I never really had a problem with weight gain from my bipolar meds until some months into the COVID-19 pandemic. A year prior, I was a group fitness instructor teaching Zumba and Beachbody’s TurboKick and PiYo classes multiple times a week. On top of that, I was participating in a 300 hour yoga teacher training and going to weekly dance parties. You could say I was a bit manic. I packed my days with activity, running around like a headless chicken, living “three days in one” as a friend commented in awe. In retrospect, I was spinning so many plates it’s likely I forgot to eat and regularly missed meals. I was also broke so I kept a meager vegetarian diet to lower my grocery expenses.
As the productive hypomania transformed into a more noticeable manic sickness I was gaunt. Looking back at my old selfies gives me the chills. Despite the large deceptively cheery smile that plastered my face, my protruding bones indicate that I was withering away. I got pregnant during this period and I remained slender except for my bulging belly. Although my stomach swelled postpartum, I was only ten pounds heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight. It was only until the pandemic hit — just has I had completed my fourth trimester — that I started to really gain weight.
Now I am 169 pounds — almost 25 pounds heavier than my postpartum weight and I am 10 pounds overweight according to the BMI. After some investigation, I discovered that Seroquel (my sleep medication) was the culprit. I have been taking Seroquel at a low dose to treat my insomnia for years without any major issues. However, during my pregnancy and the pandemic I experienced more sleep issues and had to increase my dose to a level that caused significant weight gain. I also seemed to have developed a Seroquel tolerance so the higher dose was not even as effective in helping me fall and stay asleep. After working with my doctor to replace Seroquel with Latuda, then Risperadol, and failing miserably with an excruciating sleepless week, I decided that my sanity is more important than the number on the scale.
Soon after, I met with a nutritionist who started our session by saying that I shouldn’t base my health goals on the “unscientific racist and sexist BMLie.” Although I knew this, having a professional say this was extremely freeing. I’m unlearning the value of the number on the scale and I am taking the nutritionists’ advice to instead feel into what size, type of food consumption, and activity level feels good and wholesome to me. I am so inspired by the Fat Acceptance Movement and I working on self-love and my internalized fatphobia. I can rock being a Fat Girl as long as I do everything in my power to stay healthy. My main concern is diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and my increased risk for health complications because of the side effects from the psychiatric medication I will be taking for the rest of my life. I want to accept the body I am in with all its curves, cushion, stretch marks, and cellulite. I also want to be able to age with my youth and vitality to be able to keep up with my growing toddler.
Funnily after my failed medication switch Seroquel started working in full force again. I have now cut my dose in half and it is working more effectively than the higher dose I had been taking in recent months. My therapist explained that coming off and then going back on Seroquel was probably caused a system reset, lowering my tolerance back to a level where the drug could be more effective. Thankfully this lower dose should also help reduce the weight gain.
I am thrilled to report that I found a lifestyle that is working for me and I’m already starting to see results after only a few days. I starting using an intermittent fasting app called Fastic and my life changed. My energy is more even during the day. My system feels much cleaner. I am more sensitive to when I am hungry or thirty and when I’m full. I am eating less, but much healthier. And I’ve already lost two pounds. I feel so good and optimistic about my health. Even if I have to take a medication or a dose that causes weight gain, this new lifestyle makes me feel like my health will be more manageable because I am more in control of my diet, energy, and activity levels.
Mental illness, psych meds, and weight are not easy to juggle, but I am grateful there are helpful tools out there and peers to lean on as a resource. This post was inspired by Danielle, a fellow blogger who wrote a piece on Obesity and Bi-polar. Check it out!
What has your experience been with psychiatric medication and weight? What has helped you?
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Image Description: Feet with pedicured nails approach a weighing scale