How Bipolar Patients Can Cope with Obesity

  • 18 January 2016
  • Petra_1

We all know the statistics by now. About half of the population in the US suffering from bipolar disorder is overweight and even obese. The rate of death from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other medical complications is significantly higher for bipolar patients than for avarage folks because bipolars usually carry a lot of extra weight. This issue is quite a dire one, and unfortunately not enough research has been done to find a solution.

We still don't know what the actual connection is between obesity and bipolar disorder. Yes, it is true that bipolar patients gain weight when they start taking medications that involve mood stabilizers like lithium, antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants. Lamotrigine, a mood stabilizer, is not associated to weight gain as much as lithium is. Valproic acid on the other hand, like lithium, does contribute to obesity.

When I started taking the pills, I became obese and my body image suffered a lot. My doctor explained to me how this happened, but I was also told that there could be multiple factors that could contribute to obesity. This is why my doctor made sure that I was following a proper plan to ensure that I could combat weight gain.

Right now, some weight loss drugs are being studied to see if they would work in favor of bipolar patients without causing any side effects. So far, there has not been a proper solution that we could use. However, we could follow some interventional programs that focus on behavior change.

Weight management nutritional programs

Bipolar disorder sometimes co-occurs with binge eating disorder which causes patients to stress eat often, mainly during their depressive episodes. This is why there needs to be a proper diet that will prohibit patients from over eating. My dietician recommended weight loss programs like Nutrisystem, which was really effective. It is a portion controlled diet, and delivers pre-packed meals. For each meal, I was allowed to have only the amount that I was offered, nothing more. This helped me to keep my weight under control. I learned portion control, which is key to losing weight and keeping it off.

Proper exercise

This is quite a challenge for a lot of bipolar patients. We tend to have poor self-image and less confidence. This is why we end up avoiding social gathering and public places a lot. It is quite tough for a bipolar patient to go to a gym to exercise. Also, frequent depressive episodes often are so demotivating! This is why I always recommend others to use the gyms in psychiatric rehabilitation centers where patients can exercises without panicking. Also, buying basic equipment to exercise at home is also a good idea.

Close monitoring

My doctor had told me to start journaling so that I could express my emotions, and also record my health stats. I would do a weight check two times every week and log in the data in my journal. So when there was an increase in my weight, I became alert and took extra precautions to make sure that I could sweat the extra calories away. I would also go for weekly therapies and would stay in touch with my dietician to make sure that I was on the right track.

Weight loss surgery

I have heard of bipolar patients who gained so much of weight after starting with their medications that they could not sweat it out by dieting or exercising. In this case, many of them decided to go under the knife. This was the right decision for them, as obesity could have a very bad impact on someone's life. It is always better to consult the doctor before taking such a step though.

Following these instructions would help any bipolar patient who is trying to figure out a way to tackle their overweight issue. We need to be vigilant and patient. Mostly, we need to keep a positive attitude and believe that we can change for the better!