Everyone reacts differently to stress, and it can have a major impact on your body. For example, you might ramp up your exercise routine, while others might reach for their favorite flavor of Ben & Jerrys. If youve been feeling extra stressed recently and noticed your jeans are getting looser, stress weight loss could be to blame.
Can stress cause weight loss?
Stress is linked to a few different physiological responses, like sleep problems and elevated blood pressure. Weight loss is another common side effect, since stress may lead you to skip meals, experience digestive issues, or dive into intense workouts.
Stress can affect your weight in a few key ways both physically and psychologically. Figuring out whats causing the weight loss will help you pick the best solution.
Stress causes many physiological responses and oftentimes affects how people eat, says certified nutritionist Serena Poon. Some people tend to overeat or comfort eat when stressed, and others tend to reduce their food intake, which may lead to weight loss.
Even if youve never forgotten a meal in your life, stress can throw off your mealtime habits. Stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, which is your innate fight or flight response.
This might make some people become hyper-focused on what is causing them stress, as they would be if they were escaping some sort of danger, says Poon. With all of their focus turned to the source of stress, some people simply forget to eat.
Research suggests that about 40 percent of people eat less when theyre stressed, but your response will depend on your body, the level of stress youre feeling, and other circumstances. Even your body mass index could affect the way your body reacts.
Your gut is often called your second brain, and when youre stressed, both organs are doing their best to cope.
There is a proven connection between your digestive microbiome and your brain, says Poon. When your brain is experiencing stress, it may show up in your digestive system as indigestion, nausea, and even vomiting.
These symptoms can make food less appetizing or make it difficult to eat the same size portions you normally would.
Turning to physical activity is a healthy way to manage stress when its done safely. It not only serves as a mental distraction but also spurs the release of endorphins that elevate your mood.
Ramping up your exercise intensity and duration without also increasing your caloric intake can lead to weight loss. But its dangerous to exert yourself too much without giving your body the nutrients it needs.
Stress responses can change
Even if one of these causes seems to fit your sitch, keep in mind that you might not have the same physiological response every time you feel stress. For example, you may find that you eat more when youre battling work stress but eat less when its relationship-related stress.
While stress weight loss can resolve itself (especially once you resolve the stressor), it still may be an alarming side effect, and losing unintended weight may even add to your stress. There are a few things you can do to stop weight loss due to stress.
It may seem obvious, but just making sure youre getting enough calories is a good place to start.
Setting aside even 10 minutes to sit down for your meals and really focus in on how your food is nourishing your body and mind can make a world of difference, says Poon. Eating is essential, and eating nourishing food with presence is even more important when you are experiencing stress. Nourishing foods can protect against some of the other symptoms of stress, such as illness or disease.
If youre having a hard time remembering to eat, it might be a good idea to book a lunch date (digital dates work too). Sitting down with a loved one, colleague, or friend, even for just a few minutes, might be enough to hold you accountable to getting all the nutrient goodness you need.
If youre experiencing stress so intensely that its causing you to be unwell, it may be time to chat with a therapist. There are many treatment methods available to support your mental health, so try a few different philosophies and practitioners to find what works best for you.
Meditation and breath work can do wonders for stress management.
Meditation allows you to become aware of what is happening in your mind and body, says Poon. It often gives people the tools to be able to detach or lessen negative physiological responses from their experience of stress.
If you dont know where to start, download an app like Calm, which offers short, guided meditations.
For many people, movement goes out the window during times of stress sometimes curling up on the couch or in bed feels more comforting. But light movement, like walking around the block or a gentle yoga sesh, may help you work up an appetite.
If you already know youre the type of person who experiences stress weight loss, use a time of calm and peace to take preventive measures. There are a few things you can do now to stave off future weight loss due to stress.
While stress can actually be beneficial in some cases, Poon says extreme stress is usually just bad for your health. One of the best ways to avoid extreme symptoms of stress is to learn to manage your stress through meditation, breath work, and exercise.
Once you have a regular practice in place, itll be much easier to draw upon it when you need it. Learning how to meditate or do breathing exercises while youre stressed out may be asking too much of yourself.
When it comes to stress, knowing yourself is half the battle. Understanding what causes you stress and how you normally react to it can help you prevent serious scenarios.
Try keeping a stress diary that details how your body and mind tend to react when you are experiencing stress, suggests Poon. With this knowledge, you can begin to nip some of the symptoms if you notice them beginning to arise.
If you regularly find yourself forgetting to eat and losing a concerning amount of weight when youre stressed, work on building a support team of friends and professionals you can turn to when you see yourself slipping into these patterns.
You can also check out mental health resources like these for support:
Sometimes, stress weight loss resolves itself. If you are experiencing stress-related weight loss but are still eating nourishing meals, [you] understand what is causing you to experience stress, and [you] see an end to your stressors in sight, you might not need to worry about it too much, says Poon.
On the flip side, if youre not sure why youre losing weight, you arent eating enough or drinking enough water, or youre experiencing extreme stress, possibly due to something like a loss or trauma, she says it might be a good idea to seek professional help.
It wouldnt hurt to chat with your doctor or mental health practitioner, says Poon. I would say that it becomes essential to visit your doctor or practitioner if your stress-related weight loss is out of the ordinary for you, if you have stopped eating nourishing meals, or if your stress feels overwhelming.
Stress-related weight loss is common, whether its due to missed meals, digestive issues, or using intense physical activity as a coping mechanism.
By learning to manage stress through meditation, building a support system, and making sure youre eating nourishing meals regularly, you can keep stress weight loss at bay.
Stress Weight Loss: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention - Greatist
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