Learn more about how stress can disrupt the body’s internal function and deal with stress-related weight loss.
Weight loss through stress
Stress can, for many, have a direct impact on weight. In some cases, stress can lead to omitting meals or making poor food choices. For others, stress can lead to a complete loss of appetite. Often this change is only temporary. Your weight may return to normal when the stressor has passed.
Signs that weight loss is stress-related
Symptoms of stress include:
- digestive problems
- pain and agony
- tense muscles
- the mood changes
- problems falling or sleeping
- problems with short-term memory
- increased heart rate
- reduced sex drive
Why stress-related weight loss happens
When you are stressed, you may have a different pattern of behavior than usual, such as working your way through lunch or staying up late to meet an important deadline. These disorders can worsen the body’s internal response to stress.
The body’s response “fight or flight” can increase the speed of metabolism. Your body releases noradrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline prepares your body for high activity, but it can also minimize the need to eat.
Hyperstimulation can lead to gastrointestinal distress
Your body slows down digestion during the “fight or flight” response, so it can focus on how you react to stress.
This can lead to discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract, for example:
- abdominal pain
Chronic stress can exacerbate these symptoms and lead to other underlying conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome. These changes in the digestive system can cause you to eat less and then lose weight.
You may not feel like eating.
The all-consuming power of stress can keep you from thinking about anything else, and this can affect your eating habits. You may not feel hungry or forget to eat when you experience stress, which leads to weight loss.
Hyperstimulation can affect the body’s ability to process and absorb nutrients
Stress affects your vagus nerve, which affects how your body digests, absorbs, and metabolizes food. This disorder can lead to unwanted inflammation.
Nervous activity burns calories.
Some people use physical activity to work their way through stress. Although an exercise-driven endorphin rush can reduce your stress, participating in more physical activity than usual can lead to unexpected weight loss. Sometimes stress triggers unconscious movement, such as stomping with the foot or tapping with the fingers. These tics can help your body process your emotions, but they also burn calories.
Sleep disorders affect cortisol production
Stress can make it difficult to sleep. Disorders can affect cortisol production, which can affect metabolism. Your eating habits can also be affected.
When is weight loss cause for concern?
Although losing a pound is not a cause for concern, unexpected or unwanted weight loss is a strain on your body. Contact a doctor if you have lost five percent or more of your total body weight over 12 months.
Consult a doctor if you:
- lose weight without trying
- have chronic headaches
- have chest pain
- feel persistent “on edge.”
- use alcohol or drugs for relief
Your doctor can help you with healthy coping strategies or prescribe medication if needed.