I recently wrote a scientific-ish post about whether or not psychiatric medications cause weight gain (check it out here: https://highrisk1.wordpress.com/2019/07/16/my-meds-make-me-fat-a-mostly-empirical-account/). Now I want to share my personal struggle with weight gain, and how I figured out what I need to do to have a healthy and happy body AND brain. A happy post! Somewhat of a nice change.
I started my bipolar medications in January of 2017. I initially lost weight and went down from about 118lbs to 113 (still a normal BMI, but at the ragged edge of being underweight). I was going through a manic phase, which sped up my metabolism and also led to me eating less. When I’m very manic, I don’t crave food nor do I feel the need to sit down and have a meal. My brain tells me go-go-go and doesn’t take my stomach into consideration. I also exercise a lot more when I’m manic. It helps get rid of some of my restless energy, calms me down and quiets the buzzing in my brain.
From January to May 2018, I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. I met some of the very best people and was able to easily get through a time of year when I usually go through a depressed phase (December-February-ish). Everything was absolutely perfect about my 5 months there.
Except for my weight gain.
I went from 113lbs to 138. Ouch. My BMI was still normal, but I felt sick with myself. I had never ever been above 120lbs in my life. How did this happen? How did I let this happen?
I was pretty confident that, to some extent, my meds made me fat. However, I quickly realized there was no point in playing the blame game and not doing anything about it. Unhappiness was not an option. It was time to work. Work and work out. And drink less and eat better. And get back to where I wanted to be. And love and approve of myself every step of the way.
That last part was by far the most difficult.
Losing weight is a numbers game. Just burn more calories than you consume. Sounds easy, right??
Some people do better paying attention to the numbers–the calories consumed and burned, as well as the number on the scale–and I am one of those people. In the beginning I tried to just watch what I ate and exercise 5 days a week, but after two or three weeks I realized that was not working for me. I wasn’t losing what I wanted to lose.
I used the calorie counting app MyFitnessPal to carefully log in my food and exercise. But if you want to use a calorie counting app, you have to be brutally honest with yourself. One of the biggest reasons why these apps don’t work for people is because some people underestimate what they’re eating and overestimate what they’re burning. So when they aren’t losing the weight the app says they should be losing, they get discouraged. But that is a problem with the math, not a problem with the person. Keeping this in the back of my head, I made sure that if anything I was overestimating, and I was able to lose 1.5-2 pounds a week for 8 weeks. I worked hard, and I got down to 124lbs. Not where I was before, but I was back to being healthy, even healthier than I was at 113.
Once I got to where I wanted to be weight-wise, I got rid of the app, got rid of the scale, and used the fit of my clothes and what I saw in the mirror to guide my health journey. I haven’t weighed myself in probably 9 months. I am happier that way. Some people want or need to weigh themselves to keep track. One of my very best friends prefers to weigh herself daily. I feel better about myself not knowing the exact number, just knowing that when I look in the mirror I like what I see. Definitely a personal preference you have to determine for yourself.
I have worked hard for the body I have now. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the “when-I-was-skinnier-I-was-happier” mentality, but I know I had the same complaints about my body when I weighed 10 pounds less than I do now. My weight still fluctuates to an extent, and I notice it, and those are the times that I have to be the most careful with what I tell myself. It is TOUGH. I am not good at it. But I’m better than I was.
Losing weight takes two components: diet and exercise. Duh. But it is so so important for keeping off the weight long-term that you find foods that you like to eat and workouts you like to do. You don’t have to become a vegan, and you don’t have to run a marathon. Of course you can do those things if you want. I don’t want to do those things, but you are more than welcome to! Just make sure to listen to your body over listening to the latest trend in weight loss.
For example, I love meat. So, I learned how to make my own grilled chicken and ground turkey and lean fish dishes. I LOVE turkey meatballs. Obsessed. I also love pasta. So I started making my own zucchini noodles. Zoodles are a wonderful millennial invention; I highly recommend. Whole wheat noodles are also a good alternative. I learned a lot of ways to make healthier versions of my favorite foods. And I stopped eating at restaurants so often. It’s easier to lose weight when you know exactly what you are eating (and can log it directly into your calorie counter, if you’re doing that).
And meal prep!!!! Say it with me now: meal. prep. Cooking was always such a daunting task for me (it takes forever, and I’m not good at it). With meal prep, I don’t have to worry about cooking every day. I have soooo many easy and delish meal prep recipes from the Internet. One of my friends also says HelloFresh is a godsend. They have the option to pick healthy meals, 30-minute meals, etc. And apparently they always have discounts. I’m definitely going to try it out when I get back to school. Meal prep AND no grocery shopping??? Count me in.
As for exercise, I HATE running. I despise it. I’ve tried to like it, I really have. But I don’t. Guess what? You do NOT have to run to lose weight. It is a fabulous way to lose weight if you like it, but if you don’t like an exercise regimen you will not keep it up long term. You won’t. But I like plenty of other workouts. I love dancing. I love barre. I love power yoga. I love spin. I love the stairclimber, when I am feeling particularly masochistic. And I LOVE kickboxing. Nothing makes me feel more badass than punching and kicking people and things. It’s awesome. And it burns calories like no one’s business.
Thoughts, issues, ideas? What are your favorite meal prep meals? Your favorite fun ways to exercise? I can go on and on about this topic, so let me know if you want more!! Xoxo