Why Does Anxiety Cause Weight Loss?

Even the most laid-back people sometimes experience anxiety. While occasional anxiety is a normal experience, frequent anxiety may signal a mental or physical disorder. Anxiety originates in your brain but triggers many physical responses. Digestive system symptoms, including nausea, abdominal discomfort and decreased appetite, are common with short- and long-term anxiety. These and other related symptoms and behaviors can lead to weight loss, especially if you have an anxiety disorder.

Many forms of anxiety can make you lose your appetite. (Image: lofilolo/iStock/Getty Images)

Nervous System and Hormonal Influences

When you're anxious, certain areas of your brain are more active than usual. This increased activity alters messages from your brain to your digestive system. It also stimulates the release of certain hormones that affect your appetite and digestive system. For many people, the nervous system and hormonal changes associated with anxiety result in nausea, abdominal discomfort and a decreased appetite -- all of which can lead to weight loss.

Behavioral Influences

Certain behaviors that are common with anxiety disorders can also contribute to weight loss. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder might have rigid dietary rules that lead to insufficient nutrition. Those with a germ phobia might also restrict their diet to the point of malnutrition. Men and women with social anxiety disorder can find grocery shopping overwhelming, leading to limited access to food. These behaviors in combination with the physical effects of anxiety can lead to substantial weight loss.

When to See Your Doctor

Talk with your doctor if you experience distressing anxiety, especially if it interferes with your daily activities or doesn't go away within a few days. It's also important to see your doctor if you're unintentionally losing weight, which can occur with a wide variety of health conditions.

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