6 Tips for Fighting Medication-Induced Weight Gain

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It is not uncommon for people to gain weight when taking certain medications used to treat bipolar disorder. Medication-induced weight gain is one of the more typical side effects of psychotropic drug use. It can place a person in the position having to manage not only one's moods but one's weight, as well.

There are strategic ways to deal with this. In the end, a diet plan should not be founded on drastic exercise programs or severely cutting back on food intake. It's more about viewing nutrition as part of an overall effort to improve your health. Body and mind play a part in how you manage your bipolar disorder and, by looking at treatment holistically, you lose weight and feel better without compromising your health.

Here are some ways to do so:

Keep Track of Your Calories

The simple act of counting calories can help you better understand not only how much you eat but when and what you eat. This is not to suggest that weight loss programs should be based solely on numbers; rather it should be a means by which to gain awareness about how certain habits may contribute to medication-induced weight gain.

Even beyond counting calories, you can keep track of the nutritional information of the foods you eat. There are plenty of free online tools that can assist. Look for one that uses reliable nutrition data sources, such as the USDA nutrient database.

Eat More Fiber

The types of foods you eat matter as just much as your caloric intake. To this end, focus on food rich in fiber. Fiber is the key ingredient to a weight loss program as it keeps your bowel regular, keeps you feeling fuller longer, and keeps you from experiencing fluctuations in your insulin response. By doing so, your body stores less fat, and you simply feel better.

Focus on viscous fiber found in plant foods like beans (legumes), flax seeds, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and oats. Do so as part of a balanced diet while reducing your intake of red meats and refined sugars.

Choose Portion Control Over "Low-Fat" Products

While eating lower fat foods is a good thing, it shouldn't be the sole focus of a weight loss program. In fact, many so-called "low-fat" products can end up having far more sugars their full-fat counterparts.

Instead, focus on portion size. This not only helps cut back calories, but it may also increase your awareness about when you actually full. Oftentimes, having a big plate of food in front of us is something we feel obliged to eat, even when we are already full.

In addition to volumes of food, pay attention to how fast you eat. Research has shown that it takes 20 minutes on average for your brain to receive the message that your stomach is full. So take your time, put down your fork between bites, and avoid the habit of wolfing your food down. By eating slowly, you may realize that you've had already enough even before finishing your plate.

Be Wise When Choosing Calorie-Free Drinks

Forget zero-calorie "diet" drinks saturated with artificial sugars. Focus instead on naturally calorie-free drinks that will keep you hydrated and still tempt your palate. Try replacing soft drinks and high-fructose juices with seltzer, sparkling water, or club soda infused with cucumber, mint, strawberry, watermelon, or citrus slices.

Avoid caffeinated drinks, including coffee. They not only have a diuretic effect (which offers nothing in the way of real diet loss); they also act as a stimulant, which can exacerbate certain bipolar symptoms. Instead, opt for decaffeinated coffee or caffeine-free tea. 

Limit Your Snacking

Snacking is the killer of weight loss programs because it is driven less by hunger and more by impulse. As such, we'll often convince ourselves that we'll "make up the difference" in our regular meals, but it doesn't really work that way. Until you are able to constrain the snacking habit, you will never really fully take charge of a weight loss effort.

The simple rule is this: avoid eating when you're not actually hungry. When you do need a snack to get you over a hump, opt for something healthy and full of fiber. Or, even better, try a glass of water or herbal tea and see if that helps. Oftentimes, we mistake thirst for hunger, and a nice glass of water may be all that is really needed to satisfy a pang.

If you just can't get a snack craving off your mind, try brushing your teeth. It seems to be a trick to work for a lot of people, stimulating the taste buds without taking in unneeded calories.

Never Shop on an Empty Stomach

An even better way to avoid snacking is to not buy snacks. And the best way to do this is to never shop hungry. If you head to the supermarket after a full, satisfying breakfast or lunch, you'll be less prone to reach for that bag of chips or box of cookies. So be strategic and plan ahead of shopping by:

  • Putting together a detailed shopping list
  • Never veering from that list
  • Scheduling grocery shopping right after a satisfying meal
3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mangge H, Bengesser S, Dalkner N, et al. Weight Gain During Treatment of Bipolar Disorder (BD)-Facts and Therapeutic Options. Front Nutr. 2019;6:76. doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00076

  2. Grootens KP, Meijer A, Hartong EG, et al. Weight changes associated with antiepileptic mood stabilizers in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2018;74(11):1485-1489. doi:10.1007/s00228-018-2517-2

  3. Rosenblat JD, Simon GE, Sachs GS, et al. Treatment effectiveness and tolerability outcomes that are most important to individuals with bipolar and unipolar depression. J Affect Disord. 2019;243:116-120. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2018.09.027

Additional Reading

By Marcia Purse
Marcia Purse is a mental health writer and bipolar disorder advocate who brings strong research skills and personal experiences to her writing.