Weight gain and medication

Today I wanted to talk about something quite personal but also something I know affects many people and that is weight gain that is caused by medication. Since taking mood stabilisers to control my bipolar disorder I have gained approximately 30 kilograms. My body is covered in stretch marks from the sudden fashion of which I gained this weight. One of the troubles of weight gain caused by medication is that other people don’t know that that is the cause. People look at you as though you have just let yourself go. If anything I am more consistent with exercise and have a better relationship with exercise than I have ever had in my life. The same goes for food. But people don’t see that from the outside looking in.

Fat is something that is deeply stigmatised within our society. When we look at an overweight person our brain jumps to certain conclusions. For instance that they are a lazy slob who doesn’t care about or value their health. So gaining weight, particularly when it is out of your control, can be associated with a significant amount of self-stigmatisation. For myself I became exceptionally embarrassed and ashamed of how I looked. I dreaded running into people I hadn’t seen in a while because I assumed that they would lose respect for me. There is also this uncomfortable duality between wanting to provide an explanation that removes you from the stigma; by explaining that your weight gain is caused by your medication, and not feeling comfortable to reveal your mental illness status; which would open you up to more stigma.

So how does one make peace with the weight gain caused by medication? To my mind, the number one step is accepting that being on your medication is the best thing for you. Whilst it may cause weight gain, I know that my mood stabilisers and antipsychotics have saved my life. Not just that, they have vastly improved the overall quality of my life. My psychologist and I once compiled a pros and cons list of being on and off my medication and one of the only cons was weight gain (the other was loss of autonomy). It became clear that I needed to learn to accept this weight gain because my medication was doing me such unquestionable good. I dabbled with the idea of changing medication but honestly this is the most well I have felt in perhaps my entire life, when you put that in perspective giving that all up to be slimmer seems a bit ridiculous. But I would like to clarify I am by no means sacrificing my physical health for my mental health. I still workout out 5-6 times per week. I am just accepting that I can be physically healthy at a different size to what I was before.

Another useful tactic I have found is doing things that make you feel good about your body. This can be exercise, treating your body right or even just learning a new skill. I like lifting weights because it makes me feel strong and powerful. My weight is irrellevant when it comes to how much I can lift, it is just about how strong I am. I also enjoy sprinting because it makes me feel free. Both these forms of exercise are great because they don’t centre around weight loss they centre around mastery goals of getting better and feeling more confident. I find the less I think about weight loss the more I actually enjoy my exercise. Self-care in other forms beyond exercise is also important. I like to treat my body right through skin care routines, manicures, pedicures, massages. These are all great ways to communicate with myself and my body that I value it and will treat it right regardless of its size. Learning a new skill is an extension of this. I have recently taken up juggling and hula-hooping (I eventually want to be able to do both at the same time). Learning a new physical skill shows me what my body can do and teaches me to value it in ways beyond its size.

One final recommendation I will make for handling weight gain caused my medication is to get a new wardrobe. Holding onto clothes that don’t fit you anymore will just make you feel bad about yourself. Conversely, getting stylish new clothes that you like in a bigger size will not only make you feel more comfortable in your own skin but more confident. It will also help you put forward a more positive energy as you will be second guessing yourself less in your new threads. When we feel good, we look good and repeat.

Weight loss caused my medication can be particularly difficult to accept it. It can be dis-empowering because you feel as though you can’t do anything to stop it. But what you can do is change how it affects you. These have just been a few of my tips I haven’t learnt a long the way but I am by no means an expert. Self-love at any size is a process we have to work on everyday and I’m still learning. I just know I’m doing better at accepting my self at this size than I was yesterday.

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