Can Stress Cause Weight Loss?

Can Stress Cause Weight Loss?

Staff Writer
6 minute read

Can Stress Cause Weight Loss?

Challenges in life either make or break us, but every tiny event has an effect on the body. There are many ways stress can affect a person, and one lingering question is, can stress cause weight loss?  

Short answer: Yes, stress can also cause weight loss. 

This article will talk about what causes stress, how it affects body weight and the signs of stress-related weight loss. We will explain how stress leads to shedding pounds and introduce ways to address unintentional weight loss.

What Causes Stress?

In simple terms, stress is defined as the body's strong reaction to an external event. It may manifest emotionally and/or physically, depending on the severity and length of the perceived danger. There are two types of stress:

Acute stress

It refers to the experience in response to a sudden event or threat that will eventually be overcome, such as short arguments, taking a test, or slamming the brakes while driving.

Chronic stress

It refers to the exposure to circumstances lasting for a longer time, such as financial problems, work challenges, and toxic family dynamics.

It should be known that stress is totally normal, and it happens to everyone. In fact, it is a response that can save us from risky situations. However, be aware that prolonged stress can also cause unfavorable changes in the body.

As the saying goes, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" 

Our life situation varies, and we all cope in different ways. However, taking care of ourselves amidst stress must still be prioritized. We should be able to notice if our loved ones or we are losing too much weight and know what to do to combat it.

How Does Stress Affect Body Weight?

According to the American Psychological Association, stress affects the entire body system. The body can adapt to stressors, but there is a limit to what it can tolerate.

Chronic stress often leads to serious health problems, one of which is weight loss.

During long-term stress, the body stays alert even though there is no present danger. Thus, being in constant fight or flight mode can wear out the body organs involved. 

As a result, it affects our eating behavior - depending on how we cope with stress.

A study was conducted showing the effect of work stress on the weight of individuals. Weight gain was observed among those who initially had a high BMI. The subjects with a BMI less than 22 lost more weight following a period of work-related stress.

What Are the Signs of Stress-Related Weight Loss?

While rapid weight loss may suggest the presence of an illness, one should first consider if the weight they're losing is connected to stress. Stress-induced weight loss is often accompanied by the following signs:

  • indigestion or acid reflux

  • body aches

  • fatigue

  • inadequate sleep

  • mood swings

  • palpitations

  • substance abuse

Individuals with most of these signs are bound to lose weight. 

Again, people cope in different ways, and some lose their appetite and turn to drugs and alcohol in the face of stress. Others experience an upset stomach or diarrhea.

Why Are You Losing Weight Under Stress?

Poor dietary choices and inflammation

A study explored how stress led individuals to make unhealthy food choices and meal patterns. Chronic stress and this type of diet have an impact on the body due to the inflammation that occurs. Inflammation activates the vagus nerves, directing how nutrients are digested, absorbed, and metabolized.

Chronic stress and the HPA axis

Typically, cortisol is released by the adrenal glands as the body's response to stress. This hormone releases glucose and fatty acids as an energy source for the body. Cortisol also aids the body in fighting inflammation. When too much of this hormone is released frequently, a person may experience changes in their weight.

In addition, chronic stress may wear off the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This alteration influences metabolism (how nutrients are utilized by the body) and affects a person's dietary habits.

Gastrointestinal Disturbance

A strong connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system is proven during stressful situations. You may have noticed how you'd also get that "butterflies" in the stomach type of feeling when you're feeling tense. More extended periods of stress can interfere with the GI tract and may cause the following symptoms:

  • acid reflux

  • gastric discomfort or pain

  • diarrhea or constipation

  • vomiting

  • bloating

Gastrointestinal problems are linked to poor appetite and poor absorption of nutrients. If these symptoms are frequently encountered, weight loss is sure to follow.

How to Overcome Stress-Related Weight Loss?

Early on, if you notice that you or your loved ones are losing weight due to stress, it is never too late to overcome it. You can bring back the lost pounds through proper stress management. Here are some tips that you need to do:

  1. It is essential to step away from the stressors in your life. 

  2. Spend some time outdoors, meditate, read a book, watch a movie, listen to music, and talk to family and friends. These are little ways that can help relax your mind.

  3. Focus on eating right and limiting your intake of caffeine and sweets. Instead, consume foods rich in vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C and B vitamins are proven to help combat stress by boosting the immune system and enhancing nerve function, respectively. 

A study also suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can help improve mood and control inflammation due to stress.

However, weight loss of 5% or more over a 6- to 12- month period is a cause for concern, and a visit to the doctor should be in line.

Take Away

Stress comes in many shapes and forms. No one is exempt from stressors, and the body is designed to react to such circumstances to survive. However, experiencing stress for an unhealthy amount of time can lead to changes in weight.

One should be able to notice the telltale signs of a person losing weight due to stress. Their weight loss is often accompanied by drug and alcohol abuse, mood swings, body pains, inadequate sleep, and fatigue.

People have different coping mechanisms when it comes to stress. It is essential to address poor dietary choices and introduce proper stress management. A balanced diet, physical activity, and social interaction can help a person overcome stress-induced weight loss.

With this, one should prioritize taking care of their mind and body. Weight loss due to stress is only the beginning of more severe health problems, and as they say, 

"Prevention is better than cure."

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