The Many Ways Stress & Anxiety Can Cause Weight Loss Even When You Are Eating
Can Stress Cause Weight Loss? Chronic stress can have several effects on your mental and physical health. Aside from the usual headaches and neck pains, stress can cause weight loss even without any changes to your eating habits or diet.
You usually lose weight when you change your diet, restrict calories, or get in the habit of regular exercises. Those are healthy ways to lose weight, and people are encouraged to do it to remain healthy.
However, unintentional weight loss is a serious concern as it may indicate health issues – so if you start to lose weight without trying, it is time to see your doctor for a health check-up.
Several health conditions can cause unintentional weight loss – and stress is one of the most common reasons for it.
What Is Stress & What Causes It?
Stress can be anything that causes physical, mental, or emotional strain. It can be triggered by many different things like anger, aggression, sadness, and even nervousness.
We all have been stressed out at some point. Maybe it was an exam, a job interview, or the apprehension you feel before meeting your partner’s parents for the first time. These kinds of stress triggers are pretty common, and with time and the passing of the event, the stress naturally diminishes.
Short bursts of stress are linked to positive health benefits too. For instance, you might get stressed out about an approaching deadline and suddenly find the motivation and drive to finish the work on time or ahead of time – therefore boosting your work productivity.
On the other hand, prolonged, laden, and constant stresses can lead to anxiety, depression, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, metabolic disruptions, and plenty of other harmful effects.
The short term stress is called acute stress, and the long time is called chronic stress. Chronic stress is responsible for weight loss even when you are not doing anything to lose it.
How Stress Causes Weight Loss
Stress is not just related to your mind. It causes severe physical effects such as heart disease, diabetes, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, ulcer, tooth and gum disease, obesity, and weight loss.
Here are some of the way stress triggers different parts of the body and causes weight loss –
1. Stress Can Release Excessive Epinephrine
When you are extremely stressed out, your body responds to it and releases epinephrine or adrenaline. Adrenaline prepares our body and mind for vigorous activities, but it sometimes kills our appetite.
If too much adrenaline is released, it can also affect our reproductive, immune, and digestive systems. Too much adrenaline also speeds up your metabolism. This means you will be burning calories at a much faster rate.
2. Inflammation & Vagus Nerve Can Be Triggered.
Inflammation is our body’s response to something harmful. For instance, if you somehow cut your fingers, then your body will produce an inflammatory response.
Stress can also cause unwanted inflammation. Stress causes poor dietary choices, which can lead to widespread inflammation. This inflammation can also activate the vagus nerves of your body.
The vagus nerves start from the brain, come to the neck, and branch out to various organs. If you are stressed out, your vagus nerves will be disrupted, affecting your bodies’ ability to absorb and process food and cause weight loss.
3. IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a chronic disease that can cause diarrhea, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and constipation. Diarrhea caused by IBS can lead to significant weight loss because your body will not have the chance to absorb most of the food you will consume.
Although IBS is a chronic disease, you can manage it with a proper diet and managing stress. And it is best to prevent IBS as soon as possible because excessive diarrhea can cause significant loss of nutrients, electrolytes, water, and minerals. This can lead to severe health issues.
4. Stress Might Lead To Excessive Exercise
Exercise is one of the best ways to cope with stress. Exercise can help you gain runners high. This happens when your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that cause happiness.
If you are stressed out, then you would want to feel that happiness. Some people try to chase that happiness a little too much and exercise more than necessary.
We already talked about how adrenaline can cause weight loss. Exercise also helps release adrenaline, so if you are stressed out and exercising, you will be releasing a significant amount of adrenaline and losing weight at a rapid rate.
5. Stress Will Trigger Malabsorption
Malabsorption is a type of disorder, and it happens when you do not absorb the right amount of nutrients. The absence of essential nutrients such as minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and vitamins can trigger malabsorption.
Stress can cause changes in your dietary habits, and that can lead to malabsorption. And if you get this disorder, it will again cause bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and decreased appetite.
5 Signs That Your Weight Loss Is Connected To Stress
Aside from stress, several other things can affect the disorders or diseases we talked about above, but the following signs of weight loss are specifically connected to stress.
1. You Trigger Acute Stress Response To Batte Stress
If your body and mind are stressed out, it will automatically trigger a fight or flight response. It is a psychological response that forces your body to release adrenaline and cortisol to prevent unforeseen threats.
When too much adrenaline is released, it will disrupt your eating habits and also reduce your appetite.
2. Different Types Of Gastrointestinal Distress
The GI or Gastrointestinal system is responsible for all sorts of digestive activities. Like all other systems, the GI system is also controlled by the brain. However, stress can disrupt the signal between your GI system and the brain.
Your GI system is mainly responsible for three parts that are –
- Esophagus or food pipe
Unfortunately, stress can affect all three of these parts.
Chronic stress can cause various Gastrointestinal Distress that includes reflux or heartburn, difficulty in swallowing, nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite. All these things can cause your body to lose weight.
3. Loss Of Appetite
Chronic stress drains you physically and mentally as it can deplete your energy quickly. If you are stressed out, you might even forget when to eat or what you ate the last time. Loss of appetite is a common effect of stress because your mind will be busy working to cope with that stress.
4. Stress Leads To Unintentional Physical Activities
If you are stressed out, then you may have nervous ticks. These are subtle movements that your body automatically triggers when you are anxious or stressed.
Finger clicking, food tapping are common nervous tics. These unconscious movements can reduce weight. It is surprising how these tiny movements can cause weight loss.
Nervous ticks, fidgeting, and unconscious movements can increase the number of calories you usually burn when standing or sitting by 30% -which means it can burn a couple of hundred calories. Calorie burning causes weight loss.
5. Disruption Of Your Sleep Cycle
Stress makes it difficult to fall asleep or have a good sleep. Stress is even considered one of the reasons that people have insomnia. If you do not get proper rest or sleep, your body will not function properly. Your mood will constantly be agitated, and you will physically feel fatigued all the time.
All these things can disrupt your body’s production of cortisol. Cortisol is also known as our body’s stress hormone. It is directly connected to our brain and affects our fear and mood. Cortisol keeps our inflammation down and controls our sleep cycle.
But if our sleep cycle is disrupted, so will the cortisol production, which will badly affect our metabolism and eating habits.
Is Anxiety Also Responsible For Weight Loss?
Anxiety and weight loss have a similar relation to stress and weight loss. Both anxiety and stress can be the cause of weight loss or even weight gain.
Like acute stress, losing weight due to short-term stress is safe but not a positive way to lose weight, and neither is it considered a healthy option. Again, weight loss can also trigger anxiety and vice-versa.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, dread, or fear. It can be triggered by stress and may cause you to feel restless and anxious. Both stress and anxiety might feel like the same thing because they both have similar signs and effects. However, there are some significant differences.
Stress is caused by external causes whereas, anxiety has an internal origin. Stress often goes away when the external cause goes away, but anxiety lingers on much longer.
Aside from fear, anger, and nervousness, chronic anxiety can cause panic attacks. Stress and anxiety both ruin our sleep cycle, interfere with our daily activities, and reduce body weight.
Here is how anxiety reduces weight –
1. Releases Adrenaline & Cortisol
If you are too anxious, then your body will release cortisol and adrenaline. When too much adrenaline is released, it has severe repercussions. It can cause headaches, loss of energy, appetite, and disruption of sleep.
Hyperarousal is a common symptom of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. This also occurs if you reach a high level of anxiety or suffer from chronic anxiety for a very long time.
Even if the threat that caused that traumatic event that led to your PTSD does not exist anymore, the hyperarousal still may linger. Hyperarousal makes you mentally vulnerable. It can make you feel on edge all the time, worried, and it can also cause loss of sleep and appetite.
3. Nervous energy
Nervous energy is similar to fidgeting or unintentional physical activities like cracking knuckles, tapping feet. It also includes things like being worried all the time, being chatty, multitasking nervously.
These may be minimal physical activities, but if you continue to do them unnoticed, you will burn calories.
How To Get Your Meals On Track
If you are stressed out and anxious, you will slowly lose weight despite eating regular meals. Here are a couple of things you should do to get your meals on track and stop losing weight-
1. Set an alarm on your phone to remind about mealtimes
Stress can make you forget about what you are doing or even what you ate the last time. This is a very common thing but should not happen. To make sure you get your timely meals and nutrients, set a couple of alarms to remind you about your meals and make time.
2. Eat something small
Maintain your regular eating schedule and eat small snacks through-out the day. Eat foods high in protein and fiber and avoid consuming too many stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.
3. Eat food that can combat stress and anxiety
You do not necessarily have to create a different meal plan to cope with stress, and neither can food completely reduce your stress. However, some foods can scientifically battle stress and anxiety.
For instance, carrots and oranges contain antioxidants that can boost your immune system. Leafy vegetables can increase the levels of vitamin B in your body to regulate your nerves. Tuna, salmon, seeds, and nuts have omega-three fatty acid that helps reduce stress.
4. Do not let your blood sugar crash
If your blood sugar crashes, then it can have several harmful effects on your body. So avoid foods such as fried food, candy, sodas, sugary drinks, chips, and processed foods.
5. Go to local markets for pre-made meals
Hot bars or salad bars are ideal places to have a healthy breakfast or lunch. Try avoiding take-out food and fast food as much as possible.
6. Eat a snack after your workout
Exercise is a great way to deal with stress, but as we mentioned, there are several ways exercise can be harmful to your health if you go overboard. But to keep your diet in check and not lose weight unintentionally, get a healthy snack after you finish your workout. Bananas, avocados, rice cakes, and greek yogurts are excellent choices.
Chronic stress and anxiety can be very harmful to your physical and mental health. You can lose significant weight if you do not find ways to reduce your stress. There are plenty of things you can try to reduce stress. Try enjoying quality time with your friend and family, take a break from work, travel, pursue your hobby, and lastly, always ask your doctor for help and guidance. And, get a cat.
My name is Deborah Foster and I am a Weight Loss Coach with a background in Nutrition Coaching and Personal Training. I specialize in helping women and men break through the yo-yo diet cycle and lose weight for good, without being miserable in the process.