Weight Gain and Bipolar Medications

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 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.

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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Bipolar Disorder and Weight Gain: Why It Matters

Regardless of the cause, increases in your weight can have negative effects on your heart health, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. Weight gain may also elevate your risk for diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and other complications. And finally, gaining weight can contribute to low self-esteem and undermine your desire and commitment to eat healthfully and exercise regularly.

Bipolar-Related Weight Gain: How Can You Avoid It?

If you’re taking medication to treat bipolar disorder and have experienced weight gain, Everyday Health’s Emotional Health Expert, Ruth Wolever, PhD, a clinical health psychologist and the research director at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, offers the following tips:

Eat nutritious foods.

A balanced diet is the foundation of good health and also a key component of weight management. Go for fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, lean meats and fish, tofu, and low-fat, low-cal dairy options. Avoid trans fats, simple carbohydrates, and processed and fatty foods whenever possible.

Reduce your portion sizes.

Smaller servings will add up to fewer pounds. If you’re having trouble figuring out what an appropriate portion size looks like, check out the portion guidelines on


Eat more slowly.

Taking time to chew and leisurely make your way around your plate will allow your body to catch up with your meal. It takes from 20 to 30 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full, so eating slowly may actually help you eat less.

Exercise regularly.

Being active is one of the best things you can do for your body. Exercise is great for your overall health and well-being, weight management (and weight loss), and mood.

Manage stress.

Feeling stressed can lead to emotional and binge eating, which in turn lead to weight gain. Additionally, stress can interfere with your sleeping habits, which studies show may also contribute to weight gain. Getting a handle on stress will help you gain control of your weight.
Sara Biel, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Oakland, California, also suggests the following:

Get professional guidance.

Consult with a nutritionist to set up an individual diet plan that works for you.

Write it down.

Keeping a food diary can help a person with bipolar disorder gain insight into eating habits by tracking caloric intake and seeing a connection between daily/monthly eating patterns and emotional states.
Talk to Your Doctor About Weight Concerns

According to Dr. Wolever, if you’re worried about your weight or if you think your medication is already causing you to pack on the pounds, it’s important to tell your doctor and/or your psychiatrist. There may be other bipolar medications that are appropriate for you that don’t cause weight gain. However, you shouldn’t discontinue your current medication or change your treatment regimen without first speaking to your doctor.

“Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness,” adds Biel, “and people need to find a medication regimen they can tolerate for the long haul.” Since every person has a unique body chemistry, Biel emphasizes that it is important for those with bipolar disorder to closely work with their own doctors to find a regimen that addresses their particular symptoms and minimizes side effects.

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