How to Manage Weight Gain on Psychiatric Medication

Three Parts:Monitoring Your Weight While on Psychiatric MedicationsManaging the Emotional Side of Weight GainControlling Your Diet While on Psychiatric Medications

If you currently take or have been prescribed any type of psychiatric medication, you are at risk for gaining weight. Studies have shown that over 55% of those who take psychiatric medications (like antidepressants or stimulants) gain weight.[1] It's believed that the medication disrupts the chemical and hormonal signals involved with appetite and increase feelings of hunger. Some of these drugs may also cause changes to your metabolism which makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight.[2] If you have experienced weight gain after taking psychiatric medications, talk to your doctor about better weight control. You'll need to make changes to your diet, lifestyle and consider counseling to help better manage your weight.

Part 1
Monitoring Your Weight While on Psychiatric Medications

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    Talk regularly to your psychiatrist and psychologist. If you currently take psychiatric medications, you most likely see a psychiatrist (who prescribed the medication), a psychologist (who provides therapy) or both. Talking about your weight gain with both of these professionals is essential.
    • Your psychiatrist will be the physician who has prescribed you your medications. Review with them any possible side effects of your medications, including what to expect in regards to weight gain.
    • If you notice you're experiencing weight gain, make sure to touch base with him to let him know you are gaining weight.
    • In addition, make sure to talk to your psychologist. Although these types of medications may predispose you to weight gain by making you more hungry or changing your metabolism, it's the actual types and amounts of foods you eat that causes the weight gain.
    • Talk to your psychologist about your eating patterns and how your moods, thoughts and feelings are affecting your choices. Many times, if you're being treated for depression, bipolar disorder or another psychiatric condition, these conditions may trigger more emotional eating.
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    Set realistic goals. If you've noticed your weight creep up since taking psychiatric medications, consider setting a goal for yourself. This can help you have something to work towards and look forward to.
    • If you've noticed you've gained some weight, it can feel overwhelming that you have to attempt to make changes to lose weight. In addition, if you're struggling with depression or other issues, it can make weight loss even harder.
    • Setting a specific and realistic goal can help you set a clear path ahead. It can make weight loss seem a little easier to tackle.[3]
    • Your goals need to be specific. For example, a good goal would be: "I want to lose 15 pounds in 2 months."
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    Weigh yourself weekly. Another way to help you control and manage any weight gain is by regularly weighing yourself and tracking your weight. This will help you be aware of how your diet and lifestyle are affecting your weight.
    • Studies have repeatedly shown that those people who weigh themselves regularly are better able to stick to a diet plan and maintain their weight loss long-term.[4]
    • It's important to weigh yourself at least 1 time a week. However, daily weighing isn't necessary as it's not an accurate reflection of true weight.
    • When you weigh yourself regularly, you are able to catch any unwanted weight gain or see a plateau trend in your weight.
    • If you're not weighing yourself regularly, you may gain weight without knowing. Overtime, you may end up having to do more work to lose that weight compared to if you caught it at a 3 or 5 pound gain.
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    Start a food diary. Another great way to manage weight gain while you're taking psychiatric medication is by starting a food diary. This can really give you great insight into your eating habits.[5]
    • To keep a food journal, either download a food journaling app or purchase a pen and paper journal. For this to be accurate, record everything you eat or snack on. Write down every breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack and beverage you consume during the day.
    • Look for how your food choices match up to your perceptions of what you eat. You may feel like you don't snack all that much, but realize that you actually snack at least 2 times a day.
    • Also pay attention to your portion sizes, the types of foods you choose and how often you're eating throughout the day.
    • After a few days, you can look back and evaluate your food journal. This can help you see what changes you need to make to your diet to help you meet your weight loss goals.

Part 2
Managing the Emotional Side of Weight Gain

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    Talk to a psychologist. One of the best ways to manage weight gain while taking psychiatric medications is seeing a therapist or psychologist on a regular basis. Many food choices are tied to our emotions and will need to be managed in order to produce weight loss.
    • Studies have shown that patients who have gained weight on psychiatric medications do best when therapy and behavioral intervention is part of their treatment.[6]
    • If you do not currently see a psychologist, plan on meeting with one. Talk to your psychiatrist or primary care doctor for a therapist that is local to you and can help you deal with your eating habits and weight gain.
    • When you meet with the psychologist, make sure to thoroughly review your medication list, the side effects you're experiencing and how much weight you've gained.
    • Ask the psychologist about working with you to figure out the ties between your medications, emotions and food choices. They'll be able to help you see how everything is tied together.
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    Keep a journal. Your psychologist may suggest that you keep a journal while you attempt to lose weight. This is a great idea as it can help you make a lot of connections between your food choices and what's going on in your life.
    • About 75% of the time that you overeat, emotions are involved and play a role in the choice of food and the portion size of the food.[7]
    • Journaling about how you're feeling and the specific emotions involved, can help you match those emotions with certain eating behaviors.
    • Take notes on your general mood and emotions and compare it to your food journal. You can ask you psychologist to help make some connections.
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    Join a support group. Whenever you're dealing with a specific mental illness, especially if you need psychiatric medications, it's important to feel like you're not alone. Joining a support group can help you better manage your condition and control weight gain.
    • Studies have shown that those people who have social support (from family, friends or coworkers) are better able to lose weight and keep it off long-term.[8]
    • Since more than half of the people that take psychiatric medications experience weight gain, it's very likely that others who have the same condition as you or are on the same medication are in the same shoes.
    • If you join a support group (for example, a bipolar support group or a depression support group), you may find that others have also gained weight and are interested in losing weight.
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    Make slow and gradual changes to your lifestyle. When you're ready to make changes to either your diet or lifestyle, focus on making smaller changes over a long period of time.
    • It can be emotionally and mentally challenging to make a variety of changes to your diet and lifestyle in order to lose weight.
    • If you try to cut down on your portions, cut out soda, stop snacking, exercise 4 days a week, count calories, eat more vegetables, etc, all of these changes can be overwhelming and exhausting.
    • Set yourself up for success by only choosing 1 or 2 small goals to work on at a time. For example, start by giving up soda and including 1 or 2 days of exercise. You're more likely to stick to these smaller changes.[9]
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    Work on accepting weight gain. In some cases, you might find it very difficult to prevent weight gain or get back down to a previous weight. If so, it may be beneficial to accept some weight gain.
    • Some psychiatric medications make it very difficult to lose weight. However, since these medications play a critical role in your mental and emotional health, sometimes it's better to continue with medications and accept the weight gain.
    • If you cannot stop your medications or find an alternate prescription, work with your psychologist or therapist on accepting some of the weight you've gained and work on preventing further weight gain.
    • In addition, continue to monitor your weight and diet. Accepting some weight gain is OK and appropriate, however you do not want to let your weight gain get out of control. Try to maintain as best as you can.

Part 3
Controlling Your Diet While on Psychiatric Medications

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    Eat regular and consistent meals. One important factor to focus on when you're trying to control weight gain, is making sure you eat regular and consistent meals. If you skip meals regularly, you may be setting yourself up for weight gain.
    • If you skip meals on a regular basis (like skipping breakfast or working through lunch), you may be setting yourself up for more trouble.[10]
    • If you skip a meal, you might go into your next meal overly hungry. Once this happens, it becomes very difficult to make smart choices or maintain a smaller portion size.
    • In addition, the more often you skip a meal (especially breakfast), you end up craving more high calorie, high fat and high sugar foods.
    • Aim to eat at least 3 meals a day. However, depending on your schedule, you may also need to have one or two planned snacks in your day.
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    Maintain a well-balanced diet. In addition to eating regularly, it's also important to focus on a well-balanced diet. This is important not only for weight loss, but also to maintain your general health.[11]
    • A balanced diet is one that includes foods from every food group most days. That means having adequate amounts of protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
    • In addition, make sure to choose a variety of foods. The more foods you include in your diet, the wider array of nutrients you'll be getting from those foods.
    • When you stick to a varied and balanced diet the majority of the time, you're less likely for nutrient deficiencies and are better able to maintain your health.
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    Stick to smaller portion sizes. If you're trying to lose weight and keep it off, it's essential to measure your portions. Sticking to smaller and more appropriate portions will help you meet your weight loss goals.
    • Studies have shown that if served larger portions or larger amounts of food are available, people will overeat. Keeping portions small will help you lose weight and meet your weight loss goals.[12]
    • For protein-based foods, like eggs, dairy, beef or seafood, measure out 3-4 oz or about 1/2 cup per serving.[13]
    • If you're eating a fruit, measure out 1/2 cup fresh fruit, 1 small piece or a 1/4 cup of dried fruit.[14]
    • Vegetables should be measured out to 1 cup or about 2 cups of leafy greens per serving.[15]
    • If you're having a grain based food (like bread, rice or pasta), measure out 1 oz or 1/2 cup per serving.[16]
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    Keep overall calories in check. Although portion sizes play a key role in weight loss, you may also want to count your total calories each day to help ensure that you're eating the right amount for weight loss.
    • In general, you need to cut out about 500-1000 calories daily to result in a 1-2 pound weight loss each week.[17]
    • Cutting out more calories than that or eating less than 1200 calories daily isn't safe or sustainable in the long-term.
    • Track your calories in your food journal or download a food journal app that will also keep track of your calories.
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    Exercise regularly. Outside of diet and managing any emotional issues, physical activity is the last component to managing weight gain and starting weight loss.
    • Both strength training and aerobic training can help burn calories, support weight loss or prevent weight gain, improve mood and increase your overall metabolism.[18]
    • Include at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week. Aim for moderate intensity activities like walking, jogging, hiking, dancing, biking or swimming.
    • In addition to aerobic activities, aim to include 1-2 days of strength training each week. You should aim to work every major muscle group and exercise in total for at least 20 minutes.


  • If you notice weight gain or any other symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately.
  • Weight gain is common when you start psychiatric medications. With self-tracking and accountability, you can keep your weight gain in check.
  • Although you may gain some weight when you initially start medications, if you make changes to your diet and lifestyle, you'll be able to lose the weight you've gained.

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Categories: Losing Weight | Emotional Conditions