Nutrition and Bipolar Disorder

Cookies, chips, fried foods, and other high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sodium foods are all around us, and sometimes it’s hard to pass up this tasty “junk” food.  However, studies show that good nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight can benefit the body and mind in many different ways, including for those experiencing illness, particularly Bipolar Disorder.

It can be especially hard for those with Bipolar to eat well. A 2011 study showed that up to 68% of treatment-seeking Bipolar Disorder patients are overweight. While there are many factors, a main one is thought to be low serotonin, which presents in patients with mood disorders. Low serotonin contributes to cravings for sweets and carbs, which can allow tryptophan to temporarily increase, bringing a short-term mood elevation. Another study in 2013 noted that up to 10% of the Bipolar Disorder population engage in binge eating, resulting in weight gain. Add this additional factor: medications. Weight gain is one of the most noticeable and frequently-occurring side effects of Bipolar medication. Simply put, it’s due to metabolic changes in which your body doesn’t burn calories as efficiently as it did before. Additionally, a new medication may increase your appetite.

How can we work around these obstacles? First, know that doctors have found that a healthy diet is associated with lowered depression and anxiety, so for people suffering from Bipolar Disorder, eating well can actually aid in feeling well. When choosing foods, there are some general guidelines to follow. Healthful, wholesome foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean meats, eggs, low-fat dairy, etc are excellent choices, but these of course can be modified depending on your particular dietary needs.

Salmon, flax, nuts, and some plants such as basil are high in Omega 3 fats (the “good” fat), and are highly recommended in the diet of people with Bipolar. If you can’t get those regularly, consider incorporating Omega fatty acids and/or multivitamin supplements into your daily intake to help your body get the nutrients it needs.

Also, establishing regular mealtimes and ensuring that blood sugar remains steady is more than just not getting ”hangry”; waiting too long can contribute to temporary mood instability.

And for the bad stuff: Try to minimize junk food whenever possible. Beware of salt intake (particularly important for those taking lithium as a medication) and avoid concentrated amounts of sugars, such as soft drinks, syrup, and candy bars. When eating fats, go for lean protein and low-fat dairy products when choosing animal products, and avoid saturated and trans fats. It’s been noted that some Bipolar medications may take longer to be absorbed when eating high-fat diets, so consider opting for foods with less fat, for example, limiting red meat. Not maintaining a healthy diet can lead to belly fat and/or obesity, which may also make some Bipolar Disorder drug treatments less effective, according to results of a recent study.

High levels of caffeine can disrupt sleep and contribute to feelings of nervousness, anxiety, heart palpitations, etc. And avoid alcohol, as it’s a depressant, and nicotine/smoking and recreational drugs in general.

Eating well is easier said than done, right? Well, here are some tools to help you achieve healthy nutrition and weight.

Educate Yourself

Educate yourself with skills/strategies for shopping and cooking well, as well as identifying good choices when eating out at a restaurant. You may want to utilize a nutritionist to get started or have as a partner in reaching your goals.

Prepare Food in Advance

Prepare healthy food in advance so that mood and/or schedule won’t interfere with your ability to eat smart. Along with that, have healthy, vitamin-rich snacks on hand so you don’t reach for quick junk food to satisfy your hunger. If you’re dining out, avoid choices high in fats and sugars, and enjoy a sensible portion-a doggy bag will be delicious tomorrow! And, do not keep alcohol or recreational drugs easily accessible.


Also, engage in exercise for its ability to combat weight gain along with other health benefits. Additionally, the increase in endorphins during exercise may have temporary positive effects- a workout will probably feel great!

It can be hard to eat nutritiously but with the right tools and knowledge about its important role in the diet of people with Bipolar, it’s a goal worth reaching for in the quest for both a healthy mind and body.

 The writer of this article is not a healthcare professional or nutritionist and is not giving advice.  Talk to your doctor about general guidelines and specific nutritional needs as these will vary patient to patient. Always discuss/disclose any natural supplements that you take as they may have negative interactions with your prescribed medication.