Anxiety and your weight

Anxiety and your weight

We all experience stress at least once in our lives. How we respond to stress differs from person to person. Some people will sleep more than usual while others will suffer from insomnia and sleep less. Some people will revert to comfort eating and yet others will lose their appetite and probably lose weight as well.

It is advisable to see your doctor if you experience unexplainable weight loss, since it can be a side effect of a more serious illness.

Anxiety is the body’s response to either short or long periods of stress. During these periods of heightened anxiety you may experience weight loss for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons may be due the tension in your muscles. Stress hormones cause your muscles to contract. You can either feel your heart pounding in your throat as your heart muscles contract to work harder or you can feel the tension in your neck, shoulders or other parts of your body. Muscles require energy to contract, meaning that if your muscles are tense for extended periods of time, such as during anxiety, they use up more energy.

Another reason why anxiety can cause you to lose weight is when you lose your appetite. If the muscles in your throat contract it can seriously inhibited your ability to swallow. Usually weight loss due to a loss of appetite is a sign of major depression. Untreated anxiety may lead to depression so it is best to get help as soon as possible. Consuming less energy than your body needs will ultimately cause you to lose weight. This is especially true if your muscles are tense since they will require more energy, but you will be taking in less by eating less than usual.

The last reason why you could be losing weight as a result of anxiety is the presence of insomnia. If you struggle to fall asleep at night, or you can’t remain asleep for the whole duration of the evening then you are probably suffering from insomnia. Being awake for longer than usual necessarily implies that you will also be using more energy than when you are asleep for eight hours of the day. When you combine the three previously mentioned side effects of anxiety namely increased muscle tension, loss of appetite and insomnia it should be no surprise that you are losing weight.

Unfortunately the opposite is also true. Some people eat more when they are anxious then when they are not. This can be for two reasons, the first being that eating carbohydrate rich foods can actually increase your serotonin levels which can temporarily make you feel better. The other reason is that anxiety can leave you feeling tired. This fatigue can be further worsened by insomnia like discussed above. We all know that food provides you with energy, so if you feel that you need more energy you will automatically want to get more energy from food. The truth is however that our bodies need food and rest for energy and the one can not substitute the other. In this way anxiety can also cause you to gain weight.

You can take a nutritional supplement such as a food shake to increase your calorie consumption and help you regain some of your weight. In the same way you can either increase your activity level or make better food choices while trying to lose weight, but the truth is that until you treat your anxiety you will probably find that your attempts at stabilizing your weight won’t bear permanent fruit.

Anxiety is a treatable condition and the best way to get rid of the unpleasant side effects and symptoms of anxiety is by treating the anxiety first. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a proven treatment option for anxiety that can teach you better stress coping skills than to either avoid or indulge in food.

Combining therapy with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or meditation can help you over the short term. Exercise is also a great way of getting rid of all the stress hormones and a good idea if you want to lose some weight.


Vorvick, Linda J; Zieve, David “Muscle aches” Health Central. 2009. (November 13, 2012)

“Stress and weight gain” Mayoclinic. 2012. (November 13, 2012)

“Depression (Major depression)” Mayoclinic. 2012. (November 13, 2012)

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