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Weight Management While Taking Prednisone

Harvard Health Publications
2008 Copyright Harvard Health Publications


What is the most effective method for weight loss/management while taking prednisone?


Prednisone is a synthetic hormone commonly referred to as a corticosteroid or "steroid." (These medicines are not the same "steroids" as the drugs taken by bodybuilders.) Prednisone is used to treat many illnesses, especially those associated with inflammation. It is truly a remarkable and often life-saving medication.

Unfortunately, prednisone can stimulate the appetite, and weight gain is a common and unwanted side effect. Not everyone who takes prednisone will gain weight; in part it depends on how much drug you take and for how long you take it. But most people taking the medicine chronically will gain some weight.

There is no "magic" diet to prevent you from gaining weight with prednisone, or to make you lose the weight already gained. Like all weight-reduction diets, it is all about calories. You lose weight when you burn off more calories than you eat. To successfully lose weight while on prednisone, you need to reduce your caloric intake despite the appetite stimulation and try to increase your exercise to burn the calories. If you are just starting the prednisone, you want to make sure you do not increase your intake of food (and calories) right away, so you do not gain unwanted weight.

No one popular diet has been shown to be better than any other. A few simple rules apply to almost all successful diets, including diets for people on prednisone:

  1. Make healthy food choices. Choose healthy foods including fruits and vegetables, and avoid those that can contribute to heart disease.

  2. Exercise. Even if exercise alone may not be enough to make you lose weight, it will help with weight control.

  3. Develop an eating schedule and stick to it. While taking prednisone, if you eat when you feel hungry, you will be eating all the time.

  4. Keep a food diary. Write down everything you eat.

  5. Shop from a list when you go shopping so you don't buy food you don't need.

Some people on prednisone also need to be on a low-salt diet, and some need supplemental calcium or potassium. Speak with your doctor about this. You may also ask to be referred to a nutritionist to get more specific recommendations about your diet to best manage your weight while on prednisone.

Diana Post, M.D., is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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Harvard Health Publications Source: from the Harvard Health Publications Family Health Guide, Copyright © 2007 by President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.

Used with permission of StayWell.

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