Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

6 Bipolar Rules for Eating

The following post is by Hilary Smith, author of “Welcome to the Jungle: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bipolar But Were Too Freaked Out to Ask” (Conari Press, 2010) and a cool blog to go with it, “Welcome to the Jungle” at


We’ve all heard about “mood foods” that can promote wellness for people with bipolar and depression–fish oil for brain health, oatmeal for stable blood sugar, chocolate for, well, chocolateness. But it’s also important to think about how we eat. How we eat can have just as big an impact on our mood as what we eat, yet it often gets neglected in conversations about bipolar and food. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy mood through mindful eating practices.


1. Make eating an art.

How you eat is sometimes a reflection of how you feel. Are you rushed? Distracted? Frustrated? It’ll show by the way you act around food. Similarly, the way you eat can help you change how you feel. When you slow down, prepare yourself a beautiful meal, and savor every bite, you might find yourself feeling calmer, happier, and less stressed out. Mindfulness about the way you eat can be a good starting place for learning mindfulness in other areas of your life, which can go a long way in alleviating the symptoms of depression and bipolar.

2. Know thy meds.

Are your meds supposed to be taken with food or on an empty stomach? Is it OK to drink grapefruit juice while you’re taking them? Have you checked lately? Some foods can interact with your meds in funny ways, or even stop them from working. For example, if you’re taking lithium, it’s important to watch your sodium intake, and many psychotropic medications become downright dangerous if you drink alcohol while taking them. If you haven’t checked the PI sheet for your medication in a while, have a look. There might be a food-related instruction you’ve been forgetting.


3. Know thy eating habits.

Do you start living on Skittles when you’re heading towards a manic episode, and eat nothing but dry toast and coffee when you’re getting depressed? Does your mood dip if you skip breakfast? Do you have a hard time sleeping if you eat too late at night? Being aware of how your eating habits correlate to your mood can be extremely helpful in heading off bipolar symptoms. If you’ve never given much thought to it before, try keeping a food journal for several weeks. Keep a record of when you ate, what you ate, and how you felt throughout the day. After a month or so of record-keeping, you might discover patterns you didn’t know were there.

4. Depression is not an excuse to binge on ice cream.


While chowing down on junk food might distract you from depression for a few minutes, the resulting feelings of guilt and low self-esteem can make the depression worse (not to mention the sugar crash an hour later). When you’re depressed, the best way to eat is to sit down, take your time, and have healthy meals at regular intervals. Not only will this keep your blood sugar more stable throughout the day, but it can give you a sense of well-being and self-worth that you just don’t get from snarfling cookies right out of the box. Not that there’s anything wrong with eating a cookie.

5. Weight gain? Be kind to yourself.

Many psychotropic drugs have the unfortunate side effect of weight gain, and that can be hard on your self-esteem. It’s common to feel angry, frustrated or embarrassed about your appearance, especially when friends and relatives comment on the change. But if you react to meds-related weight gain by trying to starve yourself, you’re only going to make it worse. Instead, be kind to yourself. If you want to lose weight, make a sensible plan with your doctor, and don’t punish yourself with draconian diets. Find a gentle way to love the body you have right now, even when its size fluctuates because of your medication.


6. Rhythm is king.

It’s much easier to keep bipolar under control when your life has a steady rhythm. We all know about the importance of going to sleep at a regular time, but how many of us pay attention to meal times? Eating at regular times keeps your body energized throughout the day and your blood sugar levels stable, which in turn can help you keep a stable mood. Keeping regular mealtimes is especially important if you’re experiencing depression or mania/hypomania, when the temptation to skip meals can make your symptoms worse.

By making a few easy changes to the way you eat, you can help yourself keep a stable mood and healthy body. Eating right is an important part of the bipolar picture, and by paying attention to how we do it, we can be happier, healthier, and feel better about our bodies too.


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  • Anne McGinley

    I feel like I am on a meds-food-sleep-depression-exercise-merry-go-round. Meds are still not right, and you change one, and everything gets messed up. GRR.

  • Jwlzie

    I am broke but something is wrong very wrong with me so I am going to pray to God for 100% healing and I am going to do the same for you so you don’t have to juggle or go on the Merry Go Round.
    So please join me because when two or more come into agreement IT WILL BE DONE IN JESUS NAME!!!
    Get Ready Sista

  • Sabah

    Thank you for that article. I was diagnosed 3 yrs with bi-polar and have been struggling with it b/c it has been an adjustment just accepting it. I have decided to go holistic and take herbs instead of the Rx. I am just at the point where I am getting a balance and realize that eating healthy, exercise and getting proper sleep has really helped improve my moods. I won’t say its easy all the time but I am making a conscious effort each day for my own mental health.

  • Jane Alexander

    “Find a gentle way to love the body you have right now, even when its size fluctuates because of your medication.”
    I had to laugh at this. I remember as a teen how lithium and trilafon turned me into a blimp. I was blissfully ignoring it until I started getting made fun of in school. Understand that, before I went on psych meds, I was as thin as a rail. No one in a million years would ever have called me fat at the ages of twelve, thirteen and most of fourteen. But by the time I was fifteen and had been on meds for half a year, I was seriously overweight. Wearing sweatpants all the time type overweight.
    Being a teen is hard enough. The status and social climbing, the cliques, teen dating, it’s all a huge stress and pressure. Now add to that you have become someone who gets picked on, pointed at, laughed at, tell me how on earth you are going to love yourself? How many fats kids at school went on dates with the beautiful kids? Do you remember them being all alone most of the time? Do you know what’s like to be brunt of fat jokes and think to yourself, “This can’t be happening to me,” when you used to be one of the thin ones?
    It’s humiliating. There is no grace or love of self to be had when you are ashamed to even go to school for fear of being picked on. How depressing is that? It’s insult added to injury.
    For me, being called fat in the hallways of school was the last straw and I discontinued the medications on my own. Twelve months later, all the weight was gone. I was a hard-body again, athletic. I looked good and my self-esteem came back, as did my dating prospects. I never regretted it.
    School is harsh. Teenage kids are not known for their sensitivity and the depth of their personalities. Looks are everything at that age. You can’t love yourself when you hate yourself and you can’t learn to love your body when it’s a source of disgust, both to you and others. You certainly can not accept that as your fate when you know you can do something about it.

  • Vicki T

    Great article.. fits me to a T. I’m an emotional eater. And an OCD eater. My meds always mess with my eating and my weight. And YIPPEE, just found out I’m hypothyroid! So, that now has to fit into the puzzle.

  • Crystal

    I was always very thin (actually too thin) until I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and my doctor put me on Abilify. The medicine worked great but I gained 32 pounds in 3 years. I am also anorexic so this has been particularly hard on me. I have many clothes that I cannot fit into anymore but won’t get rid of because I feel that one day I will get back into them. I know I am not overweight yet but if I keep going like this I will be eventually and that is something I cannot live with. I cannot like myself and be happy if I am overweight so I am reducing the dosages of my medicines with the intention of coming off some of them. I just hope I don’t end up in as bad shape as I was before the meds. However it is a chance I am willing to take. I have tried dieting and exercising but to no avail. It is like these meds. mess up your metabolism or something. Why can’t they come up with something that works that is not a weight gainer?

  • Victoria O

    Crystal! Please Don’t!!!
    Many of my friends are bipolar and some have tried with no success at reducing their meds. It is quite dangerous to wean yourself off them! One woman stopped hers and nearly got run over because she frantically ran into a busy street then beat the daylights out of one of the neighbors. Apparently, reducing the meds causes worse problems than what they were before the meds. Your anorexia will have to take a back seat to the bipolar. A good counselor will be the ticket here. But, whatever you do, Please Don’t stop taking your meds!

  • Nila B

    I was diagnosed with bipolar for 20 years. I advised to those people with the same case is, not to stop taking the prescribed meds bec. in doing so, this will result for another episode which will result for a longer treatment. Your doctor must be aware about lowering the dosage intake of your meds. Gaining weight is my primary concern at present. It is always recommendable to eat small meals even though its frequent.
    Breeze walking for at least 45 mins will help to reduce some pounds that you gained. I advice that we have to be more conscientious about our health. We got only one life to live…

  • Crystal

    I just wanted to say thank you to Victoria O for your concern. I will keep what you said in mind and I will be very careful. I will seek the advice of my doctor and therapist and I will not drop my meds. cold turkey. I will also have my Husband and other family members watching me for behavioral and mood changes. If things start to get bad I will not continue with decreasing my meds. I don’t want to be worse than before I was on them. I cannot even imagine that horror. I guess if I have to stay on them and I pray I don’t I will just have to exercise even more and watch my food intake more closely. What you wrote really got me to thinking and I wanted to say how much I appreciate you taking the time to write it for me. God Bless!

  • Sara Ann

    There is a brief mention of lithium in your note above; please folks, ask your physician to double check how your kidneys are doing if you’re on lithium. It’s not so common, but lithium usage can lead to kidney disease…that’s a permanent condition you don’t want. I know, it happened to me. Lithium is a terrific medication but you should be checked out.

  • Kristen*

    Crystal whom was on albify. did that work for you? because i was on that for like 5 years, it worked in the beginning and slowly stopped over time, they wanted to keep me on it and finally changed to something else. I am a pretty thin girl too, and i never gained a single lb. from this anti-depressant. i realize it depends on the induvial with certian side-effects, but i was wondering if it had worked for you better than me and others i know that are or have been taking this medication.

  • http://***PLEASEREAD*** Irma Wooten

    Does this aso appeal to other mental illness.
    My son has schitsophrenia, and the center he is at only feeds him once a day,dinner only, and i no that is really bad for him, but who do i report the center to, for not carring for my son in the right human manner. I know he needs his 3 meals a day.
    Thank you

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