Nutritional Health For All

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Medication Side-Effects and Nutritional Health - Preventing Weight Gain

Some medications that aim to improve mental health can have unwanted side-effects. Some of these side effects include weight gain and tiredness. If you are taking medications to improve your mental health,  and you recognise  any of the side-effects listed below, it is important to discuss them with your mental health professional,  GP, or dietitian.  They can help you - the sooner the problem is identified the better.

 Common side-effects of medications

  • Increased thirst
  • Food cravings* – especially for sugary/starchy foods (see below)
  • Never feeling satisfied after a meal
  • Tiredness
  • Constipation
  • Reduced motivation to get out and about 
  • Sudden weight gain

Try these  suggestions to help minimise the impact of these side-effects:

  •  Know your weight – weigh yourself once a week in the same clothes on the same day and record these weights. If it goes up by 2kg (4 ½  lbs) or more, speak to your docto
  • Try to eat regular meals – 3 a day (breakfast, a light meal and a main meal).
  • Avoid skipping meals.
  • Try to sit at the table at mealtime and to take time over your meal.  When we eat fast we tend to eat more than we need.
  • Stock up on healthy ready meals and convenience foods that are easy to cook for those days that you don’t feel like cooking a dinner, examples include: beans or sardines on toast, frozen ready meals, thin based vegetarian pizza or scrambled egg on toast.
  • If you are hungry between meals stick to healthy snacks such as fruit, diet yoghurt or a small bag of plain popcorn (see list below for more suggestions).
  • If you are thirsty, drink low sugar non-caffeinated drinks such as sugar free squash or wateAvoid fast foods and takeaways – they are usually high in fat, sugar and salt and are an expensive way to be unhealthy!
  • Exercise but set realistic goals. A 20 minute fast walk every second day is a good starting point.  Eventually, aim for 30 minutes 5 days a week to maintain a healthy weight (150 minutes per week).  If you need to lose weight you may need to increase this to 50 minute walks 5 days a week (250 minutes per week).
  • Involve your family and friends – if they know you are trying to manage your weight they might help by; cooking healthier meals, not bringing sugary or fatty foods into the house, choosing a healthier option instead of the usual takeaway or by joining you in exercise.
  • Alcohol can cause weight gain. it is not recommended on some medications – speak to your doctor about this
  • Healthy eating means enjoying your food. A little of what you like is ok, just try to keep treats to once  a week.

*Coping With Food Cravings

Cravings, especially for sugary foods are a common side-effect of starting on some medications.  These cravings can be difficult to resist and can lead to fast weight gain. The best way to beat cravings is to follow a healthy meal plan.  This means having regular healthy meals throughout the day.  This will help keep you satisfied and prevent you getting hungry, making it easier to resist cravings.

Do not skip meals: If you skip meals,  you are more likely to fill up on sugary or fatty foods.  Aim to have 3 healthy meals each day.

Have a breakfast that is high in fibre and low in sugar: Examples are a bowl of porridge, Branflakes, or sugar free muesli and a glass of unsweetened fruit juice or 2 slices of wholegrain toast with low fat spread and a banana.

Choose foods that are have a low glycaemic index with each meal. These help to keep you feeling fuller for longer and should be included in your healthy meal plan. Examples of low glycaemic index foods are: multigrain or granary bread,  pasta or brown rice, diet yoghurt, low fat milk, apples, oranges, bananas, pears, cabbage, broccoli, peas and beans.

Delay the urge to ‘give in' to a craving by: having a drink of water or a sugar free drink. Distract yourself by talking to someone, phoning a friend, watching TV, reading a book, going for a short walk or doing a puzzle – the urge to eat will pass.

Learn to understand your cravings: Cravings lessen and eventually disappear as time goes on.  Being aware that the craving is caused by a false appetite can help you to resist it.

Choose healthy snacks:

If cravings are strong and you need to eat, choose something healthy from the list below.

  • Low calorie yoghurt and fromage frais
  • Wholemeal crackers or c rispbread with low fat spread and/or sugar free jam
  • Fruit – fresh, tinned in natural juice or dried
  • 2 Plain biscuits
  • Cereal bars – aim for less than 100 kcals/bar
  • Small bowl of Wholegrain breakfast cereal with low fat milk
  • Small wholemeal scones with low fat spread
  • Natural or unsweetened popcorn (small bag – 12g)
  • Raisins (1 small bag)
  • Rice Cakes
  • Fruit brack / Maltana with low fat spread – small slice
  • Smoothie made with fruit and low fat yogurt
  • Diet or sugar free drinks
  • A small packet of baked low calorie crisps


Updated by members of the Disability and Mental Health Interest Group, October 2013

Review date: October 2015

© 2013 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with a dietitian. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.

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