Overcoming the Challenge: Losing Weight with Mental Illness

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The National Institute of Mental Health reports that over 80 percent of people with mental illness struggle to maintain a healthy weight. Shockingly, obesity among this group actually may contribute to a mortality rate nearly triple that of the general population. Overweight and obese individuals are more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, heart failure, and other ailments. Medications designed to treat symptoms of mental illness often promote weight gain, but other factors also play a role. Treatment programs should focus not only on mental illness, but on teaching and motivating patients to develop healthy lifestyles.

How Does Mental Illness Contribute to Weight Gain?

The complex symptoms of mental illness often lead to weight gain and obesity. Symptoms of depression include fatigue, loss of interest in activities, and lack of motivation. As such, people with depression often forego exercise, causing their metabolism to slow and unused calories to turn into fat. They may also lack the desire to prepare healthy meals, opting for fast food and other unhealthy options.

People with mental illness also tend to limit their nutrition and exercise opportunities. Impulse control  can cause people to eat and drink exorbitant amounts. Also, some may turn to eating as a way to mitigate painful thoughts and emotions. Individuals with memory disorders may struggle to retain information and adopt new habits such as exercising daily. Social anxiety disorders can also hamper people from exercising alongside others and even seeking mental health treatment in general.

Medications can also cause weight gain. Prescription drugs such as antipsychotics rewire the body’s metabolic processes and perceptions of hunger and fullness. However, tailored treatment can help people with mental illness manage their symptoms and reach a healthy body weight even while on medication.

How Can People with Mental Illness Lose Weight?

While many challenges await people with mental illness on the road to weight loss, studies reveal promising treatment options can produce long-term results. The effectiveness of treatment varies by individual and must consider factors such as age, medical history, and the presence of co-occurring substance addiction. With proper guidance, a successful mental-illness-focused weight loss program may include:

  • Classes on the basics of nutrition, energy, exercise, and eating habits
  • Tailored individual and group exercise plans that adapt as participants begin to lose weight
  • Incentives for attending and completing a workout

A key study implemented a behavioral-exercise intervention program for nearly 300 adults with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and moderate to severe depression. Under the program, 38 percent of the participants lost at least five percent of their body weight after 18 months. Because healthy eating and exercise habits boost metabolism, the program can help counteract the metabolism-slowing effects of medication and help people with mental illness achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Further studies will no doubt uncover new ways for mental illness patients to lose weight in spite of medications. Education, awareness, and support from loved ones are key to helping the population understand the risks of obesity and motivate them to make changes for a better life.

Pasadena Villa Psychiatric Residential Treatment Centers creates a comforting and therapeutic environment for those suffering from mental illness. We believe in treating all residents with compassion, and our programs are designed in ways that preserve and protect their dignity. We do common activities that many families do. Our staff and residents learn and model appropriate social and communication skills, from daily mealtimes, to many fun and relaxing social and recreational activities.

Our mental health professionals work directly with residents. They observe them in actual social situations and incorporate these observations directly into the resident’s ongoing treatment plan.  This individual, real life personalized attention makes the Pasadena Villa treatment experience more appropriate and beneficial for each of our residents, especially when compared to any other available adult residential treatment mental health services.

In fact, our culinary staff will work with each individual resident to construct a healthy and delicious meal plan and our recreational therapists work with each individual to develop an exercise routine uniquely tailored to dramatically boost metabolism, energy, self-perception and permanent weight loss.

As one of the very first programs in the country to base its treatment upon Social Integration, our mental health facilities offer help through a unique mix of individualized therapy and group residential programs with a clear focus towards achieving more independent living.

The Villa Orlando and Pasadena Villa’s Smoky Mountain Lodge are adult intensive psychiatric residential treatment centers for clients with serious mental illnesses. Pasadena Villa’s outpatient center is located in Raleigh, North Carolina. We also provide other individualized therapy programs, step-down residential programs, and less intensive mental health services, such as Community Residential Homes, Supportive Housing, Day Treatment Programs and Life Skills training. If you or someone you know may need counseling on mental health services, please fill out our contact form or call us at 407-574-5190 for more information.



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If you’re ready to take the next step in the recovery process for you or your loved one, the compassionate team at Pasadena Villa is here to help. Give us a call at 407.574.5190 or complete our contact form.

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