Weight Loss

Control Lexapro weight gain: A Registered Dietitian tells you how.

December 18, 2023

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Contents
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Key Points

  • Lexapro helps manage depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
  • Some people report weight gain on Lexapro as a side effect.
  • Prevent weight gain on Lexapro by tracking your foods and moods, eating nutrition-rich meals, and other strategies.
  • Weight gain is unique to each person; personalized guidance from a Registered Dietitian can help address why you gain weight on Lexapro.

Lexapro (escitalopram) is a widely used antidepressant that offers considerable benefits to patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. However, one side effect of this drug is weight gain.

Here's a friendly guide with Registered Dietitian-approved strategies to keep Lexapro weight gain at bay.

Benefits of Lexapro

Lexapro, a commonly prescribed antidepressant, aids in managing depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

As a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), Lexapro benefits include:

  • Enhanced mood and energy
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved sleep
  • Better cognitive function

However, some people on Lexapro may gain weight. Let's explore why.

Understanding Lexapro and weight gain

Lexapro belongs to the class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Its primary function is to increase serotonin levels in the body, a chemical responsible for maintaining our mood balance. However, this increase in serotonin levels often results in weight gain.

Experienced Registered Dietitian Rita Faycurry, RD, notes, "Some people may be at a higher risk of gaining weight on Lexapro. This group includes smokers, people who live sedentary lives, and those with diets rich in carbohydrates, sugar, dairy, and highly processed foods.”

Remember that not everyone experiences weight gain due to Lexapro. There is always a possibility that other factors may be responsible for your weight loss.

How SSRIs increase cravings

95% of serotonin is made in our gut; the chemical regulates how food moves through the digestive tract. When serotonin levels are high, it can suppress appetite by creating a feeling of fullness or satiety. On the other hand, when serotonin levels are low, it can stimulate appetite.

But, if this is true, why do SSRIs like Lexapro cause weight gain? After all, don’t they increase serotonin in your body (which should lower your appetite)?

Faycurry explains, “Experts don’t really know the answer yet. One theory is that because SSRIs affect your serotonin receptors, this tinkers with your metabolism and slows it down. The bottomline is that some people gain weight on SSRIs while others don’t. It depends on how your body and brain react to the drug.”

Weight gain is highly personal and affects each person differently. To learn what works best for your body, consider a Registered Dietitian for a personalized solution.

Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by insurance.

Mood boosts may increase your appetite

Anxiety affects people differently. For example, a study shows that 40% of people with anxiety report losing their appetite during periods of high stress, but another 40% reported an increase in appetite.

People who lose their appetite when stressed may regain their natural appetite on Lexapro when they start to feel better, potentially leading to weight gain.

According to Rita Faycurry, RD, “A slight weight gain may be associated with Lexapro. However, if you notice rapid weight changes, consult a health care provider or a Registered Dietitian immediately.”

Strategies to Curb Lexapro Weight Gain

1. Journal your foods and moods

Maintain a food journal to track your cravings, eating habits, and how you feel before and after meals. This understanding can help you identify triggers and help you develop strategies to stop food cravings.

2. Add fiber to your diet

Fiber-rich food can help you feel full longer, reducing the tendency to overeat. Introduce whole grains, whole vegetables, and whole fruit in your diet, ideally during every meal.

Some great sources of dietary fiber include:

  • Whole grains like steel-cut oats, quinoa,
  • Berries, pear, and other whole fruit
  • Whole vegetables like carrots, beans, broccoli, beets, spinach and other leafy greens, and Brussels sprouts
  • Lentils, including kidney beans and chickpeas
  • Nuts like pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

3. Consume protein in every meal

Including protein and healthy fats in every meal can stabilize blood sugar levels and help curb cravings.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about fad diets, including intermittent fasting, the keto diet, the carnivore diet, and more. What's the right diet for weight loss?

Says Faycurry RD, "The best diet is the one that’s realistic and most sustainable for your life. If you’ve tried fad diets in the past and they didn't work, that's okay. In fact, 80-95% of people on diets gain weight after the diet ends due to unrealistic expectations. It’s better to focus on a long-term commitment to nutrition and incorporate a balanced plate for each meal.”

Here are some ways to introduce protein into your meals.

Here are some animal sources of protein:

  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Chicken breast
  • Turkey breast
  • Greek yogurt
  • Fish.

Vegetarian and vegan sources of protein include:

  • Lentils
  • Almonds
  • Quinoa
  • Vegan protein powders.

4. Eat healthy fats

Adding healthy fats to your diet creates a sense of fullness and helps to slow your digestion down and help your body absorb nutrients better.

Unsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are considered healthy fats.

Here are some good sources of healthy fats:

  • Tuna, salmon, sardines, and other fatty fish
  • Eggs
  • Avocado
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and peanuts
  • Seeds like chia seeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds
  • Olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil.

Discover the right food plan for your unique needs with guidance from an expert Registered Dietitian. Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist near you, covered by insurance.

5. Stay active and keep moving

While you cannot lose weight through exercise alone, regular physical activity can help maintain your metabolism and eliminate toxins. Overall, with a nutritious diet, you can control your weight.

Making sure you move around during the day instead of being sedentary can help you lose stomach bloat and ease constipation.

If you’re just getting started, try incorporating a walk into your daily routine. Consider doing a few minutes of yoga to help your digestive system.

6. Monitor sodium intake

Reducing sodium intake can help alleviate fluid retention, a common side effect of SSRIs. Simultaneously, increasing potassium-rich foods can help balance sodium levels in the body.

Common high-sodium foods to avoid (or lower their intake) are:

  • Highly processed foods, including pre-packaged dinners and frozen pizza
  • Smoked or cured meats like salamis, sausages, canned sardines, hot dogs, and ham
  • Salted nuts, chips, and other packaged snacks
  • Frozen shrimp
  • Canned soup
  • Processed cheese
  • Pickles
  • Canned tomato sauce
  • Processed bread, particularly those in large portion sizes.

Bear in mind that unless you have an underlying health condition that directly calls for a low-sodium diet, you may enjoy these foods in moderation.

The goal is not to follow highly restrictive diets; you do not have to “eat clean” all the time. However, try to keep high-sodium and processed foods as treats instead of your main meals. 

7. Manage stress

Chronic stress can lead to weight gain. Finding effective ways to manage stress can help mitigate this risk. Yes, it’s easier said than done, and if you suffer from anxiety, you may worry about how stress affects your body, which may raise your stress levels further.

So, if you feel your heart race and other familiar signs of anxiety, here are some ways to control your stress:

  • Practice slow breathing with longer exhales. It may help to think of a slow, calming song in your head to match your breathing.
  • Identify your anxiety triggers or consider therapy for a longer-term solution.

8. Get adequate sleep

Disrupted sleep patterns can cause weight gain. Establishing a consistent sleep routine can help manage weight.

While Lexapro may cause temporary insomnia at first, the effects do not last long. Studies show that escitalopram (Lexapro) has been shown to help improve sleep disorders.

Consider a sleep routine to calm yourself before you go to bed. Steps include:

  • Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and other stimulants a few hours before bed
  • Limit your caffeine and see if you can sleep better
  • Meditate
  • Avoid looking at your phone or TV right before bed or in bed.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with these habits, if you struggle with insomnia, consider a trial run by eliminating one or more of the common offenders listed above for a few days or weeks and see how you feel. Try a meditation app to help you relax your thoughts.

9. Get a personalized nutrition guidance from a Registered Dietitian

Beyond SSRI medications, there could be other factors contributing to weight gain, including:

  • Your body and habits: Your unique metabolism, diet, and lifestyle are significant factors.
  • Gut health: If your digestive health is impaired, your body may not absorb the right nutrients from your food intake—even if you follow a healthy diet. When this happens, you may experience cravings for sugary and high-carb foods, even if you’ve already eaten.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Taking Lexapro may give you relief from symptoms of depression or anxiety (or both). Once you feel better, you may become more aware of other aspects of your life, like weight. However, your weight may have been steadily increasing due to hormone imbalances like insulin or leptin resistance. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to weight gain on Lexapro (or in general). Get personalized guidance on weight loss. Use Fay to find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by insurance.


The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources

Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.

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