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Can Anxiety Cause Weight Loss?


There are many possible reasons as to why our weight might fluctuate; genetics, diet, environment, however many people who suffer from anxiety also report a loss of appetite or weight loss. Whilst this might seem like a good thing to some people, sudden weight loss or a loss of appetite can quickly become very dangerous, so if you are concerned it’s always better to visit your doctor.


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 Loss?

There’s a few possible reasons that anxiety might lead to weight loss, the first being a general apathetic attitude towards eating or doing anything. This disinterest slowly convinces your brain that you’re not hungry leading you to essentially starve yourself, which obviously is not healthy. When this happens our muscles also atrophy and waste away leaving us feeling weaker and more lethargic, which in turn feeds into our lack of emotion or interest in things.


Another possibility is that when we’re in fight, flight or freeze mode our body is full of nervous energy that speeds up our anxiety, after all our body mimics the physical responses we’d experience if we were sprinting or boxing. When you combine this with the other physical symptoms that some of us experience such as jitteriness, shaking or restlessness, all these actions are burning excess energy, similar to when we exercise.


So, the combination of a disinterest in eating with a raised metabolic rate and burning nervous energy is something that will inevitably lead to weight loss.


What Can I Do To Stop This Symptom?

The way to stop weight loss is to begin to eat more, but with anxiety at play this might be easier said than done. Instead, 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.