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Does Stress Cause Weight Loss? (4 Reasons You Should Know)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Last updated: October 27, 2022

In my long experience as a fitness coach, I've learned that the effects of stress can sometimes be uncertain. To some, it may cause weight gain, and to others, it may cause weight loss.

I’ve met a few clients who wanted to know how that's possible, specifically how stress affects weight loss.

So, in this article, I’ve compiled what I know, and I reviewed some literature on the subject and discussed it with a medical doctor to give my readers and clients research-backed information.

Quick Summary

  • Stress is one of the common factors that lead to unintended weight loss. Interestingly, it can also lead to weight gain.
  • The production of stress hormones and the effect of stress on hunger are some of the reasons why some people shed pounds when under pressure.
  • To treat stress weight loss, you need to adopt positive eating behaviors, engage in physical exercises, hydrate, meditate and get adequate sleep.

Can Stress Cause You to Lose Weight?

A stressed man sitting down on the stairs

Yes, stress can cause you to lose weight. It can trigger body responses that suppress hunger by affecting your eating habits which might cause you to lose a few pounds.

But this also depends on the type of stress you’re being slammed with:

  • The act-right-now acute stress response particularly causes weight loss, while chronic stress, which is more long-term, has been linked to weight gain and belly fat [1].
  • Your stress-induced behavior also comes into play. For instance, if your stress reaction is by skipping meals, you will surely lose some pounds. The opposite is also true; If you react by ordering more burgers, you'll gain weight.

If you’re wondering if stress-related weight loss is healthy, it's not. Those who slim down due to stress often have a weakened immune system which can be an avenue to serious illnesses.

In any case, there’s a much better way to do it; by creating a calorie deficit, exercising, and supplementing with a fat burner for fast results. More on that later.

For now, let's examine how stress affects your body.

4 Reasons Why You Shed Pounds When Stressed

A stressed man holding his head while in front of a desk

Stress can cause you to shed pounds due to the following factors.

1. The Production of Stress Hormones That Speed Up Metabolism

When in stressful situations, your body is thrown into “fight or flight (freeze)” mode.

This is a survival mechanism that causes humans to react quickly to oncoming danger by fighting the threat or fleeing to safety [2].

“Our bodies are programmed to prioritize survival by preparing to fight off or run away from threats, resulting in muscle tension, increased heart rate, and increased respiratory rate.”

- Kasey Goodpaster, Clinical Psychologist 

In a flight or fight mode, your body, through the adrenal glands, releases the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline [3].

Adrenaline prepares your body for vigorous physical activity while also suppressing hunger.

The effect of its release is increased breathing and speeded-up heartbeats, which burns calories [4]. These are the most common stress symptoms.

2. Effect on Eating Habits

An apple with a measuring tape wrapped around it

While some people tend to overeat or find “comfort foods,” others forget food intake completely, which can result in weight loss.

Here’s how this happens.

When the fight or flight response is activated, people tend to hyper-focus on what’s causing this stress. Thus, regular functions like digestion may slow for a short while.

This explains why you don't feel hungry when a strict deadline is fast approaching at work.

According to research, around 40% of people eat less when stressed [5]. However, this kind of weight loss can be influenced by other factors such as body type, stress levels, and body mass index.

3. Gastrointestinal Discomfort May Cause You to Lose Your Appetite

It is often said that the gut is your second brain. And that's true because stress affects the abdomen almost always [6].

Your stomach may express the same through:

  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation

It makes food less appetizing and can cause you to eat less, which may result in weight loss.

4. Anxious and Nervous Movements Can Reduce Weight

When stressed out, some people move parts of their bodies consciously or unconsciously, which causes them to burn calories.

This includes movements such as:

  • Finger clicking
  • Fidgeting
  • Feet tapping
  • Pacing around restlessly

Peer-reviewed studies show that fidgeting while standing or seated can burn up to six times more calories than regularly sitting or standing [7].

If you’re stressed and notice any of the above symptoms, here’s what to do.

How to Treat Stress Slimming

A fit woman stretching in a dark room

The stress management techniques listed below will help you avoid shedding pounds in an unhealthy way. So, If you’re already on a body weight downtrend due to stress, here’s how you can stop the unintended weight loss.

Identify the Triggers

Start by accepting there’s an issue. It's a rule of thumb in solving any kind of problem.

Then identify the cause. Whether it's finances, work or relationships, once you acknowledge and identify the stressor, you’re in a better position to find solutions.

Prioritize Meals

Pretty obvious, but increasing your food intake is a good place to start if you’re losing unintended weight.

Ensure you’re consuming enough calories for your blood sugar. It goes a long way in maintaining a healthy weight and protecting you from illnesses.

If you don't have an appetite, the doctor recommends taking meals in small bits as frequently as possible. If possible, instead of solids, try taking smoothies.

Another trick to get your eating habits back on track is finding support during mealtimes. Sit down with a friend, a relative, a colleague, or anyone that can have you accountable for eating.

As you prioritize meals, try some stress-reducing foods [8].

Here are a few examples you should add to your diet:

While at it, avoid foods that will crash your blood sugar. They only temporarily boost your sugar levels before an inevitable downfall worsens your mood.

Fried, sugary, and foods high in trans fat can make your stress worse [9]. Try avoiding them, at least until you’re better.

Incorporate Physical Exercises

A woman doing yoga stretches in front of a laptop

For most people, when stress kicks in, physical exercises go out of the window.

Staying in bed can be comforting, but if you want to manage stress, you need to include regular exercise in your daily exercise routine.

Not only does it breaks down body fat, but it also helps decrease stress hormones. In this case, it will help you get your appetite back [10].

In addition, physical activity is beneficial to your physical health and is also good for your mental health [11].

Consider Pre and Post Workout Nutrition

Because physical activity reduces stress, some people tend to exercise a notch higher, resulting in unintended weight loss.

If you tend to work out more due to stress, incorporate a post-workout smoothie to replenish the nutrients used in your exercise routines and get your blood glucose levels back to normal.

Other solutions that can help you reduce stress and stop shedding weight include:

  • Meditating  
  • Hydrating more
  • Making new friends, preferably out of your professional circle 
  • Listening to music 
  • Sleeping at least seven hours

When to See a Doctor

A doctor checking up the blood pressure of a patient

If the above self-help techniques do not reduce stress or medical problems arise, such as high blood pressure, it's time to see the doctor.

Also, if you notice persistent unintentional weight loss, it could indicate an underlying illness.

Other signs that you need to visit the doctor include:

  • If you notice unexplained weight loss of more than 5% weight over a short period
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • The use of drugs and alcohol to cope with stress

FAQs

Can Stress Cause Weight Gain?

Yes, stress can cause weight gain. Chronic stress, which is more long-term, often leads to poor sleep, cravings for unhealthy foods, reduced motivation to exercise, and emotional eating or stress eating, all of which can lead to added pounds [12].

How Much Weight Can You Lose Due to Stress?

You can lose about 10-15% of your body weight due to stress and even more if you’re heavy. Of course, if you lose pounds over a short period, seek professional help. Chances are, there are underlying medical conditions.

Does Stress Influence Sleep Patterns?

Yes, stress can influence your sleep patterns. It can make it difficult to catch and maintain sleep. And when you lack sleep quality, you’re bound to feel hungrier, which may influence your eating habits. In the end, it can lead to weight gain.

Losing Weight the Right Way

As you can see, losing weight due to stress is unhealthy, although some may consider it a benefit in certain contexts. It leads to a weakened immune system, which can expose you to serious illnesses.

Why not do it the right way by creating a calorie deficit, eating healthily, and exercising regularly? And when necessary, fast-tracking the results with a fat burner supplement.

We’ve extensively tested the products in these lists, and our test data confirm their effectiveness in making fat burning noticeably faster and easier.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28349668/
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4263906/
  4. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/stress-and-health/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214609/
  6. https://www.everydayhealth.com/wellness/united-states-of-stress/how-stress-affects-digestion/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11101470/
  8. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322652
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5532289/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6164815/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/
  12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/obr.12603
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