Weight Gain and Antidepressants

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • I was really skinny as a child, all the way through high school, until I went on the pill. In those days, the hormone mix for the Pill was pretty crude, and I gained a lot of weight, which I fortunately lost when I went off of it. But before the pill, I was scrawny, although my appetite was normal. I even tried downing milkshakes with raw eggs to gain weight, but I was still stick thin.

    Once I hit 30, my metabolism slowed down, but I still had no problem keeping the weight off when I put my mind to it. My Multiple Sclerosis did put an end to aerobic exercise for me, but I've still been able to lose weight when I get serious about it, and sometimes even when I'm not trying. I ended up weighing less a few months after Lawrence was born than I did when I get pregnant with him. I was too busy to snack and I was running up and down stairs a lot.

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    So my history is that I can cut back and get more exercise when I've been overindulging, and I see results within a couple of weeks, tops. Well, history changed a couple of months ago. Mindful that I already am wearing a larger size than I'd like, and even those clothes were getting tight, I started walking half an hour five days a week at lunchtime (uphill in one direction). I started eating salads for lunch, snacking on raw vegetables and skipping dessert. At work, I started walking up two long flights of stairs to the ladies' room on the third floor instead of going down the one shorter flight of stairs to the one in the basement. All things that should have made me drop at least five pounds in the first couple of weeks.

    Instead, I kept gaining weight. I gained weight in places that I've never gained weight, like my calves and ankles, and also in places where I rarely gain weight, like my hips and thighs (I'm an apple shape, so the first place that I gain weight is in my waist).

    As the number on the scale kept creeping up, I racked my brain, looking for a reason. Granted, I'm a lot more sedentary now at my full-time "real" job than I was when I was a full-time mom. I realized that I am eating differently at work than I do on the weekends. At work I eat breakfast early, a decent sized one, and then I eat a big lunch. At home I graze. I eat a small breakfast, then have a snack mid-morning, have a small lunch, have a snack mid-afternoon, etc. I probably eat less that way. I know that I lose a couple of pounds every weekend and then gain it back once the work week starts. So in the last year since I started my job at UC Berkeley, I have slowly gained weight.

    But none of that explained why I've gained so much in the last couple of months. After all, my activity has increased, for one thing. Have I been eating more? Well...I started realizing that whether I was at work or at home, I was thinking about food a lot more. Normally, I don't think about meals until it's time to start preparing them. In fact, if my husband's traveling, I feed my son dinner, but skip it myself.

    When's the last time that I can remember myself all of a sudden thinking about food, if not constantly, at least two or three times as much as usual? When my doctor raised my dosage of the antidepressant I was on (Norpramin). I'm not big on junk food or on carbohydrates in particular (although I do think fresh bread is the perfect food). I mostly ignore snack machines in any building I'm working in. But all of a sudden, I was visiting the snack machine two or three times a day and buying huge asiago cheese bagels at lunchtime for an afternoon snack. When I made the connection between my sudden desire for carbos and the increased dosage, I decreased the dosage back to what it had been (after talking to my doctor).

  • Aha! What's the one thing that I've changed in the last few months? Well, besides the increased activity, which is a good thing, I started taking a new antidepressant. When I expressed a desire to cut back on Wellbutrin, my doctor had me start taking Lamictal, which is an anti-seizure medicine that is now being used for treatment-resistant depression. The pamphlet that came with the medicine cautioned mostly against a fever and rash, which can indicate a life-threatening condition. If it said anything about weight gain, it was in teeny tiny letters.

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    So of course I turned to the Internet to see if I was the only one having this reaction. And of course I wasn't. I found a few instances of other people gaining weight and becoming more food obsessed after starting on Lamictal.

    So this situation looks to be a repeat of my experience with raising the Norpramin dosage. It's fascinating in a way that food addiction can be mimicked by chemicals. I was a heck of a lot more sympathetic to my husband, who's very overweight, bless his heart, after that first experience. I can see how hard it is to resist food when it's all you can think about.

    So when I meet with my doctor in the beginning of June I'm going to tell him that I want to try another medication. Late onset diabetes runs in my family, so I just can't keep gaining weight. I have enough of a struggle with my weight now that MS has prevented me from engaging in really vigorous exercise, like I used to. There are so many new antidepressants and antidepressant combos out there that I amĀ  confident that I can find something that will lift my depression without making me gain weight.

Published On: May 24, 2008