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Weight Gain: Bipolar Symptoms, Medication Side Effects, and Disordered Eating

I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a wildly embarrassing acute manic episode. I did it all. I claimed to be Jesus. I punched a friend, who I thought was the devil. I got arrested in the lobby of my freshman dormitory. I stripped off all my clothes and demanded the police come look at my naked body as proof of my divinity. And this was all during orientation week of my very first college semester. You would think there could be nothing worse, and that after such an episode, I would go to any lengths to stay stable and sane. But it’s more complicated than that. 

Over the course of only three months following my hospitalization, I gained about forty pounds. This might come across as vain, but there could not have been a single greater deterrent to my treatment compliance. The second my psychiatrist told me that the medication carried the side effect of weight gain, I was done. There was no way in hell I would take that stuff anymore. I devised elaborate schemes to trick my parents and my doctors into thinking I was complying with treatment. 

The risk could not have been greater. I felt embarrassed, humiliated, and confused by my new condition. I had no idea about mental illness or mania or psychosis. I was absolutely blind-sided. And yet, I was willing to risk my very sanity if it meant that I wouldn’t gain any more weight. But before I convince you that my weight gain was purely due to medication, let me give you a little history. 

I was once the fat kid. I grew up overweight and had a considerable amount of angst around my body and ideas of attractiveness. At a certain point when I was a teenager, I decided that enough was enough. I became determined to lose weight. I studied diet books and fitness magazines, and I ended up losing over fifty pounds. In my adolescent mind, I had finally arrived. I was now attractive, cool, and somehow impervious to any teasing or bullying. I was, for the first time in my life, confident in my appearance. 

But then I went too far. What started as a sincere desire to get healthier and trim down turned into an obsession with my body and food. What began as “cheat meals” turned into binge-eating. My mind quickly slid down the slippery path of body dysmorphia and disordered eating. And this is where things get complicated. 

Over the years since my bipolar diagnosis, I’ve seen my weight fluctuate along with my mood. Yo-yo dieting met yo-yo moods, and I was lost. At times, I thought my mood was to blame for my eating, and at other times, I believed my eating was responsible for my mood. It got so bad that I became convinced that the perfect diet existed, one that would make my bipolar disorder entirely disappear. 

This belief in the miracle food cure for my bipolar symptoms only put more and more pressure on my eating, and as a result, the binging got worse and worse. Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve benefitted greatly from a more nutritious and balanced eating plan. But the obsession, the shame, and the resultant weight gain, over and over again, as I would swear off foods only to have them one last time—that was not bipolar disorder. That was disordered eating. 

I don’t know how many others struggle with their weight, or more importantly, struggle with love and acceptance of their bodies. Mood irregularities seem to make any mood-altering behavior more likely to occur. I imagine that many people with bipolar disorder are especially vulnerable to disordered eating, like myself. I find that the more I share, the more I find others that are going through the same thing. In some small way—sometimes in a big way—knowing others are on the same path gives me strength and hope. 

Today, I am fortunate to have sought recovery for disordered eating as well as my bipolar disorder. It is very difficult for me to separate the two. I notice my disordered eating symptoms tend to flare up when I’m feeling anxious, overwhelmed, bored, or depressed. The most important part of recovery has been body appreciation, no matter where my weight is at the moment. I am grateful and fortunate to be here, to be alive, and to be sane. My body makes that possible, no matter how much I weigh. Medication helps too, and so I find a way to make it work. 

Chris Cole has authored a book recounting his experiences, and he’s now a life coach for folks in recovery. Read the rest of his posts for IBPF here


Thank you Chris for chatting about your experience. That is how I am now. The only thing is I'm not diagnosed bi polar even though I have done the tests and it says I am. They say it's severe depression with personality disorder. I struggle to go out and have only managed college twice in the last three weeks. I actually don't know what to do anymore. It feels like my shrink don't listen or even chat he just goes over previous app which is every six months. How do I get the right help feel like I'm going mad and voices never shut up.

wow reading Chris Cole experience of this illness. rang so much of a similarity. I have bipolar and have bounced up n down with my weight let alone mood. I'm now a mental health nurse and I find it hard to stay well, everyday is an achievement. with meds, exercise, good diet and talking i have managed to stay stable for 3 years with only a minor blip. I never thought that I would hear someone with bipolar disorder suffer so much with EDD eating disorder. I have recently been diagnosed with an eating disorder after years of hating my relationship with food. my manic episode were not as severe as urse but my downs were like falling into a bottomless pit. all I wanted to do was die. u are trully an inspiration. even tho I am a nurse and deal with MH everyday u rang a personal note and I thank you for sharing your story and being so brave. it's ironic to know that such a horrible illness can give u a senses of belonging to people who understand in so many similar ways. keep up the good work ,:)

Thank you so much for you article! When my bi polar was diagnosed I weight 98lbs, I am only 5'1". I know weigh 165,/I work out 2x weekly but depending on my mood I either WORKOUT or work out. When anxious or bored and yes depressed I will binge eat. When manic I don't eat. Meds help but I still have some symptoms, but they are milder. I am glad I am not alone and can now talk with my Dr. About this

I can really relate to this, almost like I wrote the first part. I'm still finding help for my eating issues, and happy to say I'm making progress.

I am going through exactly the same patterns as you. You explain it very well.

So proud of what you have achieved. ..
We are all beautiful. ...talented....amazing people ...and validation of where we are in physical identification and validation makes us winners.

iam not taking my medication 4 that very reason l have lost 5.5 st and do-not and will-not put any on through new medics,as l stll need to lose at least another 3 st. but my manic and depression is getting out of control.and l am scared

This is basically my story without the manic episode. However I am still trying to recover and struggling miserably. Its nice to know I'm not alone though and thanks for writing this.

I've finally got my weight under control but am dealing now with the later stage side effect of antipsychotics: high blood sugar heading towards diabetes type two. I made a number of dietary changes, started with metformin and lost 8 pounds yet on my 1 mo followup, found my blood sugar is still going higher. It's got to be the meds. Studies of this atypical antipsychotic show it causing diabetes type two and of course massive weight gain three times more often then the other atypical antipsychotics out there. Yet I need this medicine. In more ways than one. My back is to the wall. I don't know what to do. Weight gain leads to the problems I now have. So does yo yo dieting. I hope for the best for you.

I have been over weight since 2nd grade. I was bipolar since I was 12 I am now 61. I had an intestinal surgery to lose weight at 21. I never felt thin, even though I went from 220 to 150 and looking at pictures from back then I was pretty good looking. I wish heavy people at least those I have ever know or talked to, lose weight from the body, but never the mind. If I was able to have my mind changed to see the real me I would probably have had a very different life. I am 61. When I was finally diagnosed with bipolar, was one good step to working out one set of health problems. My eating was out of control, the reason why I won't go into but slowly went from 155 to 320. After a gastric bypass I lost weight again, but not as much as before, there was a number of reason there too. Basically what I have found out was I have a binge eating disorder. As long as I don't eat I am fine. When I finally need to eat around 6pm it's the "fridge saying "Penny,I am here lot's of food" I explained it to my primary Dr. it was "like a switch was turned on and I couldn't get enough food". Not being hungry didn't matter. I am on several bipolar meds with weight gain as side effects. Other meds I have to take for other things have the same side effects. He has started me on a new drug that just was approved for Binge eating disorder. I have been on it four months. I have more energy, with better energy has help me keep busy and then help moods better. It's a new drug that has been evaluated by the FDA and added it to the binge eating patients. I never knew it existed. I am happy to announce I have lost 20 pounds in four months, not only that I find myself double and triple analyzing myself as do I really need that food. Most days it works like a charm. A few of them has "forget this I'm eating" but those have been minimal. Since it has only been 4 months I need to see my Dr. every month, but with no problem this month, I get to go 3 months until the next check in.. I am also trying to talk into myself now to think about the weight I lose will also need to work at knowing my body is changing so i need to change the way my mind is feeling also, my mind is changing too. Well, this is my book for the evening. Hope this helps others.

What is the name of the drug used for binge eating? Thanks

Linda it's called Vyvanse. I started taking it in 2010 for ADD and was going to go off it when my insurance wouldn't cover it, but my doctor wanted me to take it for the BED so she got it approved. This post reminds me I probably need to increase my dose.

I have also experienced the side effect of weight gain, and it has been very frustrating. I need to lose about 120 pounds to be at my healthiest weight. I was always thin before taking the medication which I have now taken for the past 21 years. I also gained 40 pounds in the first 3 months and my weight has been up and down many times.

I've always been bigger and had problems with my weight. For the first time in my life I became happy with my body around a year and a half ago. I ended up getting back on meds and gaining 100 lbs since then. I feel very unhappy this way, even more so that the meds I'm on aren't helping enough.

I could have written much of this article and I too feel better knowing I'm not the only one. When I go to BP support groups I feel like the only one with an eating disorder and at the support groups I go to for bariatric surgery (I had gastric bypass in June) I KNOW I'm the only only one with BP. At least diagnosed. I chose surgery because I could not handle the constant loss and gain and loss and gain. And I too alternated between thinking my BP caused my ED and the ED caused the BP. In fact in 1990 I was bulimic and diagnosed with manic depression because back then they assumed everyone who was bulimic had it. I hated the lithium and the diagnosis so I spent 20 years being treated for depression, and of course I spent the whole time yo yo dieting. What a viscous cycle! Now I'm dealing with the fact that gastric bypass didn't fix my brain, or help with my body image. I've definitely benefited and I'm very glad I did it because it's a great tool and if I use it properly I know I'll be successful. But if I ignore the fact that I also have bipolar disorder and an eating disorder, I'll be one of the ones who gains back all the weight. I refuse to be that person. So thank you for your story. Now I know it's possible.

Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, suffer from both diagnoses. I was diagnosed with anorexia in my mid 30s, 20 years ago, although I believe I showed signs as a teen, before it was in the mainstream, after being treated insuccessfully for depression most of my adult life, my diagnosis was changed to bipolar 8 years ago. It answered many questions and explained many behaviors, such as "temper tantrums" and all my nervous energy. My new medications, while they work, cause weight gain. So, disordered eating is something I struggle with daily. I like feeling better, but hate gaining. Therapy, along with meds, is the way to go. I accept both lifelong diagnoses and take one a time.

Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, suffer from both diagnoses. I was diagnosed with anorexia in my mid 30s, 20 years ago, although I believe I showed signs as a teen, before it was in the mainstream, after being treated insuccessfully for depression most of my adult life, my diagnosis was changed to bipolar 8 years ago. It answered many questions and explained many behaviors, such as "temper tantrums" and all my nervous energy. My new medications, while they work, cause weight gain. So, disordered eating is something I struggle with daily. I like feeling better, but hate gaining. Therapy, along with meds, is the way to go. I accept both lifelong diagnoses and take one a time.

what medications cause weight gain. I too have been diagnosed bipolar, and I take seroquiel, and no matter how much or how little food I eat I continue to gain weight. I grew up with the eating disorder bulimia, and after getting through that, I now have flashbacks due to this weight gain, which leads me into depression. I know that this medication is helping me, so not taking it is not an option. Does any one else have any suggestions?

Was on the depot for 7 months have put on nearly 2 stone also high prolacton which is coming down now suffered at 11 with anorexia im now 44 ive been diagnosed schizzoffective /borderline personality disorder hate what yhis drug has done to me doc told me to try latuda too scared of the weight gain tho it is meant to be weight neutral she said the depot was and then retracted that currently eating 800 calories have lost 6ib in a week have to see her tomorrow to get started on metforim catch 22 with antipsychotics at present hate the way i look and so angry with the weight gain im hardly going out because of it my mood is zero any ideas? Thanku

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