Confronting Weight Gain on Psychiatric Medications
Confronting weight gain on psychiatric medications is a major problem for many people consuming these types of medicines (Weight Gain in a Pill). It is almost as if the more your mental health improves, the more weight you gain. However, psychiatric medication weight gain can be coped with.
As someone diagnosed with bipolar II, I understand the struggle of weight gain on psychiatric medications (Accepting Weight Gain in Bipolar Disorder). Recently, when I went to my regular physician, I underwent blood work to check my cholesterol levels. It was surprising being that I have decent eating habits and stay active consistently. My doctor shared with me that the reason for these tests was not due to poor eating habits, but due to the medications I am currently prescribed for maintaining my mental health. Identifying ways to maintain weight are important for those of us facing weight gain because of psychiatric medications.
Do Psychiatric Medications Really Cause People to Gain Weight?
The simple answer is yes. Weight gain is a side effect of many psychiatric medications. Psychiatric medications are used to treat psychosis and other mental and emotional conditions. These are medications like antidepressants and antianxiety medications, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic drugs. Eight studies were conducted by researchers contributing results to the Scientific American Mind magazine. The researchers found that 55 percent of patients who take modern day antipsychotics experience weight gain -- a side effect that appears to be caused by a disruption of the chemical signals that control appetite. These results reveal that weight gain on psychiatric medications is a real problem and needs to be confronted sooner rather than later.
Ways to Control Weight Gain on Psychiatric Medications
The magazine Everyday Health shares a few tips for controlling weight gain on psychiatric medications. They list seven tips such as controlling food portions, keeping a food journal, and getting support. A simple 10-20 minute walk outside does more for the mind and body than one would think. It is emotionally difficult if you gain weight on psychiatric medications; however, maintaining your mental health is a priority.
My key suggestion would be to control your weight before it gets out of control. There is no need to be embarrassed. Find local weight loss support or walking groups in your area. There are many at-home exercises that can easily be found online and in books. There are many ways to have the best of both worlds. It is hard work but controlling your appetite can be done on psychiatric medications.
My 60 Pound Weight Gain on Psychiatric Medicines
When I was first diagnosed with bipolar II, the next step was finding a good routine of psychiatric medications. This caused my weight to go up and down. At one point I had gained 60 pounds from one of the medicines I was prescribed. I doubted that I would ever find balance.When I gained this amount of weight, I became depressed.
I confronted this issue by communicating with my doctor that this amount of extreme weight gain was unacceptable and damaging my physical health. I needed to find a better balance. After getting back on a steady routine of working out and trial and error with medications, I lost the weight. It is important to not feel ashamed about gaining weight on psychiatric medications. Many people struggle with this issue and there are ways to help.
See my video for more on how I confronted psychiatric medication-related weight gain.
Blum, H. (2016, October 26). Confronting Weight Gain on Psychiatric Medications, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, November 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalhealthforthedigitalgeneration/2016/10/confronting-weight-gain-on-psychiatric-medications
Author: Hannah Blum
Given the popularity of antidepressants and the rising popularity of antipsychotics in recent years, I’m surprised that I knew nothing about such a common and potentially severe side effect as weight gain.
But that’s probably because I never had anything to do with psychiatrists and that side of the medical community until a few stressful things happened at once.
Doctors say nothing to you about common or severe side effects and certainly don’t mention black boxed warnings.
Many people benefit from these drugs and call them “lifesaving.” Not my experience. It’s not that their experiences are invalid, it’s that the opposite experiences are almost never told.
Between doctors “forgetting” to tell patients about side effects and the mainstream narrative only showing one side of the story, many people can be left in the dark about how to make such critical and informed decisions about their health.
Thank you for this article. Weight gain was absolutely a side effect for myself. It really complicated everything as I was struggling with an eating disorder at the same time I was battling BPD. I simply could not just go off my meds however. As you mention, there are ways to cope...but these side effects certainly complicate matters.
Overwhelmed 3 years ago by a number of environmental stressors that collided to form a perfect storm, I ended up with a severe mental breakdown that landed me in the hospital with a diagnosis of bipolar 1.
After being only partially stabilized in hospital on strictly meds alone and completely traumatized by the whole ordeal I was discharged.
Later I was followed up by a community care pdoc who continued to try out a number of different meds and combos on me in the hope of finding a better long term solution.
I tried my my best to be a compliant, open minded patient for 3 long years yet I saw little improvement in my mental health from the meds I was given. I was also greatly disturbed by the dramatic deterioration of my physical health which had never been a problem before
Every time I tried a new med or combo the negative physical side effects of the meds far "out weighed" the so called mental health benefits.
At one point I was given the antipsychotic Abilify as an add on to boost the antidepressant qualities of the antiseizure med Lamictal that I was taking. I was assured the Abiliify was weight neutral. Lies, lies, lies. It caused me to gain over 80 pounds, develop metabolic syndrome, lipidemia (as well as Tardive D) and the rapid weight gain severely hindered my mobility. I was so sleepy and exhausted 99 % of the time. I had no energy, motivation or drive to do basic stuff like bathe let alone exercise.
For the most part all medication did for me was increase feelings of depression, hopeless, despair about my future while the lifeforce continued to drain out of me.
While meds may have slowed down my racing mind they also affected my concentration and recall. That's a huge problem if you work with numbers all day like I do.
Meds also greatly reduced dopamine, the feel good chemical in my brain which in turn worsened my depression and increased my sense of hopelessness and despair as well. Suicidal ideation was a daily occurence.
I no longer take antipsychotic meds because of their overwhelming negative side effects. I initially started out with Lithium but my physical health suffered dearly on that med too. So at the moment my only other options is an antiseizure med. So lamictal (monotherapy) it is!
Antidepressants make me manic and suicical and I refuse to take antianxiety meds because they are highly addictive (and from what I've heard the withdrawls are a mightmare) so no thank you to that too!
When my weigh shot up to 303 pounds I became anorexic in my eating behaviours. In fact I was so desperate to lose the weight that I put myself on a very strict vegan diet (less than 500 calories a day) but surprisingly I didn't loose a pound until I went off the antipsychotic completely As the weight started to come off I began to get enough energy to to start doing a bit of exercise. First it was just walking, then I added swimming one or twice a week and then finally I joined a gym where I work out on a regular basis now. Only recently have I felt safe enough to increase my calories without the fear of gaining all the weight back again.
Exercise has been a very useful tool. It helps me to effectively manage my weight, stress levels, improve my self esteem, increase energy and so much more.
I've been able to make a lot of positive lifestyles changes since drastically reducing my meds and getting rid of others. In a way my previous mental breakdown was a catayist for these much needed changes. With minimal help from meds I have begun to make great strides at improving my overall health and stability. It's hard work but I am highly motivated and comitted to doing whatever it takes to stay well so I will never have to go back to being an overmedicated zombie.. I was barely surviving before I made up my mind to take back my life. I am no longer satisfied to just sit around passively letting my life pass me by. There will be plenty of time for that when I'm much older. I want to be able to thrive, not just merely survive. Is that too much to ask?.
For me I can honestly say I felt worse on bipolar meds than I ever did off them. They may have served a purpose as an interim solution but not over the long haul. In my humble opinion much more research is needed to improve the quality and effectiveness of these psychiatric medications. In the meantime we must all do what we can to help ourselves
Thank you for your comment and willingness to share a part of your story about an extremely difficult time in your life. It is very brave of you! I agree with you, more research focused on decreasing the extreme side effects of certain psychiatric medicines is needed. However, while we make strides towards this goal, it is important to continue treatment and communicate concerns with medical professionals. There are psychiatric medications that work well for many people struggling with a mental health condition. Comments like this help open the conversation about mental health. Thank you for sharing your story and being part of the HealthyPlace community.