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Weight Loss » Can Stress And Anxiety Cause Weight Loss: Why You Should Take A Chill Pill

Can Stress And Anxiety Cause Weight Loss: Why You Should Take A Chill Pill

can stress and anxiety cause weight loss

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Emotions like anxiety and stress are part of life, and all people experience these two emotions at various times in life. Our mental health has a way of affecting our physical health. Therefore, it is important to know how these two emotions affect our bodies. What is stress? What is anxiety? Can stress and anxiety cause weight loss? All these questions will be tackled in this article. 

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Can Stress And Anxiety Cause Weight Loss: What is Stress? 

Stress is how your body and brain respond to demand (1). There are so many things that can make one stressed, such as their job, spouse, children, health, school, finances, and so much more. Prolonged periods of stress can affect our health, relationship with others, and how we handle life.

Here are a few things to remember while stressed: 

  • Everyone experiences stress (1)

Stress can be experienced by everyone, long as we live, we will definitely encounter it at a certain point. When it comes to stress, it is not a matter of if you will experience it, but a matter of what will cause it, how long you will experience it, and what effects it will have on you. There are different types of stress, and all have a way of affecting one’s health, either physically or mentally. Examples of common types of stress include routine stress, stress from negative factors, and traumatic stress. 

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  • Stress can be good (1)

There are times when being stressed is more of a blessing than a hurdle. A good example of such a time is when you are in danger. When in danger, the stress keeps your body alert and prepares it to handle the dangerous situation. Stress can make you identify escape routes in those situations, how to get out of the situation unharmed, and so on. It helps your body trigger your survival instinct in response to the danger that is upon you. 

  • Prolonged stressing is harmful to your health (1)

This comes as no surprise as too much of almost everything becomes harmful to your body, and it goes the same for stress. Long-term stress can affect your digestive system, immune system, sleep, and even your reproductive system. With time, it can cause one to develop certain cardiovascular diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and various mental disorders like anxiety and depression.

  • Stress can be managed (1)

This is the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to stress; it can be managed. There are many ways one can use to cope with stress.

Here are a few of them:

  1. Talking to a doctor or anyone equipped to help you deal with stress. One can choose to speak to a counselor or a psychiatrist. These are people trained to handle such situations and will better guide you on how to deal with stress.
  2. Recognizing your stressor and trying to avoid it (4). Just as we said earlier, there are different causes of stress for different types of people. As a person, you need to identify what causes your stress and look for ways to avoid them.
  3. Keep in touch with friends and family. Family and friends are good distractions unless they are the ones causing your stress. When you are stressed, try spending time with your family or friends. 
  4. Try a relaxing activity. There are many activities that one can do to relax. You can go swimming, dancing, cycling, or try yoga, meditation, and so much more. When you are stressed, look for an activity that gives you joy and try doing it.
  5. Workout. Working out can lift your moods. Hence you can use exercises to lose weight and also to deal with stress.
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  • If stress becomes overwhelming, seek help from a professional as soon as possible (1)

In case you are having bad thoughts like self-harm or suicide, or if you feel too overwhelmed by it, seek help from a qualified person as soon as possible. 

If you remember those few pointers, then you will easily be able to handle routine stress. When it comes to weight, stress can either make one gain weight or lose weight. All this depends on the individual.

Can Stress And Anxiety Cause Weight Loss: What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is how the mind and the body react to situations that are either dangerous, unfamiliar, or stressful (9). It is the feeling of uneasiness, distress, or dread that one usually feels before an important event. It is known to cause so many anxiety-related disorders. 

Here are three main types of anxiety-related disorders that can be caused by anxiety: 

1. Anxiety disorders

These disorders are mainly characterized by excessive fear and anxiety (9). They can have both negative behavioral and emotional consequences on an individual. One should look for ways to manage these disorders as early as possible.

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2. Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders

These disorders are characterized by obsessive and intrusive thoughts that result in compulsive behaviors (9). These compulsive behaviors are usually performed to alleviate the anxiety associated with obsessive and intrusive thoughts. An example of obsessive intrusive thought is always worrying about being clean. A compulsive behavior that can be associated with it is constantly washing your hands and cleaning surfaces around you. 

3. Trauma-and-stressor-related disorders

These are disorders that are related to traumatic experience (9). This can be the death of a loved one, a car accident, assault, and so on. 

The most common signs of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders include (3): 

  • Nervous feeling (one being very restless or tensed)
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilating 
  • Sweating 
  • Shaking and trembling 
  • Always feeling tired 
  • Always feeling weak
  • Insomnia or irregular sleeping patterns 
  • A lot of worrying 
  • Having trouble concentrating or focusing 

Different studies show that people with anxiety have issues managing their weight. A person with anxiety will either gain weight or lose weight. Unexplained weight loss is something that should be taken very seriously, and one should make an effort to visit a doctor as soon as they start experiencing this. Many things can cause unexplained weight loss like HIV, some cancers, thyroid disorders, and anxiety. 

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Can Anxiety and Stress Cause Weight Loss?

Anxiety and stress go hand in hand. It is very hard to experience one without experiencing the other. When it comes to weight, both these emotions can cause weight gain and weight loss. Let us look at how they can cause one to lose weight.

  • Lack of eating

One way anxiety and stress are known to cause weight loss is by causing one to be less interested in food (7). Weight loss requires you to take in fewer calories than your body needs. If you do so, you create a calorie deficit, which then causes weight loss. When you are stressed, you start to lose your appetite because of all the things going through your mind. You start to feel less hungry, and when you eat, you won’t eat as much as you used to. It is not easy for one to realize how much they are starving themselves, and this can unconsciously cause a massive loss of weight. 

Apart from being disinterested in food, anxiety and stress can easily make you forget to eat. Let’s say what is stressing you is work, and you are anxious if you get your job done in time, or it may result in you losing your job. This will lead you to miss so many meals while trying to finish work in time and thus would result in weight loss. One can easily adopt unhealthy eating habits, so you should try to eat normally even when stressed.

  • Nervous movement 

When people are anxious or stressed, they are always moving. They are restless, pacing around, fidgeting, or making other movements (6). One way a person can lose weight is by doing exercises. Cardio is an example of exercise one can do to lose weight, and walking is part of cardio. These people, hence, end up burning calories with their constant movement and would result in weight loss. 

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  • Exercising to distract themselves 

One way of dealing with stress and anxiety is by either doing an activity that one loves or exercising. If the activity you love is exercising or workout to manage these emotions, then you are likely to lose weight. People with anxiety sometimes exercise because working out produces the feel-good hormone that makes one happier, hence better moods. 

Working out can help one lose weight when incorporated as part of an intentional healthy weight loss plan. However, unintentional weight loss due to anxiety because of excessive exercise or any of the other reasons listed here can be dangerous.

Before you get into an exercise program, it is always important to consult an expert.

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  • Insomnia 

Lack of sleep or insomnia is one of the symptoms associated with stress and anxiety. People experiencing these emotions are usually restless and have a hard time sleeping, if they sleep, it isn’t long enough (6). When you have insomnia, your body does not produce the right amounts of cortisol. It is a hormone related to stress. Production of this hormone affects your metabolism. You have a faster metabolism, and since you are not eating, it results in weight loss. 

The fact that you are awake means your body needs more energy than it would require if you were asleep. This makes your body dig into your energy reserves to provide itself with the energy it needs, this may lead to weight loss. Even if you are stressed, your body needs to rest and you should try to sleep. If you are still finding it hard to sleep, you should consult an expert. They might prescribe sleeping pills or offer other ways of getting sleep. It may be harmful to try unprescribed sleeping pills, so you should not try to do that.

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  • Production of stress hormones 

When you have anxiety or stress, your body goes into a mode of fight or flight. This mode is also referred to as acute stress response, and it is your body’s way of responding to the thing causing you stress or anxiety. When it is in this state, your body produces adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help you react and stay alert during stressful, dangerous, or unknown situations. The problem with these hormones is that they come with side effects. 

Adrenaline prepares your body for a vigorous physical activity like running away or fighting. This hormone also reduces your appetite (4). When you don’t have an appetite, you will consume fewer calories than your body needs and will help promote weight loss. Adrenaline also causes a faster heartbeat and breathing, and this helps burn more calories.

On the other hand, cortisol is responsible for minimizing some body functions that may seem unnecessary during a stressful occurrence. Some of the body functions that are usually suppressed are digestive, reproductive, and immune function, among others. When digestion is stopped or minimized, it means your body is not absorbing nutrients and might be discarded as waste. This could lead to weight loss since you are not able to digest and absorb food, hence creating a calorie deficit.  

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  • Stress causes gastrointestinal distress 

Another thing that causes one to lose weight is distress in the gastrointestinal system. Stress affects most of the parts of the GI system. It causes symptoms like (5, 11):

  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas 
  • Abdominal bloating 
  • Feeling of nausea and vomiting 
  • Heartburn 
  • Reduced appetite 
  • Constipation 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Pain while swallowing food

All the symptoms shown above will affect a person’s eating habits and may result in them eating less. This would then result in weight loss since it creates a calorie deficit. 

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  • Anxiety medicine can cause weight-loss

When one is experiencing serious anxiety, they are usually given pills to help them deal with it. Some of those pills have side effects that can cause weight loss.

Here are some of the drugs and how they cause weight loss:

  • Benzodiazepines. This drug acts as a central nervous system depressant. Among the side effects of this drug are nausea, vomiting, and stomach upset (2). These side effects can easily lead to weight loss. 
  • Venlafaxine and Desvenlafaxine. These two drugs are likely to lead to a decrease in one’s appetite, hence triggering weight loss (2).
  • Buspirone. This drug is known to cause very many gastrointestinal side effects like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and others (2). These side effects can lead to weight loss.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors. These drugs also have gastrointestinal side effects, which can cause weight loss. Another thing is that they come with dietary restrictions (2). 

These are some examples of anxiety drugs that can cause weight loss due to their side effects.

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Can Anxiety and Stress Cause Weight Gain?

As previously mentioned, anxiety and stress can also cause weight gain.

Here are some ways these two emotions can cause weight gain:

  • Cravings for unhealthy foods (8, 10). Some people crave foods like chocolates, pizza, fries, and more unhealthy foods while stressed. These are high-calorie foods, and regular consumption of these foods is likely to cause weight loss. 
  • Lack of sleep. Some people, when they can’t sleep, will always find themselves snacking at night (5). This snacking at night can cause weight gain since you are eating. On top of that, you are not going to be burning the calories you ate since it’s at night, and your body is inactive. This often leads to weight gain.
  • Reduced motivation to do anything (5). People who are stressed find themselves tired most of the time and would just be lethargic. Lack of physical activity can lead to weight gain since you are just eating and lazing around without doing anything that would help burn the calories you’ve consumed, resulting in weight gain.  

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The Bottom Line 

Can stress and anxiety cause weight loss? The answer is yes. These two emotions can cause weight loss. However, one should find ways to handle them as soon as possible since the reason for their weight loss is not healthy at all. If the anxiety and stress medications you are taking have side effects that you can’t handle, please talk to your doctor so that they can switch them with better ones. Stress and anxiety can also cause weight gain, as shown above, although this all depends on each individual. 

In your way to a better life, you need to supplement both mental and physical health. Try this 20 Minute Full Body Workout at Home in order to help your body feel stronger and healthier.

DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. 5 Things You Should Know About Stress (n.d., nimh.nih.gov)
  2. Anti-anxiety Medications That Cause Weight Loss (2018, healthfully.com)
  3. Anxiety disorders (2018, mayoclinic.org)
  4. Are You Losing Weight Due To Stress? Here’s What To Do (2019, stylecraze.com)
  5. Can stress lead to weight loss? (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
  6. Have You Noticed Anxiety and Weight Loss? The Connection Between Anxiety And Weight Loss (2020, betterhelp.com)
  7. How Anxiety May Cause Weight Loss (2020, calmclinic.com)
  8. How Stress Can Cause Weight Gain (2020, verywellmind.com)
  9. What is Anxiety? (n.d., anxiety.org)
  10. Why Anxiety and Stress Might Be Causing Your Weight Gain (n.d., fitday.com)
  11. Why Does Anxiety Cause Weight Loss? (n.d., livestrong.com)
Ben William

Ben William

Ben is an experienced writer who is no stranger to fitness. His career goal is not only to educate people on proper exercising but also help them recognize the profound importance of healthy nutrition. As a writer, his top priority is to foster awareness about healthy lifestyle and encourage more people to transform their bodies and kick their deep-rooted habits. Ben strongly believes that anyone can achieve their fitness goals, as long as they work hard, stay on track and keep a positive mindset.

Kristen Fleming

Kristen Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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