Lithium, also known as Eskalith, is a prescription medication used to treat bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder, which is also known as manic depression, is characterized by extreme manic or depressive moods. Weight gain is a known side effect for lithium. However, you can control weight gain with the proper mix of diet and exercise. Losing or maintaining weight requires a balance between the amount of calories you consume each day and the calories you burn. Your body stores unused calories as fat, so you must decrease your caloric intake, increase your physical activity or both. Lithium adds a challenge to attempts to change your diet or level of physical activity since both can affect the levels of lithium in your body.
Talk to your doctor before beginning a diet or exercise plan to lose weight. Crash diets and those that reduce salt and fluids can increase or decrease the levels of lithium in your body. Your health care team can tell you how many calories you need to consume each day to safely achieve your weight goals.
Follow the standard dietary guidelines for people taking lithium, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, are: drink eight to 10 glasses of water or other fluids each day to prevent increased lithium levels; do not alter your salt intake, such as with a low-sodium diet or through day-to-day fluctuation, from seasonings and prepared foods – more salt can decrease lithium levels and less salt can increase lithium levels; maintain a consistent day-to-day caffeine level -- less caffeine can result in increased lithium and more caffeine can decrease lithium levels.
Plan your meals using the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid as a guide and the daily caloric intake recommended by your health care team. The food pyramid helps you choose healthy foods and snacks from the five major food groups so you can keep your total daily fat and calories at a minimum.
Engage in regular physical activity or exercise based on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendations for adults, which include 150 minutes weekly of moderate aerobic activity, and muscle-strengthening activities two days a week. You can perform those minimums in small sessions spread out through the week.
Work with a dietitian or nutritionist to design your eating plan and help with considerations related to the lithium. Drink water and other calorie-free liquids instead of sugary, carbonated drinks to help with weight loss.
See your doctor before and during your period of weight loss to make sure your diet and physical activity are not adversely affecting your lithium levels. Increase your fluid intake to maintain your lithium levels after sweating heavily during exercise, increased physical activity or hot weather.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Medications - Lithium
- Mayo Clinic: Lithium – Oral Route - Precautions
- National Institutes of Health: Important Information to Know When You Are Taking Lithium
- MyPyramid: Steps to a Healthier Weight – What Should You Eat?
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans