Weight Gained from Psychiatric Medications Can Be Lost With Basic Diet and Exercise

August 26/2019

By Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer at DLSPH

Weight gain can be a major challenge for patients taking psychiatric medications. But a new DLSPH-led study suggests basic exercise and dieting are effective at controlling it.

“A lot of doctors tell patients they won’t be able to lose weight because they are taking these medications. It’s kind of a losing battle and a negative thing to tell patients,” says DLSPH student Rebecca Christensen who partnered with the Wharton Medical Clinic to uncover these results.

Patients at the Wharton Medical Clinic have reported significant gains while taking psychiatric medication—upwards of 90 pounds in a month.

“Our study shows that contrary to what you think, if you are taking psychiatric medications, even those known to cause weight gain, you can lose weight at a similar rate than someone who would never be taking these medications, or who is taking psychiatric medications with a more favourable weight change profile,” says Christensen.

Photo Credit: Amina Khan
A new study led by Rebecca Christensen suggests basic exercise and dieting are effective at controlling it

She studied data from patients who were participating in the most common type of weight loss intervention. The cornerstone of all weight management is eating less and moving more. Patients that are experiencing excess weight are first asked to change their diet and be more physically active.

Patients went through the clinic’s weight management program and received standardized lifestyle interventions. They were followed once a month with a physician or bariatric educator until they no longer wanted to be part of the program. Of those who completed the program, the weight-loss results were significant.

Patients in Christensen’s study lost about three percent of their body weight.

The results between men and women differed as men had a harder time losing weight while taking an antidepressant, a novel finding that the literature has not yet explored.

“They lost slightly less weight than men who took a combination of medications to treat their mental illness like antipsychotic and antidepressant, and those who were not taking any psychiatric medication. We’re not sure why, but the important thing is that they still lost a statistically significant amount of weight.”

The results are positive findings for Christensen who says that the medical field is often riddled with biases on weight management. It makes the task of losing weight on medication achievable.

“The big takeaway is the weight effects of the medication,” she says. “You don’t need to prioritize; you can treat both equally without compromise.”