Weight and Mental Health

How Can I Lose Weight When I Have a Mental Illness?

Max Carmody, MSc

Losing weight when you have a mental illness can be really tough, it can make things harder for you than most people. But is it possible?

To lose weight when you have a mental illness, you can focus on seeking professional help, practicing self-care, and working on controlling the things that you can control when you are feeling up to it.

Diet and mental health is a topic that I have plenty of personal experience with. I struggle with mental illness myself, and it has DEFINITELY impacted my weight, and my nutrition choices. When it comes to gaining weight, I feel like people tend to think of mostly of physical reasons or ailments behind it. However, I believe that mental health and weight gain are connected in a major way.

There are many different reasons for this. For example, if you’re feeling terrible mentally, it gets more difficult to stick to a healthy diet. And it’s much more difficult to motivate yourself to exercise. I know that on the days when I’m feeling bad, I turn to comfort eating to make myself feel better. All my discipline just goes out the window. And I can’t motivate myself to exercise, it’s the furthest thing from my mind. Also, a lot of psychiatric medications can cause serious weight gain. I have taken a couple medications that caused me to gain weight. One caused me to gain weight extremely fast, I gained something like 14 pounds in a week or 2, and I was eating pretty healthily at the time.

So I definitely understand the struggles of losing weight when you have a mental illness. This is what I’m attempting to do right now. I’ve gained a lot of weight over this past year because I’ve been eating so terribly and not exercising because I’ve been feeling so poorly. And I am really having a hard time getting that weight off again. On the days when I feel really bad, I just want to eat. And I don’t feel like exercising.

Try to get your mental health under control first

If you are struggling to lose weight due to mental illness, one of the best things that you can do for yourself to lose weight is to get your mental health under control. Now, this is easier said than done, and can often be a process of much trial and error. This can be an extremely painful process, and can take a lot of time.

Get professional help as soon as possible, if you are not already. Whether you do this may depend on your exact condition, and the severity of it, but if your mental health issues are serious enough to affect your weight, then you could most likely benefit from professional help. This pretty much goes without saying. This may involve either seeing a psychiatrist, or therapist, or both. I have been seeing both myself, for years. I still have a ways to go, but I am definitely better off than I used to be for it.

In addition to seeking professional help, there are some things you can do on your own to try to improve your mental health. Actually, eating healthier and exercising, rather than simply being used to lose weight, can in themselves help with your mental health. There is all sorts of nutritional advice out there for foods that are good for your brain and brain health. For some reason, out of all the things I’ve read, the thing that really sticks with me, is blueberries, blueberries are supposed to be very good for your brain.

According to NIMH, the national institute of mental health, you should be focusing on self care. This can include relaxing activities, such as mindful meditation and breathing exercises, and making sleep a priority by ensuring that you’re getting enough sleep. You should learn to set goals and priorities, by deciding what must be done immediately, and what must wait. Appreciate what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you’ve been unable to do. Practice gratitude, focus on positivity, and especially stay connected, keeping social connections strong and reaching out to family and friends when you need it.

If your mental health is taking months or years to get under control, I can understand if you want to start dieting while still struggling with mental health issues, before they are resolved. I am essentially doing this myself right now. My mental health issues are not completely under control yet (although I have made some progress) yet I am attempting dieting and exercising more. I will keep you all posted to how this turns out! I’m sure it will be very challenging.

Control the things that you can control

When I was despairing, my aunt used to tell me to do this. To be honest, I would be a bit annoyed by it. I used to think “I’m sick, I can’t be bothered by any of these things”. I felt pretty hopeless. I’ve written another article here that you can check out, about how to lose weight when you’re hopeless. She would tell me to focus on exercising, eating healthy, and taking things like nutritional supplements. I’ve come around a bit though, I now acknowledge that those things are good ideas, and am trying to incorporate those things in my life more.

I have some caveats with this though. Control the things that you can control, when you can control them. I know that everyone is different, but I am not a healthy enough person, at least at the moment I am writing this, to be able to be perfect about all of this stuff every day. I have good days, and I have bad days, some of them very bad. Before, I just felt a bit defeated because I did have the bad days so often, that even on my good days I still wasn’t taking good care of myself. Now though, however, I am trying to be good about diet and exercise on my good days. Actually, I am trying to force myself to diet on my bad days now too, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to you.

Essentially, I have the same advice for you that my aunt gave me. Focus on eating healthier, exercising more, and possibly taking nutritional supplements or vitamins. However, at the same time, recognize that you may not be able to keep this up constantly. Exercise actually may help you to feel better though, so do try to force yourself to exercise if you possibly can (but if you can’t that’s ok too I can’t always) Be kind and gentle to yourself, don’t push yourself too hard.

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