Weight loss; sudden weight loss anxiety symptom description:
- You experience a sudden loss of weight for no apparent reason.
- Your weight dropped by several or more pounds in a short amount of time.
- For no apparent reason, you’ve lost several or more pounds.
- Due to your struggle with anxiety, you’ve lost a lot of weight.
- You’ve lost 15 or more pounds due to being anxious.
Sudden weight loss could have happened over a few weeks or months.
You could have experienced weight loss over many months due to a struggle with anxiety.
You may have experienced weight loss of a few pounds, several, or tens of pounds during your struggle with anxiety.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
Why can anxiety cause weight loss?
Anxiety can cause weight loss for several reasons:
1. Behaving apprehensively activates the body’s stress response. The stress response causes the body to secrete stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason this response is often referred to as the fight or flight response or the emergency response.
Stress hormones are stimulants, which increase the body’s metabolism and fuel consumption. An increase in metabolism can tax the body’s energy resources harder than normal causing it to burn fuel faster. The faster the body burns fuel, the more it needs. If the body doesn’t receive sufficient fuel from the foods we eat, it will get the necessary fuel from the body’s fat stores. This can cause weight loss if our eating habits haven’t increased sufficiently to offset the increase in fuel consumption.
2. Behaving overly apprehensively can cause the body to become stress-response hyperstimulated, and hyperstimulation can cause stomach and digestive problems. Those who experience stomach and digestive problems due to persistently elevated stress generally eat less because of stomach distress. Eating less reduces the amount of available energy resources for the body, and less energy resources causes the body to use its fat stores for fuel. As the body depletes its fat stores, the body loses weight.
3. Stress-response hyperstimulation can cause an increase in “nervous energy,” which can cause the body to consume even more fuel. Increased nervous energy often makes it difficult to rest and relax, therefore you may find yourself constantly on the go. Going constantly requires more energy and more energy requires more fuel. So here again the body may be consuming more energy than is being consumed as food, which can cause weight loss.
4. Sleep disruption can cause an increase in cortisol, and since cortisol is a stress hormone stimulant, it can cause an increase in the body’s stimulation. Sleep disruption is often an indicator of elevated stress and its resulting hyperstimulation. When the body’s sleep is regularly disrupted, it can cause the body to produce more cortisol than normal. Since cortisol is a stress hormone stimulant, higher levels of cortisol can cause the body to work harder, which can cause an increase in fuel consumption.
5. Stress-response hyperstimulation decreases the body’s ability to absorb and process nutrients from food. Reduced nutrition can cause weight loss. The more hyperstimulated the body becomes, the more weight we can lose.
These are just a few examples of how increased stress and anxiety can cause weight loss.
While losing weight can be disconcerting, it’s most often not harmful since the body is capable of maintaining a weight sufficient to sustain itself. Even though you may lose more weight than you think you should, you generally aren’t in danger.
It’s also common to lose a lot more weight than you might expect. For example, a 140 pound person can lose 20 to 40 pounds over the course of a few months. The heavier you are, the more likely it is that you’ll lose more weight. On average, it’s not uncommon to lose 10 to 15 percent of your overall body weight due to persistently elevated stress and anxiety.
Since each body is somewhat chemically unique, not everyone will experience weight loss due to anxiety disorder. In fact, some anxious people GAIN weight. You can read more about the ‘Weight Gain’ anxiety symptom here (coming soon).
Again, while losing weight may be startling, it generally isn’t a health issue. If you are concerned, talk with your doctor or nutritionist for ideas on how to stabilize or gain weight.
How to get rid of the weight loss anxiety symptom?
Similar to eliminating any anxiety symptom, you can eliminate anxiety-related weight loss by dealing with your anxiety issues, reducing your body’s stress, and giving your body ample time to respond favorably. As your body eliminates its stress-response hyperstimulated state and returns to a normal level of stress and stimulation, anxiety-related weight loss should subside.
Faithfully practicing your recovery strategies, including addressing the underlying factors of your anxiety so that your body’s stress can diminish, can help resolve anxiety-related weight loss. As your body’s hyperstimulated state disappears, and as your stomach and digestive system return to normal functioning, you’ll likely find that your weight stabilizes and eventually returns to normal.
In addition to the long-term strategy of eliminating stress-response hyperstimulation, there are a few things you can do right away to stop and even reverse anxiety-caused weight loss:
- Reduce your body’s stress as much as possible. Reducing your body’s stress can reduce fuel consumption and weight loss.
- Slow down your body’s metabolism through an increase in rest, relaxation, and sleep. Slowing down your body’s metabolism can slow down fuel consumption.
- Increase your food intake, and especially foods high in protein and carbohydrates. This increase can offset the higher demand for fuel.
- Take a nutritional supplement. A nutritional supplement can also offset a higher demand for fuel.
- Work with a Natural Nutritional Therapist to get ideas on how to increase your body’s energy resources, as well as how to counteract the adverse effects of stress- and anxiety-related stomach and digestive problems.
Nevertheless, getting regular good sleep, eliminating unnecessary stress responses, faithfully practicing your recovery strategies, addressing your underlying factors, passively accepting your sensations and symptoms, containing worry, and remaining patient will bring results…in time. When you do the right work the body HAS TO recover.
If you are having difficulty containing your worry, you may want to connect with one of our anxiety disorder therapists, coaches, or counselors. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to overcome what seems like unmanageable worry.
NOTE: You might want to talk with Liliana Tosic, our recommended Natural Nutritional Therapist, for information about how to stabilize or gain weight through making healthy dietary changes.
For a more detailed explanation about all anxiety symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.
Return to our anxiety symptoms page.