Losing Weight With Bipolar Disorder: What You Should Know

4 ways to succeed at losing weight with bipolar disorder
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I usually remove my glasses before taking off my clothes to get into the shower.

I’m not entirely blind without my specs, but things are blurry enough that I can’t see what’s in the mirror. And for the last few years, I haven’t wanted to see what’s in the reflection.

The beginning of the COVID pandemic broke me.

I stopping caring about what I looked like, what I ate, or how much weight I gained. Nothing seemed to matter.

While I’m sure it was a form of bipolar depression, the lockdown only made things worse.

So I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and as much as I wanted.

The inevitable result was a 35-pound (15.9 kg.) weight gain in 3 years.

Now I’m focusing on losing weight with bipolar disorder, and this is how I plan to find success.

Deciding to change

Last November, I got out of the shower one chilly morning and slipped on my bifocals.

I don’t know why I did that morning, but a voice inside told me to pick up my glasses, so I put them on.

When I hung the long gray bath sheet (affiliate) over the glass shower wall and stepped back in front of the sink, I could see most of my body reflected in the mirror.

For the first time in years, I realized what I was doing to my body. And it made me feel a bit sick.

I could hear Lizzy’s voice in my mind saying, “Scotty, this is not who you are. It’s time to get active again.”

And she would have been right.

But losing weight has challenges.

Challenges with losing weight with bipolar disorder

My first bipolar thought was to get super active starting that day. I decided I would limit my calories to 1,000 a day and start walking 4 hours every day.

Yep, that’s the way we do it with bipolar.

Fortunately, as the day went on, my brain switched into a more reasonable gear. I created a plan and promised myself that I would change everything come January.

The thing is, losing weight with bipolar disorder comes with a lot of challenges that most people don’t face.

Here are a 4 things you need to keep in mind.

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1. You need to go slow

My bipolar brain likes to get me in trouble.

If an “expert” says walking is good for me, I’ll vow to walk 8 hours a day.

This is great if you’re used to walking several hours a day, but my body was used to sitting most of the day in front of a computer. Between my day job and creating content at home, it can be 12 hours a day in an office chair. (affiliate)

With 12 hours already shot, there’s little chance of walking 8 hours unless you know how to walk and sleep. Sadly, I do not.

I’ve been on a weight-loss journey long enough to know I should never dive into my first plan.

To successfully lose weight with bipolar disorder, you have to consider both your mental and physical health. You need to think about where you are and how changes will affect you.

For me, walking 8 hours a day just isn’t in the cards anymore. While there were times in my youth I did it, I doubt it was ever a healthy habit.

Instead, I vowed to start walking 10 minutes a day. Ten minutes was doable and I could fit it into my already packed schedule.

Then, as I adjusted to being active again, I would increase my walk time by a few minutes every week.

I’m now walking for 30 minutes most days and averaging just over 6,000 steps. I’m still not where I want to be, but far ahead of the 2,500 steps I was averaging in November.

The second thing to remember when losing weight with bipolar disorder is to ease into change.

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Walking in nature is my favorite exercise. | Image made with Canva AI.

2. You need to ease into change

My eating habits during the pandemic changed to a diet full of complex sugars and ultra-processed foods. From cookies to Cheetos, I shoveled tens of thousands of unhealthy calories into my mouth.

I know the benefits of eating whole foods, but you can’t switch from a poor diet to a whole food regimen overnight.

Well, I guess you can. I’ve tried to make a sudden jump before. Let’s just say it was a less than pleasant experience.

Sudden withdrawal from sugar or caffeine can cause sleep issues, irritability, and a general feeling of malaise. For me, it also meant a few extra hours hanging out in the bathroom.

Whole foods are harder to digest, which is a big consideration in making a diet change. It’s especially challenging for me because I have gastroparesis.

As I learned to increase my walking a few steps a day, I’m adjusting the foods I eat in small increments as well.

I started adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to my day and reduced my junk food purchases.

There are a few things I love, such as Cheetos, peanut M&Ms, and Krispy Kreme donuts. Rather than give up those foods entirely, I limit how much I eat. I use a kitchen scale to measure a reasonable amount of the food I desire.

Allowing yourself breaks is the third area to consider in losing weight with bipolar disorder.

3. You need to allow yourself breaks and cravings

I lost nearly 50 pounds once before.

My bipolar diagnosis came in 1995, but it wasn’t until 1998 until we found the right combination of medications to keep me stable and productive.

During those 3 years, I went from 116 lbs. (52.6 kg.) when I checked into the hospital to 222 lbs. (100.7 kg.) in 1998.

I was in my late 20s, and losing weight was much easier then. That earlier weight loss journey taught me 2 important lessons about how I can successfully lose weight.

First, I discovered I had to allow myself breaks. Monitoring your diet every minute of every day is exhausting, and the belief you’ll never have another red velvet cupcake can suck the life out of you.

After a few weeks of misery, a friend recommended giving myself a day off. I picked Saturdays. It became the day I skipped tracking my meals and took off my step counter.

The weekly break made the other 6 days easier to handle. If my stomach was obsessed with fresh baked chocolate chip cookies or a root beer float, it was never more than a week away.

You don’t want to go ape wild on your day off and binge 10,000 calories, but it’s okay to eat what you want without worrying about nutrition or calories.

I followed the day-off routine for several months and lost weight almost every week.

The second thing I learned was you need to feed your cravings.

I’m not talking about eating an entire dozen of hot-and-ready Krispy Kreme donuts, though I have done just that in the past. But if you craving something intensely, you’re better off eating a bit of it than trying to avoid it.

When I first started losing weight in 1998, I thought I had to stick to my diet like a nun was standing over me with a wooden yardstick ready to smack my hands.

And I was miserable.

Then I learned the power of a quick nibble.

When I’m craving some kind of sweet or salty junk food goodness, I can eat 10,000 calories of anything else, and still crave the item I can’t have.

But if I allow myself a few bites of what I’m craving, the feeling goes away.

Most often, it’s worth sacrificing a few calories to give into a craving in moderation. Then your mind can stop obsessing over it and move on to more important matters.

The fourth thing to remember when losing weight with bipolar disorder is to be patient with yourself.

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4. You need to allow yourself time

My word for this year is change. I started the year with the belief it would take me 12 months to meet my goals.

I’m using the same attitude for weight loss.

While I’d love to lose 40 lb today, I know that’s not the healthy way to do it. So, yeah, cutting off a leg isn’t an option.

Instead, I’m focusing less on weight loss and more on healthy habits. And the good news? The weight is slowly coming off.

I started on January 13th at 213 lb. (96.6 kg.) When I weighed this morning, I was down to 207 lb. (93.9 kg.) It’s not an enormous drop, but it’s the rate I want to lose at.

If I can lose around a pound a week, I know I’m more likely to keep it off.

Taking the time you need to create healthier habits is better than dropping a ton of weight overnight.

As with all things bipolar, there are a few areas of caution when losing weight with bipolar disorder.

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Talk to your care team. | Image made with Canva AI.

Areas to be cautious

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the things you should consider when losing weight with bipolar disorder.

Care team

One, it’s good to get your professional care team involved. It’s too easy to become obsessed with weight loss, either in tracking calories or measuring portion sizes. Obsession can quickly turn into disordered eating, so it’s good your doctor knows what you’re doing.

I struggled here in the past. At times, I would starve myself for days trying to lose weight. Then I would give in to binge eating and eat so much that I rolled in agony on the floor.

Both habits are unhealthy, and if you know you’ve had a tenuous relationship with food in the past, make sure you have a support team to help you through your weight loss journey.

Mania

The second area to watch is the potential of triggering mania.

I have an elliptical machine (affiliate) and love getting on it to sweat away the pounds. But I also know if I push myself too hard, I will trigger mania or hypomania.

Exercise can become a dangerous game, so pay attention to what your body is telling you.

I find journaling most helpful. In my daily entries, I check in about how I’m feeling. If I see signs I’m going off the rails, I ease up on the exercise.

Support

The third area is to get other people involved.

Whether it’s your partner, your extended family, or close friends, you need people who know you and are there to support your weight loss journey.

Share with them a list of warning signs of when they need to step in, and then check in with them often. Tell them the positive things you’re doing to lose weight and how you’re managing your mental health during the process.

Often, other people can see how we’re doing much sooner than we can.

Like so many things, losing weight with bipolar disorder has many challenges that people without mental illness never think about. But healthy weight loss is possible, so never give up hope.

If you go slow, ease into change, allow yourself breaks, and be patient, you’ll soon reach your goals.

To help keep you (and me) motivated, I’ll be sharing my progress in the All Things Bipolar Newsletter throughout the year. Sign up for a free subscription today.

Until next time, keep fighting.

Pinterest Pin
Are you tired of trying to lose weight while battling the symptoms of bipolar disorder? 

Discover the 4 powerful strategies that can help you conquer weight loss, boost your mood, and regain control over your life.

Don't let your disorder hold you back – it's time to transform your life today. 

Read Now!

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. | Graphic created with Canva AI.
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