Does stress cause weight loss?
Team Gabit
6 months ago | 6 mins

Does stress cause weight loss?

Chronic stress isn’t just bad for your mind but your body too. Read further to know why stress causes weight loss and how you can reduce it for a healthy body!

Chronic stress isn’t just bad for your mind but your body too. Read further to know why stress causes weight loss and how you can reduce it for a healthy body!

Our everyday life filled with stressors can become a little too hard to deal with after a point. These stressors could come in the form of work deadlines, losing someone, a life-threatening disease or feelings like guilt and self-doubt. It is then fair to ask, can stress cause weight loss or affect the body? Anything that gets to the mind always transfers its effects to the body and yes, so does stress.

Why weight loss happens?

As much as our physical health tends to trouble us in pain, so does our mental health. Constant stress affects our everyday life and fosters unhealthy lifestyle changes. Skipping meals, not feeling hungry, not exercising or the overall disturbed digestive health is why stress causes weight loss. Stress has a direct influence on the body and promotes symptoms like headaches, disturbed sleep, constipation, diarrhoea, chest pains, short term memory and constantly feeling exhausted. Imagine your mind is caught onto something very tense and immediate. Would you even remember to eat or feel hungry? In most cases, the answer would be no. This is how weight loss due to stress happens.

Stress causes for weight loss

does stress cause weight loss

Stress causes weight loss by various reasons like -

1. Disturbing gastrointestinal functions – After stress affects your brain, it goes to the gut, your second brain, affecting the communication between them. Most times you’d see people complain about heartburn, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, vomiting, difficulty swallowing or gastric trouble, these are all symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.

2. Triggering ‘fight or flight’ response – The instant activation of ‘flight or fight’ response releases adrenaline and cortisol hormones. With adrenaline, breathing speeds up and heart rate increases which affects digestion, blood glucose levels and burns calories. Cortisol suppresses non-essential functions during stress like the immune, reproductive and digestive system.  

3. Forgetting to eat and losing appetite – So many times when we’re focused on one thing whether that’s a work project or taking care of a loved one in the hospital, we forget to eat or don’t prioritise it. Neither do we feel hungry nor do we stick to our usual meal schedule.

4. Disturbing sleep pattern – Stress doesn’t allow you to sleep for long or get a proper deep sleep. You have a hard time putting your body at rest and even if you sleep, you wake up feeling exhausted.

5. Affecting function of vagus nerve – Digestion and nutrient absorption get slowed down because the function of vagus nerve is inhibited which can lead to bloating, inflammation and indigestion.

6. Nervous Movement – To beat stress, some people work out physically. While some of it is okay, doing more than normal can lead to instant calorie burn. Weight loss due to stress can also happen by nervous fidgeting like foot tapping, pacing around or finger clicking.

How to reduce stress?

Practise these friendly hacks in your daily life to reduce stress -

does stress cause weight loss

1. Knowing your stress triggers and responses could help you cope with your triggers in a better way. When you sense the symptoms of your stress, you can control it before it turns into anxiety or panic.

does stress cause weight loss

2. Set yourself a peaceful sleep routine and do some pre sleeping rituals like reading, meditating and listening to music.

does stress cause weight loss

3. When you feel that work overwhelms you, you could make a to-do list that always allows you to check off your tasks instead of being worried or confused about it.

does stress cause weight loss

4. Instead of always making stress your opponent, you could use it as a motivator for some of us work best under stress. When you’re working on a crunch, you could use your deadlines as an inspiration or take your struggles as a challenge.

5. Express your problems or vulnerabilities by opening up to a supportive person instead of bottling it up that could later come out as a mental breakdown.

does stress cause weight loss

6. Art is an incredible way to heal yourself and ease your stress. It could be sketching, singing, writing, photography or dancing that come at your rescue and help you express more liberally.

does stress cause weight loss

7. Seeing others smile when you do something for them immediately makes you feel healed.

does stress cause weight loss

8. When in stress, people escape to alcohol and drugs and that is the one thing to avoid.

How stress affects eating habits?

does stress cause weight loss

Weight loss due to stress and depression happens so much because of how it affects our eating habits. To some, stress is so occupying that their hunger cues don’t reach them. Even if they are hungry, it wouldn’t affect them for a long period of time and without eating for long leads to weight loss. To others, the cortisol hormone affects in a way that they crave for their comfort fatty, sugary and salty foods. This leads to weight gain because they mindlessly munch to distract themselves from stress.

Long-term effects of stress on body weight

Usually, long-term effects of stress on the body leads to weight gain because feelings like tension and anxiety are associated with overeating. Food becomes a way of comfort and people rely on their favourite dishes to cope with stress. Sleep, hormonal and appetite changes result in weight gain. Increasing production of cortisol, the stress hormone leads to abdominal fat storage.

does stress cause weight loss

So then, does stress cause weight loss too? Yes, it does lead to weight loss, though it is linked more to weight gain. Stress weakens the immune system, slows the digestive system and increases energy expenditure. When you don’t eat for prolonged hours, your body feels weak and dizzy and you end up losing weight gradually. Your energy is spent dealing with the stressor and what makes it worse is that you forget to eat or the distress in your body doesn’t allow you to eat and that’s how stress causes weight loss.

How to manage stress to maintain healthy weight?

While you work on reducing stress overall, practise these tips specific to maintaining a healthy weight –

1. Schedule your meal time and set reminders – Every time your reminder rings to eat, religiously make sure that you do so and give yourself enough time at meals.

2. Wisely choose what you eat – Focus on eating whole foods like vegetables, grains, fruits or healthy meats and fish. Don’t consume junk, caffeine or sweets that lowers your health further.

3. Savour small portions – When facing a problem while eating, consume small portions and eat slowly. If you feel hungry between meals, stick to some healthy snacks and don’t starve yourself.

4. Buy healthy than junk – In exhaustion or stress, if you aren’t able to cook, order or buy something that’s healthy like salads or a warm Indian meal filled with goodness.

5. Embrace exercising – Gradually start getting to workout once your mind and body feel better. You don’t instantly have to opt for an HIIT routine but take peaceful walks in the pleasant mornings or do yoga. Physical workouts strengthen your body and burn stress. Also, make sure you’re giving your body enough healthy protein to exercise.

6. Consult a doctor or a therapist if you’ve lost 5% or more of body weight over 6-12 months. If exhaustion, vomiting, low appetite, indigestion, addiction of drugs or alcohol, losing interest in everything or feeling anxious and depressed persists, you must definitely get yourself checked.

Final words

does stress cause weight loss

Does stress cause weight loss and can it be healed? The weight loss due to stress can definitely be healed, you just need to prioritise your mind and body over anything else. The only thing that you have to understand is what triggers your anxiety and how you’ll respond or fight back.

Persistent practice will give you the healthiest results and you’ll be cured of any stress in no time.

Frequently asked questions –

What is the relationship between stress and weight gain?

Stress produces cortisol hormone which slows metabolism, makes one crave for fatty, savoury and sweet dishes and abdominal fat storage leading to weight gain.

Can stress cause weight loss?

Stress causes weight loss by triggering ‘flight or fight’ response, disturbing gastrointestinal functions, slowing down digestion and losing appetite and sleep.

How does cortisol affect my weight?

It slows down metabolic rate and non-essential functions like immune and digestion. It makes you crave unhealthy and fatty food items leading to weight gain. However, it can lead to weight loss in some instances.

Is the weight change due to stress temporary?

Yes, often these weight changes are temporary and can be overturned with the right measures.  

Does managing stress help in weight management?

Stress management can help in managing weight because it is one of the most prominent reasons for weight gain or loss. If you control the direct impact from your mind to body, it’ll aid your health. 

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