Tips for Reversing Prednisone Weight Gain

Prednisone is a type of corticosteroid, a drug that reduces inflammation. Doctors use steroids to treat many inflammatory conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

A common side effect of prednisone is weight gain. For those who are underweight because of a health condition, this may be welcome. However, for others, it can present a problem.

This article will help you understand why weight gain occurs when you take prednisone and offer tips for managing your weight while taking steroids.

preventing prednisone weight gain
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Prednisone Uses

Your adrenal glands are two triangular glands located above the kidneys. They produce a natural form of a steroid called cortisol.

Cortisol (also known as the "stress hormone") has an important role in the body. It helps control metabolism, immune function, inflammation, and response to stress and injury.

Prednisone is a synthetic (chemical) steroid similar to cortisol. It may be prescribed to help manage many different diseases that involve inflammation, like asthma, allergic reactions, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and more.

Inflammation caused by IBD leads to ulcers in the lining of the digestive tract. If left untreated, it can cause other complications. Prednisone has been in use for many years to treat the inflammation caused by IBD.

Prednisone should be used for as short a time as possible. Then, when your inflammation subsides, your doctor may gradually lower your dose.

Prednisone can work fast. That's why it is often used to control a condition until a more sustainable, long-term treatment plan starts working. 

Prednisone and Weight Gain

While prednisone is often helpful in getting inflammation under control quickly, it may come with side effects. One potential side effect is increased appetite. Unfortunately, this can result in significant weight gain for some people.

There are several reasons why taking prednisone can lead to weight gain. They include:

  • Retaining fluid (water weight gain)
  • Eating more calories
  • Getting less physical activity

The good news is that when you understand why prednisone weight gain happens, you can take steps to avoid it when you are prescribed this drug. So take heart; it is possible to maintain a weight that is healthy for you when you take prednisone.

Causes of Prednisone Weight Gain

There are several reasons that prednisone can lead to weight gain. These include:

  • Salt and potassium: Prednisone causes the body to hold on to sodium (salt) and lose potassium. This combination can result in fluid retention, weight gain, and bloating.
  • Increased appetite: Prednisone causes an increase in appetite. That means you may eat more and take in more calories when you take this drug. If you have IBD and normally have a poor appetite, this may actually be beneficial.
  • Decreased physical activity: Many people take prednisone for an inflammatory or a chronic condition. These health problems may make physical activity more difficult, adding to the overall effect of weight gain.
  • Fat redistribution: Prednisone can also cause fat to be stored in places like the face, back of the neck, and abdomen.

IBD Weight Loss

Prednisone might help reverse some weight that was lost as a result of IBD. This can sometimes help a person re-establish a weight that is healthy for them.

Preventing Prednisone Weight Gain

You may be able to prevent prednisone weight gain by eating a lower-sodium and lower-calorie diet. Getting regular exercise will also help.

Low-Sodium Diet

Eating a reduced-sodium diet and increasing potassium can help with extra water weight. You can meet these nutrition goals by:

  • Eating foods that are high in potassium, like bananas, cantaloupe, grapefruit, and lima beans
  • Reducing your sodium to less than 2,000 milligrams (mg) a day
  • Avoiding highly processed foods

Reduced-Calorie Diet

It can be tricky to avoid gaining weight when the medicine you take gives you a bigger appetite. To avoid gaining weight, try the following:

  • Decrease how many calories you consume each day.
  • Decrease dietary fat.
  • Eat several small meals a day instead of three large ones.
  • Eliminate or reduce empty calories, such as simple carbohydrates and processed sugars.
  • Make sure that most of your calories come from nourishing foods.

Exercise

Regular exercise can also help prevent or lessen weight gain from prednisone. Talk to your doctor about starting a fitness routine. Try to find something that can help you lose weight, and that promotes long-term health.

When you have an underlying chronic illness, a tailored exercise program is important. Therefore, getting a referral to a physical therapist may be helpful.

How to Lose Weight From Prednisone

The good news is that the weight gain tends to reverse when the dosage of prednisone is reduced to less than 10 mg/day. In addition, fluid retention and increased appetite will also start to go away as the prednisone dose is lowered and then stopped.

Nutrition and Exercise

Any weight gain that happened while taking prednisone will not automatically go away. However, sticking to a healthful eating plan and getting regular exercise will help you return to a healthy weight.

Eating nourishing food and getting regular exercise is easier to do when you are feeling well. Therefore, it will be easier to do both things when the health problem that led to the prednisone treatment is either resolved or under good control.

A physician can recommend the best diet and fitness plan that works for your particular lifestyle and health conditions.

Take It Slow

Unfortunately, there is no easy road to weight loss. Although many diet plans and pills promise quick weight loss, a healthy lifestyle is the best way to lose weight.

Weight loss should be slow and steady. This gives the best chance of losing the pounds permanently. In addition, keeping a nutrition and exercise journal may help you lose weight and keep you motivated.

Summary

Many factors contribute to weight gain while taking prednisone. These include water retention, increased appetite, and decreased physical activity.

You can prevent weight gain or lose excess weight by eating a low-sodium, low-calorie diet and being physically active every day. Talk to your doctor about your fitness plan and ask them if a physical therapist may be right for you.

Not everyone will gain a lot of weight while taking prednisone, but most people will gain some. The good news is that as you stop taking prednisone, the weight gain will stop too.

A Word From Verywell

Gaining and losing weight tends to be something that happens to some people with IBD. It can be a struggle to stay at a healthy weight when your condition and treatment cause your weight to fluctuate. If you have IBD, try to maintain as healthy a diet as possible to receive enough nutrients to nourish your body.

If you are undergoing prednisone treatment, talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about your weight. Your gastroenterologist and nutritionist can help you develop a plan to maintain a healthy weight for you.

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Article Sources
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