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Can Anxiety Cause Weight Gain?


Although weight gain can be caused for many different reasons, some sufferers of anxiety have reported an anxiety-associated weight gain. Our weight can fluctuate for a number of reasons including genetic, dietary factors and our environment. With this being said, prolonged periods of stress have been linked to both weight gain and weight loss. 


As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze. 


Why Does Anxiety Cause Weight Gain?

There are a few reasons as to why anxiety might contribute to weight gain. Firstly, the stress hormone cortisol causes a build up in fat around the midsection, so the more stressed you are or the more you experience your fight, flight or freeze response, the more cortisol is being released around your body.


Secondly, food can provide comfort and as such, can release endorphins that make us feel good. That’s why we have the term comfort food, because it makes us feel better. However, using binge eating or unhealthy food and drink consumption as a coping mechanism is likely to be a short lived plaster on what needs stitches.


Finally, when we’re suffering from anxiety, we tend to withdraw from society and lack the motivation to do anything. This lack of movement means that we’re not burning off the excess energy that we’re consuming. Remember exercise and diet have a massive impact on our mental health.


How Can I Stop This Symptom?

Regardless of the cause of weight gain, the old solutions of a healthy diet and exercise are the best ones. Sorry, there’s no shortcuts here. It helps that diet and exercise can also improve our mental health – so it’s a double whammy.


However, if you’re concerned about your weight then it’s best to go to the doctor before making any major lifestyle changes. If you are concerned about your anxiety, then consider trying to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.