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 Marcia Purse

Do We Have to Live with the Angst of Trying to Lose Weight?

By September 16, 2013

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Concerns over weight are quite common to those with bipolar disorder. Weight gain is a common side effect of many medications used to treat this disorder. Bouts of depression can also increase the pounds. In a blog regarding medication weight gain, Charisse shared, "I started on a medication last year and weighed 130 pounds or so. Now I am 220 pounds! I was eating like crazy."

Christine responded, "I have gained almost 50 pounds on medications, and been through the one week it fits, tomorrow it doesn't. I went from 146 to 193 in a matter of 3 months! Changing meds will not help ... I decided that I'll just live with the weight gain but I'll maintain a healthy lifestyle."

I think Christine hit the nail on the head. The key is a healthy lifestyle. It is a matter of changing our focus and our perspective.

Paige Waehner, the About.com Guide to Exercise, has some good news. Giving up on weight loss may be the best way to lose weight. She asks, "What would happen if you gave up on weight loss as an end result? What would happen if you freed your mind from the pursuit of an ideal you haven't been able to reach? What would happen if you forgot about results and focused on what you're getting out of your workouts right now? Are you willing to find out?"

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch recommend this same approach of re-evaluating our motivations for dieting in Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. "It's tough for a nation of people obsessed with their bodies to believe that even 'sensible dieting' is futile."

Why? "In our society the pursuit of thinness (whether for health or physique) has become the battle cry of seemingly every American. Eating a single morsel of any high-fat or non-nutritionally-redeeming food is punishable by a life sentence of guilt by association."

This obsession with food and dieting creates counter-productive thoughts and behaviors. "Intuitive eating focuses on nurturing your body rather than starving it, encourages natural weight loss, and helps you find the weight you were meant to be."

Learn more or join the conversation!
September 20, 2009 at 11:05 am
(1) guggy says:

It does seem like a common theme in bipolar patients. I have almost supressed meat from my diet, and I leave it for special occasions. Plenty of salads and fish here.

bipolar symptoms

September 22, 2009 at 8:48 am
(2) Robyn says:

I have refused to take meds that make me ravenously and insatiably starving hungry all the time no matter how much or what I ate.
I refuse to continuously battle my body. The weight gain I was inflicted with before I said ‘no more’ has been impossible to shift and has given me diabetes.
Its not fair to force us to take meds which barely help with one problem and cause big new problems. After trial and error with my doctors I now take the least hunger inducing meds possible of all the ones available to me.

September 22, 2009 at 9:18 am
(3) Nancy says:

When are physicians, dieticians and other health care professionals going to address the issue of weight gain as a result of medications for a chronic illness??? The usual “tips” and advice for weight loss do not necessarily work for such people and the patient ends up feeling chastised, dismissed, depressed and hopeless/helpless. The particular Rx may indeed be effective in treating the chronic illness but at what price to one’s emotional and physical health?

My once-willowy 26 yr old daughter has gained lots of weight since being treated with several atypical antipsychotics for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder when she was 15. She now has a metabolic disorder characterized by insulin resistance, elevated tryiglycerides and further weight gain and must take another medication to help with the insulin resistance, which causes her more side effects! Because of his concern about the increased risk of heart disease, her psychiatrist has decided to slowly wean her off Abilify, which, alas, has been effective in treating the bipolar disorder. She wants to get off of AP’s for all kind of reasons but is scared of what’s ahead.
Meanwhile,her endocrinologist referred her to a women’s wellness clinic associated with a big hospital for consultation with a MD & dietician re: weight gain. Essentially, she was told that it was her fault and that she had to exercise more & eat less!! No empathy about her unique situation, no special recommendations from the dietician, no acknowledgement that the meds that help her remain functional and stable have caused this horrible weight gain. Can you imagine how she receives this kind of “treatment” when she already struggles with depression and low self-esteem? As her Mom who has witnessed her terrible journey with bipolar disorder and her ongoing struggles with lots of side effects from the meds, I am absolutely FURIOUS the so many health care professionals, including endocrinologists and dieticians, are ignorant, unhelpful, dismissive and downright cruel. She eats well and walks everywhere but she doesn’t have the time or the money to join a fitness club or take classes, per the “experts” she saw.

This whole issue needs to be addressed much more. It’s not just the weight gain that’s associated with many of the psych meds but rather, the serious side effects that put people at risk for heart disease, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome and other illnesses. Thank goodness, she has a psychiatrist who is concerned about her overall health. When I see those Abilify ads on TV, I just want to scream at the way the risks are downplayed. Thanks for letting me vent!!

September 22, 2009 at 10:13 am
(4) Karen says:

Medication side effects caused me to gain more than 80 pounds. After I was able to change medications from some that have weight gain side effects, I was able to make exercise and nutrition part of my recovery. I started small, reducing portions (still eating whatever I wanted) and trying to get a walk in 3-4 times a week. Then it became a habit. I realized how much better I felt exercising and eating a little bit healthier (I still had McDonalds, just had a cheeseburger and small fry instead of the extra value meal.). I lost all 80 pounds that I gained! I would like to encourage everyone out there who has gained weight on medications to make exercise and nutrition part of their holistic recovery. With comorbidity rates high among individuals with mental illness, it’s not only going to help you feel better but also prevent health risks associated with weight gain and lack of exercise. For me, it was really difficult to get started, but I found that once I made it a habit, it just became part of my life. Losing the weight has given me more energy, increased my self-confidence and given me a recovery boost. I am sharing this as encouragement that it CAN be done!

September 22, 2009 at 10:33 am
(5) Gary says:

I gained over 60 to 70 pounds after beginning my meds for Bipolar but I had also stopped due to other digestive problems any exercise at all. I ultimately developed a heart condition that required a 2 week hospital stay with a quack for my psychiatric doctor in the hospital removing me gradually from all my meds except for one,needless to say it took me awhile after to get back to my regular psychiatrist and get all my meds adjusted to where I was able to even go out in public again. But I was also put on a highly salt restrive diet I also gaine control of all my digestive and breathing problems and began to Ride bicycle whether that was inside or outside depending on the weather and lost a good 60 pounds and was able to get around much better along with being in better mental as well as physical health. This past summmer when it was to hot to ride outside because of the time I could get started and the length required to get a good ride in due to the heat I started to once again Jog/Run at a very slow pace but since beginning that I have lost another 20 pounds and can see that I might be able to loose some more, but I will also continue on all my Bipolar meds even though I am feeling much more in control and more positive than I have been in a long time I know that part of this is the meds still working like they should. I have found that I can control my weight when for several years I felt that my meds controlled my weight, it can be done if I can do it and my goal is to loose down to the point that I am within my Body mass index for a healthy person of my height again which would be another 15 to 25 pounds or around in the 150 pound range which is 100 pounds lighter than my highest weight when my heart problem was discovered.

September 22, 2009 at 1:09 pm
(6) Juerg says:

My daughter (31) is bipolar, on Lithium, Anafranil and Seroquel and has very important weight gain due to Seroquel. I’m also bipolar and on Lithium for more than 30 years. My weight gain was very slow but I finally reached 101 kg on 1.97 m height some months ago. I’m now again on 86 kg, simply by eating less and drinking icetea with little sugar and some Stevia to maintain sugar level all the day.

September 22, 2009 at 3:30 pm
(7) angel says:

when i was diagnosed with bipolar over 2 years ago i weighed 117 lbs and went to the gym every day. in 6 months after starting my meds i gained over 60lbs. now 2 years later i weigh 178lbs. more than i weighed with either of my pregnancies. my weight is a constant depression issue for me now and i have switched meds 3 different times. it seems nothing i try works. i dont have the time or the money to go to a gym anymore and it is pointless anyway because i was going to the gym when i gained the first 60lbs. i have resigned myself to the fact that i will continue to be overweight and there is nothing i can do. i just keep gaining weight and i have cut back on my eating. i eat smaller portions and less often. it still doesnt help. my medical dr is now concerned about my weight gain, my psychiatrist is too but says there is little we can do at this point to change my meds as i have tried most of them and they have little effect on me. we finally found a medication that controls my bipolar and this is very important to me because i had a very difficult life before when it was uncontroled. so i suffer through the weight gain as an unfortunate side effect. hoping my medical doctor can come up with a solution that works.

September 22, 2009 at 4:13 pm
(8) Anne says:

I gained weight when I first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 1996. I stopped taking Depakote and in 2003 I was able to drop my weight back to 125, which is what is proportionate to my height and genes. But, I had a horrible cyle in 2007. I’m taking Lithium to control any mood changes or cycling I might experience. My weight gain since then has been as much as 60 lbs. I blame much of it on the medication. I am exercising and eating smaller portions. I have seen some weight loss. I am especially bothered by my lover’s intolerance for how much weight I’ve gained. Even so, I’ve decided I’d rather be fat, overweight and wearing a size 14 on the outside than somehow get myself back into a hospital because I stopped taking my meds. It’s worse to be locked up in a psych ward because I stopped taking pills just to be thin again.

September 22, 2009 at 5:22 pm
(9) muddle.thru says:

i’m oh-so-goshly in the same boat as are many of you. always the curvy but flat-tummy girl, my self-esteem went through the wringer when at age 32 i began taking bp meds, weighing 125, and within fewer than 5 years i weighed 150—not too bad. but a blow to ‘the girl with the great figure.’ now at age 48 i weigh 180 (AND due to heredity on my mother’s side i’ve lost 2/3 of my hair). my general physician says, to no one’s surprise, that 180 is far too heavy for my 5’2″ frame.

how-some-ever, i’m more muscular than average—which is by no means to say i’m chiselled, haha! i’m strong, i walk dogs year-round for a living, we petsit in our home and are often jumping right in and playing with 6-7 large dogs. it involves much heavy lifting. i DON’t feel great about my weight. not at all. but i’ve learned that “Healthy” can come in many sizes. ever seen a slender hippo? a willowy grizzly bear? ME NEITHER! ~^o^~ sometimes ‘weight’ just happens, and what we CAN do is move our bodies by doing something we like (i love my dogwalking job and my husband and i like to explore interesting paths around our area—usually in woodsy places—and i would rather eat nails than use an exercise machine or go to a gym—aarrrgghhh!!!!!) comic dave barry once wrote something like this: ‘the word “aerobics” comes from an ancient Greek language: “aero,” meaning “the ability to” and “bics,” meaning “withstand tremendous boredom.”‘ HAHA!!!

when i walk into a lingerie store or department, i smile and ask a salesperson to show me where the Big Girl items are. the salesperson without fail immediately offers a happy smile. i consider myself a miniature pony; i’ve never seen one with a flat tummy, and they’re still sooooo cute.

the point of my rambling and fractured comments: i don’t like my current weight, but i’ll not let it bugger up my life. one day when i’m long gone, NO ONE will stand at my grave shaking their heads and saying ‘if she could only have lost 50 pounds. she would have had more friends. her family would have loved her more.’ piffle. i’ve never ended a friendship because someone gained weight. i’ve never shunned a family member because he/she got stocky.

life is not about my size. keeping alive necessitates that i move my body as part of enjoying my lifestyle and that i eat wisely most of the time. yes, serious health issues need to be addressed, but silhouette alone is not a health issue.

so let’s find an enjoyable way to move our bodies, employ wisdom to our eating, blow it once in a while, and forgive ourselves??? i think it’s a far better way to live than going off our medications and reverting to a lifestyle of untreated mental torment.

peace to you,

September 22, 2009 at 8:10 pm
(10) Laurie Stott says:

I guess I have to admit that I am a bit taken aback that weight GAIN is the problem most common people are talking about. I suppose it’s only logical that those of us who have the opposite occurring are not speaking up because we don’t think about it. We don’t feel we have a problem. I was diagnosed with bipolar 16 years ago, rapid cycler, tough case by my doctor’s standards, inpaiteint 8 times usually long stays 11, 20, 30 days, ECT, 2 suicide attempts, seven different meds daily, one which is Seroquel. What does suprise me is the talk about their being these permanent gains in weight. The reason I have a difficult time understanding the gains is because when I am suffering depression, I cannot eat. I have gone through too many long lasting bouts with depression, I have been unable to get my system to aquire any type of appetite or much of an ability to accept anything but bland foods. Depression is such a deep, deep, pain I would think many people would have no ability to eat just like me.

September 23, 2009 at 9:35 am
(11) Nancy says:

This kind of weight gain is usually not about what and how much one eats. Some meds, like Risperdal, do indeed increase appetite and craving for carbs is common. And that craving is sometimes insatiable. However, in the case of my daughter, who has struggled with depression more than mania, she seemed to gain weight with not that many calories. In photos of her from age 15 on, you can see the progression of weight gain, as more meds were added or tweaked. And none of her psychiatrists until recently ever ordered blood tests for a baseline blood panel for glucose, cholestrol, triglycerides. So at age 26, she has elevated trigylcerides, borderline blood sugar, an elevated c-Reactive protein—–all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. There is no family history of obesity, heart disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome so there’s no doubt in my mind that years of psych meds have caused these health issues for my dear daughter. And that “blame the patient” attitude on top of all this just plain sucks.

September 29, 2009 at 12:09 pm
(12) Meghan says:

I gained a lot of weight over the years for a variety of reasons – Depakote, Remeron, Zyprexa, no activity due to depression, food craving and an increase in appetite, and self-medicating depression by comfort eating. I went from about 110-115 to a high of 168. I am 5 ft tall even. The weight came both gradually & in jumps and starts.
I hadn’t realized how much of my identity was embedded in being small, petite, cute, little. It was the attention I got. Then when I was no longer petite it was like I disappeared. And sometimes it was worse, I was positive I was deformed – the weight felt that foreign to me. I avoided family get togethers, cameras, my reflection. I showered & dressed in the dark. I was disgusted with myself & was quite mean to myself for a long time. It caused me to be pretty much a hermit. Finally I was so lonely I got angry enough to really stick to a plan. It took 2 1/2 years to lose 60 lbs. That’s all great & all, but now I have to deal with behaviors of an eating disorder. I am obsessed with weight & calories & exercise. I am TERRIFIED of gaining the weight back. I have told my dr I’d rather be dead than obese again. I know it isn’t rational but when I gain a pound or eat something bad I am CERTAIN I will wake up and have gained the 60 lbs back. The diet & exercise was normal for the most part when I was losing weight but towards the end I realized I was going too far & couldn’t stop.
I eat better now, less anxious about what foods. I still have a lot of anxiety all the time but I can counter it better.

October 29, 2009 at 2:47 pm
(13) Geri says:

I think the psychiatrist has to put the patient on a good regimen of routine. The busier you are, the less you want to eat because you have nothing to do/focus on. There should actually be occupational therapists assign to the patient, not just a psychiatrist and therapist/psychologist. I think that the patient should also try to not give up or become despondent. I gained 50 pounds also, and it’s taken me 7 years to shed the weight. I’m not at my normal weight, but I’ve read many books and tried many exercise videos. Everything is trial and error until trial and success. It’s about not being down on yourself or your abilities, or blaming others. You have to take responsibility and be extra patient. Acceptance helps alot too!

September 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm
(14) HopeK7117 says:

I do not believe that you have to live with the weight gain. After taking Seroquel and gaining 40 pounds, I started to research and also started a blog on how to lose weight on psych meds. I have lost 24.8 pounds so far. I am on a low carb/low calorie diet, and I work out very hard until I’m panting and sweating at the gym.

I refuse to choose between skinny and crazy or fat and stable. My family has a history of diabetes, and I don’t want that. I want to be stable and live a long time for my son as well as myself.

It is possible to lose weight on antipsychotics. I am living proof. It’s not easy and it takes longer, but you can lose that weight.

Believe in yourself. If I can do it, you can too. I’m putting a link to my blog here, not to be a spammer (I’m not selling anything and I don’t have any advertisements), but to help people. Here it is:

Good luck!

September 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm
(15) melissa says:

I can really relate to these stories. When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I was a trim 130 lbs. In 9 years since, my weight has ballooned to 238 lbs. I am miserable all the time! I hate my body, and I feel the disdain of those I come in contact with. Regardless of how well I eat or exercise the weight just doesn’t come off. And I too have tried to seek help from doctors only to be left feeling like it is all my fault. They are not sympathetic in the least! I got so desperate that I went off my meds completely for a week, I was even more miserable! I couldn’t sleep, I developed a relentless itchy rash all over. I had to go back on my meds. But, recently I was recommended by a friend to see a holistic, wellness specialist. After one session I am feeling confident she will be able to help me. She identified many foods I am allergic to and found I was seriously low on vitamin B-12, which left untreated magnifies bipolar symptoms. I feel with her help I can at least achieve a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.

September 18, 2013 at 12:09 pm
(16) Mary says:

I am so relieved after reading all of these comments. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began taking zyprexa, abilify, lithium, and a host of other drugs and my weight went up from 140 to 200 and I am relatively active (I ride my bike, I work around the garden, I walk a lot). I told my husband that I had read online that one side effect of psych meds was weight gain so not all of my excessive weight is because I’m being lazy and overeating just for the heck of it. He keeps saying I need to lose weight because of my risk for diabetes (which I know). He tells me I’m just using the psych med weight gain thing as an excuse, that it’s not the real reason I’ve gained the weight. But the weight gain started when I started taking the meds so how can they not be to blame?? It makes me tempted to go off the meds just to lose the weight but I know that would be stupid but weight loss seems so impossible. In fact, my weight just seems to keep ballooning up and up… So it’s very validating to read here that the meds do indeed cause the weight gain and also that it is possible to lose weight while on them. Thank you!

September 24, 2013 at 3:56 pm
(17) collette pore says:

Zypreza was just the med I taken for my issurs. But I wanted to 24/7. After 3 weeks I told my doc how I felt about the eating he took me off immediately. But it made me so good……so up….like I could move mountains.

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