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I think it’s safe to say that many of us who have bipolar disorder struggle with weight gain.
The main reason is that medications can affect our appetite. My medication makes me crave sweets like never before. A woman I met in my bipolar support group had just been diagnosed with the disorder and subsequently put on a mood stabilizing drug. Within a matter of weeks she had gained 20 pounds. The weight didn’t just suddenly appear. It happened because this woman couldn’t stop her cravings for donuts.
Another cause for weight gain is leading a sedentary lifestyle. I had to go on disability several years ago because I was too sick to work. When there’s suddenly not much to do in your life, it’s easy to end up sitting in front of the TV and snacking all day. Or worse, spending your time in a depressed state and can’t even get out of bed.
My first major weight gain was seven years ago. I was prescribed an anti-psychotic medication to help with sleep. I got a great night’s sleep, but I also gained almost 50 pounds. I told my doctor I needed to get off the medication because my self-esteem had plummeted and I was feeling more depressed because of it.
I was desperate to lose the weight. Even though it was expensive, I decided to join a pre-packaged food weight loss program. I was working at the time so was able to afford it.
In four months, I was able to lose all the weight I had gained and got off the program. I was taught how to eat right and make better food choices. I kept the weight off for several years.
Then mania took hold and I again found myself on a mood stabilizing drug that causes weight gain. Forty extra pounds made its way back to me. I knew how to eat right. I was just too vulnerable to other factors. And there was no way I could get off this medication. I’ve been able to experience some stability lately because of it and I decided it was time I take control.
I can’t afford a weight loss program so I decided to use what I know. In the past three weeks, I’ve lost ten pounds.
Here’s how I did it:
Basically I am counting calories all day and choosing foods that fill me. Protein is key. I eat six times a day.
A sample day for me looks like this:
Breakfast - Special K bacon, egg, cheese frozen breakfast sandwich, 250 calories. Small glass of Tropicana 50 percent less sugar orange juice.
Morning Snack - Fiber One Oats and Chocolate granola bar, 140 calories.
Lunch - Tuna sandwich on low calorie bread, small handful of pretzels, total 300 calories
Afternoon Snack - banana or protein smoothie, try to keep under 150 calories
Dinner - Sometimes I’ll eat a frozen Lean Cuisine or Weight Watchers meal, but mostly I eat what my family is eating, I just eat a lot less. We grilled hamburgers last night and I ate half a hamburger with a small amount of potatoes. It seems like it would starve you, but as you go along, your stomach adjusts to the smaller amount of food.
Evening Snack - yogurt or a 100 calorie snack. The 100 calorie bag of microwave popcorn actually gives you quite a bit.
I won’t lie to you. When I first started it was very difficult and I wanted to eat chocolate and potato chips instead of a banana. But then I looked at pictures of myself at the weight where I felt best and decided that’s what I wanted more. I keep those pictures in my bathroom to remind me.
I also stopped drinking diet soda. It actually makes you crave calories. And I’m staying away from my favorite pumpkin spice latte at the coffee shop. It could be my lunch and dinner for all the calories it has.
I’ve been forcing myself to move more too. I love riding my bike and I’ve been doing it as often as I can while the weather is still nice. I went out to dinner the other night with my family at my favorite Italian restaurant. I made sure to fit in a bike ride that day to counter the extra calories. I only ate half my dinner and saved the rest. I was completely satisfied.
I must say it’s important to talk with your doctor first before adjusting your diet. Some mood stabilizing drugs are more effective when taken with food and sodium levels sometimes need to be monitored. Strenuous exercise also needs to be approved by your doctor.
Weight loss is a challenge for those who have bipolar disorder, but it’s not impossible.
Read the rest of Paula's posts here.
To learn more about healthy eating and bipolar disorder, read the Supportive Nutrition chapter in our book, Healthy Living with Bipolar Disorder.