Weight Gain and Bipolar Medications

Patricia Nees

Weight gain is a common issue for people on bipolar medications. Learn which drugs have this unfortunate side effect and how you can keep your weight under control.

Medications that are used to treat bipolar disorder are intended to help stabilize mood and ease depression, but they often come with a significant side effect: weight gain. In addition to weigh gain, eating disorders are a concern
to be watchful for. Anorexia, binge eating and bulimia just to name a few.

Drugs that are especially associated with this issue include:

  • Mood stabilizers such as lithium and divalproex (Depakote)
  • Antipsychotics such as risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel), and olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • Antidepressants such as paroxetine (Paxil) and isocarboxazid (Marplan)

Drugs are not always solely to blame for weight gain during bipolar treatment. It’s also common for a person’s appetite to naturally increase along with his or her emotional wellness as the treatment takes effect…

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Unexplained Weight Gain



Weight gain is frustrating enough, but when you can’t seem to identify the cause(s) of it, the frustration is compounded. Emotional overeating is a somewhat sneaky problem – because it can involve mindless eating, it’s the sort of thing that can occur without you realizing it. If you are having trouble figuring out what’s causing your weight gain, here are some tips on identifying emotional overeating (as opposed to just overeating).

Seemingly Unexplainable Weight Gain

If you are gaining weight and you can’t seem to figure out why, this is (ironically) a sign that the problem may lie with emotional overeating. As noted above, you often don’t know you’re doing it when it comes to emotional overeating. You may even be working out regularly and preparing healthy meals and still gaining weight, because you are mindlessly eating other foods when you feel negative emotions.

A Sudden Urge

Sources say that emotional “hunger” comes on quite suddenly, perhaps in the form of an irresistible craving for a certain food or just the urge to eat right now. True hunger is usually more gradual than that – unless you have low blood sugar or have gone a very long time without eating, true hunger does not usually take the form of an urgent need to eat a whole lot right away.


More and more the connection between emotional overeating and depression is being discovered. Do you feel depressed periodically? When you even think of feeling depressed, what goes through your mind? How do you cope? If you are picturing a big serving of your favorite comfort food, then this may be a sign that your overeating is emotion-based.


Are you going through a stressful time in your life simultaneous to your weight gain? Have you seen that pattern before? Stress, with its accompanying anxiety and other negative feelings, can trigger someone to overeat in response to those feelings.


How do you feel after you eat? Are you consumed with guilt? Do you feel ashamed? These feelings are signs that you have a problem with emotional overeating. Normal eating to satisfy normal hunger does not make a person feel guilty.

Specific Cravings

As many parents know, genuine hunger usually means that you’re more open to various food options. In emotional overeating, though, cravings may be so specific that no other food will do to satisfy your “hunger.” You feel like you have to have that particular food to feel satisfied.


Why Am I Still Gaining Fat Even Though I Exercise Regularly?

If you’re hitting the treadmill every day and are not seeing the numbers you want on the scale, then you are not alone! Plenty of people exercise regularly and yet they still cannot seem to shed the pounds. There could be a couple of reasons for this. True, a person could have a genetic issue – there are a variety of genetic issues that can make harder for a person to shed fat – but these genetic conditions are rare and it is far more likely that it is an issue with your diet or exercise, so let’s explore some of these issues a bit more in-depth.

1) You’re doing the wrong kind of exercise

Sure, you may be exercising regularly, but are you doing the right kind of exercise? While cardio is an important part of any good exercise regimen, cardio alone is not really the best way to go about burning fat. High-intensity interval training is probably the best way for people to burn fat. If you aren’t familiar with high-intensity interval training, it’s an exercise regimen wherein a person alternates between high-intensity exercises (like sprinting or squatting) for a small period of time and then switches to a lighter exercise for a small period, and then continues switching until the 15-minute session is over.

2) You aren’t cutting enough calories out of your diet

When you really break it down, losing fat is a simple process of calories in, calories out. The problem comes when people try to figure out just exactly how many calories they need to cut. You need to be careful when cutting calories. If you do not cut enough, you will not end up shedding enough fat, but if you cut too much, then you will not have enough energy to exercise regularly! Generally, you should aim to burn about 500 more calories than you consume each day. If you haven’t already gotten one of the many calorie tracking apps out there, you should get one immediately.

3) You’re not getting enough sleep

This may seem like an odd reason to be retaining fat, but believe it or not, sleep deprivation can really set back your weight loss efforts. There are two reasons for this. First off, sleep deprivation causes issues with the two hormones in your body that are responsible for controlling hunger (they are called ghrelin and leptin), which means you will be hungrier than you normally would be. Secondly, sleep deprivation causes your body to store more fat than it would under normal circumstances.

The truth is, sometimes you can be doing everything “right” and still struggle to see results. Remember, give it time! And don’t forget that you may actually be gaining pounds on the scale thanks to muscle, not fat!

Water Retention and Weight Gain

Water retention and its subsequent weight gain is a particularly bothersome issue for women of all ages, let�s learn all about it.
Understanding water retention
Water or fluid retention is also referred to as edema. It occurs in the circulatory system and may cause bloating, and swelling in the extremities, such as the legs, feet, and ankles. 
People who lead extremely sedentary lifestyles with little exercise or those who are bedridden are susceptible to this condition. 
Edema can also be indicative of kidney disease or heart failure, so if you have a severe case of it, or a severe sudden onset, get emergency medical care. 
For the non-severe varieties, that cause swelling, bloating and discomfort and there is no underlying medical condition, making changes in your diet and exercise habits can help.
Why does Water Retention Happen?
When the body retains water, it means that there is extra water around in the tissues that lie between the cells in the body. There are several reasons why this could happen, including the following:
�	Carbohydrates�carbohydrates increase water retention, this is why bloating often occurs after a carb heavy fast food meal and may wake up with an extra five pounds on the scale, all in water weight. Let�s start with the carbohydrates. Every one gram of carbohydrate requires three to four grams of water in order to store and process it. In order to translate that into a familiar language, say you eat a medium potato. You�ll get 37 grams of carbs, which needs 110-150 grams of water. That�s about 5 ounces, just below a half pound. On a moderately high carbohydrate diet, the average person will eat around one and a half pounds of water weight just from the carbohydrates in the diet. If you stop eating carbohydrates, you�ll lose that pound right away. 

�	High levels of salt in the diet is also responsible for excess retention of fluids and if salt is present in every processed meal you eat, you�ll retain even more fluids. 

�	Sex hormones�this is especially true for women. Water retention gets more complicated for women. Most women will retain water during their menstrual cycle. In general, 92 percent of women will have water retention in the week before their menstrual period starts. Once menstrual bleeding actually begins, the water weight drops off once again. Some women will have persistent water retention, even after their period. During your period, there are notable changes in your hormone levels, which lead to an increased amount of potassium and sodium in your system. 

�	Cortisol�chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol is a problem for many reasons, and water retention is one of them. It is difficult to say how much cortisol will increase water retention. It can also increase body fat so that the weight you gain from cortisol is probably both from fat and water. If you�re stressed out and feeling puffy or bloated, some of that is probably from water. 
Your body is able to retain enough water to equal about 5 pounds per day, depending on the kind of foods you take and the amount you consume.  
If you add up all those causes of water retention, you can easily get ten pounds of fluctuation from just water. This is especially true for premenstrual women or from anyone who just ate a high carbohydrate dinner.  
PMS and water retention
PMS or premenstrual syndrome is a common cause for water retention in many women. There have been no exhaustive studies that link water retention with premenstrual syndrome. However, lack of essential vitamins and minerals and added salt are triggers for the retention of water in some women.  
A British researcher suggested that low blood sugar during PMS could lead to water retention. She argues that low blood glucose levels cause the body to retain water by releasing adrenaline. This signals the body to release more blood sugar. Once the glucose leaves the body, the cells are then filled with water leading to weight gain and bloating. 
Recognizing water retention
Water retention is marked by an increase in weight of about 2-5 pounds per day. This is a common sign of swelling, which is characterized by having a bloated abdomen.  
Sometimes your clothing can be too tight. Many women who have this problem complain of pain in the swollen areas of their bodies, particularly the feet and ankles. 
Key Steps In Reducing Water Retention
�	A crucial step in dealing with water retention is to eat less salt, and avoid processed and junk foods, which are high in salt. Read food labels and avoiding processed food products. Try putting the salt away so you won�t be tempted to use it. The use of calcium supplements with your meals can lessen the risks of retaining fluid.  
�	Increase magnesium intake, one study found that  women who took 200 mg of magnesium every day, had less retention during PMS and other studies have shown similar results. You can get magnesium naturally from whole grains, nuts, green vegetables, and dark chocolate.
�	You might want to consider working out during your menstrual period to avoid water retention and weight gain. Exercise will increase the blood flow to your kidneys for excretion.  
�	Make sure you remain hydrated throughout the day by drinking a lot of fluid.  
�	Other ways to reduce water retention include natural diuretics such as lemon water and grapefruit.  
�	It also helps to eat 5 to 8 smaller meals throughout the day, instead of 3big meals.