Knowledge is power — learning how to reduce your anxiety can also help you avoid unintended weight changes, and vice versa.
Yes! As a result of their anxiety, some individuals may lose weight while others gain. You're not alone if you've gained several or more pounds in a few weeks or months while feeling anxious or depressed.
I'll explain how anxiety and weight gain are connected in this post, along with some tips on how to control your anxiety and weight.
The Link between Anxiety and Weight Gain
40 million people in the US are affected by anxiety disorders, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Many of these people must contend with body changes, including weight gain, which can occur for a variety of reasons:
Anxiety Can Raise Cortisol Levels, Which Could Lead To Weight Gain
One of the main causes of weight gain in people with anxiety is the hormone cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.
Every time you experience stress or anxiety, your adrenal glands release a higher amount of cortisol as a part of your body's fight-or-flight reaction.
Increased cortisol levels have been linked to cravings for sweet, fatty, and salty meals, overeating 1, and an increase in belly fat. Higher cortisol levels can also slow down your metabolism, which can lead to weight gain or make it difficult to shed weight.
Women who had experienced stress and anxiety throughout a 24-hour period participated in a 2015 Ohio State University study 2, and it was discovered that after eating a high-fat, high-calorie meal, they lost on average 104 less calories than women who weren't worried or nervous.
Poor Sleep Patterns Brought on by Anxiety May Result in Weight Gain
Sleeping problems 3 are often associated with anxiety. So it might be more difficult for you to fall asleep and stay asleep all night if you're experiencing fear and excessive worry.
Your body may produce more ghrelin 4, a hormone that stimulates hunger, as a result of not getting enough sleep. This will likely lead to increased food intake and weight gain.
Further, one research 5 revealed that sleeping less than 8 hours resulted in a 55% reduction in fat burning in those seeking to lose weight.
Your Ability to Exercise Is Hindered by Anxiety
The best approach to make sure you keep a healthy weight is to exercise.
However, if you have anxiety, you might discover that you lack the motivation to do any kind of physical activity.
This is not unusual, as a 2011 study 6 of high anxiety-sensitive women discovered they exercised less.
One effect of inactivity is a slowed metabolism, which results in lower calorie expenditure and makes weight loss more challenging.
When You're Anxious, It's Easy to Lose Sight of What You're Eating
Unhealthy eating habits 7 are widespread in those who suffer from anxiety problems.
So, for example, you might frequently eat fast food rather than take the time to prepare a balanced, healthy dinner since you lack the motivation to accomplish anything.
Constantly snacking on unhealthy foods that temporarily calm your anxiety may also be a habit of yours, and this will undoubtedly lead to a weight increase.
You may also not pay attention to what you're eating and could be overeating without realizing it because something else is keeping your thoughts occupied.
Anxiety Medication and Weight Gain
You should consult a doctor if you suffer from acute anxiety.
Following an examination, the doctor might prescribe you certain anxiety medications 8, some of which may cause weight gain.
For instance, it was discovered in a clinical trial of the mental disorder treatment drug Trazodone that patients who took it for six weeks added an average of 0.5kgs (1.2 lbs), and that the weight gain increased if they continued to take the drug for extended lengths of time.
Although experts don't fully understand why these drugs make people gain weight, one idea holds that they interfere with serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls mood, appetite, and digestion, which results in an increased appetite and a yearning for foods high in carbohydrates.
You should discuss the side effects of any anxiety medication with your doctor before beginning treatment so that you're aware of what to expect.
If one of the side effects is weight gain, consider controlling it with exercise and a balanced diet while enjoying reduced anxiety thanks to the drug.
How to Control Weight Gain Caused by Anxiety
You may manage your weight while battling anxiety by following a few practical tips.
To reap the many health benefits of exercise, it's recommended that you engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate workouts per week.
Given that going to the gym could be the last thing you want to do when coping with anxiety, achieving this goal might not be attainable.
However, pushing yourself to exercise is crucial because it may not only help you maintain a healthy weight but also boost your energy and mood 9 thanks to the neurotransmitters dopamine and endorphins released during a workout.
Starting small and increasing your workout time slowly is an option. Walking outside, swimming, skipping, and riding a bike are some exercises you could attempt.
Try Mindfulness Meditation
When practicing this kind of meditation, you must pay great attention to your current feelings as well as where you're, and your activities without passing judgment.
According to a 2017 review 10 of several studies on mindfulness meditation, it can be useful for helping obese people shed pounds and alter unhealthy eating patterns.
For more info on the benefits of meditation, see our article "How to Meditate (and Why) for Stress & Anxiety".
Consume Comfort Foods That Are Healthier
You don't always need to grab a box of chocolates or a packet of chips to calm you down when you're anxious, and I realize this point sounds strange.
Eating non-carbohydrate or non-fatty foods might make you feel better, just like consuming unhealthy comfort foods does, according to a study 11 testing the efficacy of comfort foods in elevating mood.
So, the next time you go shopping, stock up on some wholesome snacks that you can munch on if you start to feel stressed.