We are surrounded by messages on weight and dieting. “Click here to learn the 5 easy steps to rapid weight loss!” ads are everywhere touting the latest crazy and possibly dangerous weight-loss programs. There’s a reason for this: people try them. About 45 million Americans diet each year and spend billions of dollars doing so. Those of us who struggle with our weight literally drag around a reminder of our health problems- both physical and psychiatric. People with bipolar disorder are even more likely to be overweight, have cardiovascular disease and have type II diabetes than the rest of the population. We’re also more susceptible to having our weight yo-yo up and down, which comes with its own problems.
The constant process of losing weight only to gain it back and try to lose it again is called “weight cycling.” It’s incredibly discouraging. Losing weight is hard work. It’s not just about the discipline that goes into carefully choosing what you eat and how you exercise every day. The body has to go through it’s own process of shedding pounds.
When there’s not enough energy readily available in your blood sugar, the body turns to the stored energy in fat. When fat breaks down, it separates into different elements that provide energy to the body, what isn’t used as energy is either excreted in urine or exhaled as carbon dioxide. In weight cycling, the body goes from depositing excess energy in fat, then having that fat broken down. Lather, rinse, repeat.
When weight gain and weight loss happen over and over again, it takes a toll on the body. After losing weight, it’s incredibly difficult to maintain it, and you actually gain weight faster the second time. This can affect blood sugar, cardiovascular health, renal health and blood pressure. It also causes systemic low grade inflammation. This is an autoimmune response that the body is supposed to use against illness or infection but when inflammation occurs in the brain, it can actually exacerbate bipolar symptoms.
Eva Z. Reininghaus of the University of Graz, Austria and her co-authors recently found that bipolar disorder patients experience weight cycling twice as much as the general population and also carry more fat around their abdomens. This leaves us with even more of a health risk as far as physical symptoms go.
Bipolar symptoms also increase with weight cycling. Compared to bipolar disorder patients who don’t have weight cycling problems, those who do actually experience significantly more mood shifts. So, when weight swings increase, so does the chance for mood swings.
There are many reasons that bipolar patients experience weight problems. Many medications used to treat bipolar disorder come with weight gain as a side effect. When patients don’t comply with their medication instructions, weight and eating habits can fluctuate, causing the yo-yo weight effect. Bipolar patients can also experience sleep problems, which can mess with mood regulation and appetite. A major factor with weight and bipolar disorder is the disproportionate amount of patients with eating disorders.
As far as combating weight cycling, there is research supporting the use of metformin, a drug used to treat type II diabetes, to combat weight gain caused by drug side effects. Treatments like this could be used as part of an overall regimen to treat both weight problems and bipolar disorder. Work with your doctor to come up with not only a medication regime to regulate your mood, but also a nutrition plan customized to your risks and needs.
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Photo credit: S. J. Pyrotechnic