive narcotic and should be avoided at all costs.
3- Caffeine. The results on caffeine are mixed. On the one hand, it increases your metabolism and gives you more energy. Coffee and tea drinks are very popular and have almost no calories. The danger comes when you add fat and sugar to coffee, (which, let's face it, tastes like battery acid by itself). Coffee and caffeine are known to disturb sleep patterns, which is a trigger for weight gain. But the biggest danger is increased cortisol and stress hormones triggered by caffeine, which can lead to metabolic syndrome, which tells your body to prepare for battles by eating more and stocking up on energy.
4- Marijuana and THC. Again the data is mixed. Marijuana generally relaxes the body and improves stress, which lowers the dangers of weight gain. It also triggers snacking, which is never a good idea in the long run. Some studies show that those who smoke marijuana are thinner than those who don't, but my own opinion is that they are more likely to be vegetarians than the general population, which helps them stay thinner.
*(Note- all prescription medical information below taken from Web MD.)
5- Antidepressants. Most popular antidepressants have a regrettable side-effect of increasing weight gain. This includes, Lexapro, Celexa, Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and any drugs that claim to help with Seratonin uptake levels. (SSRI's) Mental health trumps weight issues anytime, though often they can be tied to each other.
6- Steroids. Prednisone and Prednisolone are both used to reduce pain and inflammation. These increase your appetite and make you more likely to hold onto fat.
7- Allergy drugs. Zyrtec, Allegra, Benedryl, Claritin. These antihistamines block receptors to give relief from allergies, but they also can slow metabolism and add to weight gain with increased usage.
8- Diabetes medicines. Amaryl, Glocotrol, insulin, Starlix, Actos. While diabetics must be able to control their blood sugar levels, the drugs that help them often change metabolism and insulin sensitivity, resulting in weight gain.
9- Mood stabilizers. Seroquel, Risperdal, Zyprexa. These drugs are used with both bipolar disease and schizophrenia to help keep patients stable and healthy. Their side-effect is to turn the appetite on and have it stay on.
10- Seizure and migraine medicines. Elavel, Aventyl, Pamelor, Stavzor. These drugs help stop migraine headaches and seizures, but at the same time they can increase your appetite.
This isn't an all-inclusive list by any means, and for any drug that you take, you definitely need to be aware of the side effects. That doesn't mean don't take the drug, but you have to weigh the risks of side effects against the benefits of the drug. In many cases the weight gain can be minor, which makes the decision easier. Suffering more to have a thin body to impress your friends and family is never a good idea. View this as a holistic lifestyle choice. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns about the side-effects, and don't be afraid to stop taking them once the doctor gives you the all-clear.
As for the first four drugs on the list- they are all optional and voluntary, and should be used with caution, even if they are enormously popular. Nicotine is just nasty and doesn't belong in anyone's body. Alcohol and Caffeine can help with many things, but should be ingested with care. Neither of them should be consumed after 6PM, as they both can mess with good quality sleep, which can bring on many other risks. And as for marijuana, I'm neither a user nor expert, so I'll leave that for you to figure out.
Weight loss tip #21- Be aware of how your drug intake affects your weight and other side-effects and plan accordingly with your doctor.
Drugs can have an unseen effect on our behavior, energy levels, moods, and hunger levels. Being aware of these effects is 90% of the struggle. Only then can you move forward with your life and make informed choices.