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Taking Lithium: 7 Ways to Manage Increased Appetite and Weight Gain

I enjoy writing about experiences from my own life so that my tips may help others.

Lithium can cause a change in appetite. Choose your snacks wisely!

Lithium can cause a change in appetite. Choose your snacks wisely!

Every medication has a unique profile of risks and benefits, and lithium is no exception. When starting lithium therapy, it is common to experience initial reactions such as nausea, excessive thirst, and feeling tired all the time. Additional side effects, such as a change in appetite and weight gain, can happen gradually and are potentially more challenging to manage. Recognizing the reasons behind the cause of weight gain helped me realize that I needed to change my diet and exercise regimen and make simple changes in my daily lifestyle. By understanding the effects of your diet and then introducing an appropriate exercise regimen, it is possible to manage your food cravings and avoid the negative side effect of gradual weight gain.

1. Examine Your Approach to Food

Mental health conditions and the medications they treat often cause people to change the way they approach food in general. Taken correctly, Lithium can be very effective in triggering positive changes in behavior and physical activity, but without help, it can be challenging to understand the negative changes it brings such as food cravings and weight gain.

Why Lithium Causes Increased Appetite

There are many reasons why lithium treatment might trigger an increased appetite, such as fatigue, metabolism changes, sodium retention, fluctuations in hormones, and constipation.

How to Reduce Appetite

Some of the issues of managing an increased appetite can be addressed by eating healthy and nutritious foods, together with drinking plenty of water. Having said this, eating healthy foods can be challenging when you take this medication because it can trigger food cravings.

This experience is different from person to person, but personally I realized I was eating more sugary and high-carbohydrate foods than usual. This meant that I was consuming far more calories than needed. By not exercising enough to burn these extra calories, I realized that I needed to find some smart ways to control my food cravings.

When experiencing the feeling of increased appetite, it's possible that your body is actually thirsty. One helpful way to avoid eating something is to drink a large glass of water. Wait ten minutes and then ask yourself if you're really hungry or did the water satisfy your craving. Remember, lithium can trigger excessive thirst and it is important to get 8-12 glasses of water per day.

Drink 8-12 glasses of water every day

Drink 8-12 glasses of water every day

2. Increase Fiber and Protein Intake

Experts suggest that following a specific menu plan is unnecessary while taking lithium, but I find that sticking to a balanced diet is crucial to get the proper nutrients I need while keeping my calorie count under control. If you are concerned with the side effect of gradual weight gain, you could pay particular attention to getting sufficient fiber and protein daily. A steady consumption of fiber and protein can help to regulate your blood sugar and prevent blood sugar spikes that can cause weight gain.

According to The Community Health Network, fiber and protein have some excellent benefits that go hand in hand with one another. When combined, you can benefit by feeling fuller for longer, with fewer calories. Some easy ways to add protein and fiber to your diet include eating foods like chicken, beef, legumes, beans, nuts, fish, and leafy greens. 

Fish and vegetables are good sources of fiber and protein

Fish and vegetables are good sources of fiber and protein

3. Find the Energy to Exercise

Lithium is effective in treating mood disorders and can help to reduce manic behavior; it stands to reason that a reduction in hyperactivity leads to burning fewer calories during the day. Therefore, in addition to watching the number of calories you eat, you will also need to maintain some form of regular exercise, especially if you feel lethargic.

Consider this time to be the perfect opportunity to learn a new sport. Healthline suggests what people with mood disorders could benefit from exercises like walking, running, and swimming, because they can be calming. Remind yourself that exercise is an excellent way to manage your weight and maintain your general health.

Swimming is good exercise and can be calming

Swimming is good exercise and can be calming

4. Take Medication With a Meal

A simple way to avoid weight gain while taking lithium is to take the medication with food. The reason is that lithium may occasionally affect blood glucose levels which can sometimes lead to hypoglycemia. Taking this drug with a meal, and a large glass of water for better absorption helps to regulate your blood sugar and avoid weight gain and other unpleasant side effects. Generally speaking, you should take this medication with meals regardless of whether you are experiencing these side effects, but it is always advisable to check with your doctor.

5. Snack Wisely

If you are experiencing weight gain during lithium therapy, you should avoid eating snacks high in sugar and carbohydrates. Sweets, candy, and potato chips are high on the list of foods to keep away from if you want to keep calorie consumption low. According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, potato chips are number one on the list of "The 7 Foods Most Likely to Make You Gain Weight".

While taking lithium, do not make sudden changes to your salt intake. Quickly eating too much or too little salt causes rapid changes serum lithium levels, which is another reason why avoiding salty snacks such as potato chips is so important.

Instead, choose to eat healthy snacks high in protein and fiber to regulate your blood sugar and reduce the risk of weight gain. When looking for a sweet treat, try eating a Greek yogurt topped with ground flax seed and fresh fruit. The yogurt is rich in protein, and the flax seeds are rich in fiber. The fresh fruit will satisfy your sweet tooth with natural sugars and supply your body with other beneficial nutrients.

Greek yogurt and fruit is a healthy snack choice for people taking lithium

Greek yogurt and fruit is a healthy snack choice for people taking lithium

6. Try Diet Supplements

If you’re experiencing weight gain while taking lithium, you may want to try taking a dietary supplement. Several dietary supplements are available over the counter such as vitamins, minerals, protein supplements, and fiber supplements. Some assist in regulating blood sugar and reducing the risk of weight gain. They can also help to combat tiredness and improve your general health.

For me, the most beneficial supplement is a fiber supplement called Metamucil. I take it daily with a large glass of water and it helps me to start the day off well with the water and fiber that my body needs. Additionally, it helps to suppress my appetite so that I'm not inclined to eat too heavy a breakfast or snack early on in the day. Talk to your medical practitioner before adding any dietary supplements to your daily routine and find out what it right for you.

7. See Your Doctor

Generally speaking, you needn't be too worried if you’re gaining some weight during lithium therapy. But if the symptoms are bothersome, it might be the perfect time to re-examine your diet by talking to your doctor, or by seeing a nutritionist.

Medical professionals can help you determine whether you are eating the wrong foods, or if you are eating too much food. They can also help determine whether there are other underlying medical issues that might be contributing to your increased appetite and weight gain, such as hormone fluctuations. Your doctor should be able to adjust your dosage as necessary or refer you to a therapist. They may also be able to recommend healthier lifestyle choices that can help to reduce the weight gain.

Conclusion

Taken correctly, lithium can be an effective treatment for people with mood disorders but can also cause unwanted side effects. One of the more common side effects is a change in appetite and gradual weight gain, which can be especially problematic to recognize and manage because it can be caused by many factors. By understanding the changes in your approach to food, you can start to manage changes in weight and feel more in control of overcoming these side effects.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Louise