Can Stress Lead to Weight Loss?

Stress is one factor that can explain sudden weight loss, according to the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Chronic stress over time or major stress from a single traumatic event can both cause you to drop pounds. With the latter, however, your weight is likely to return to normal once you begin to recover.

A businesswoman is stressed out. Credit: Jon Feingersh/Blend Images/Getty Images

Losing Your Appetite

A loss of appetite is one potential side effect of stress, according to the National Institutes of Health. You may have experienced that phenomenon if you've ever been so worried about something that you forget to eat or can't seem to even stomach the thought of food. The truth is, however, that eating regular meals and snacks helps keep your blood sugar levels steady and improves your focus and concentration, which may help you deal with stressful situations more effectively.

Stress and Depression

Although stress and depression are not the same, they can be related. According to cognitive behavioral therapist Alice Boyes, indirect effects of stress may eventually result in depression. Loss of appetite is also linked with depression, and depressed people do sometimes lose the motivation to eat healthfully or stick to a regular meal plan. If you have signs or symptoms of depression and have noticed losing weight, see your doctor.

Dealing Effectively

When you feel stressed, there are certain foods and nutrients that might help you calm down. For example, carbohydrates encourage your brain to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can improve your mood. Healthy foods that may stimulate serotonin production include milk, yogurt and whole grains such as brown rice, oats or whole-wheat pasta. Candy and sweets can also raise serotonin levels, but they produce blood sugar crashes and energy dips that are likely to make you feel worse after eating them.

Other Causes

Stress is not always a cause of weight loss; in some cases, stress actually makes people more likely to gain weight. Weight changes can be linked with a wide variety of conditions, ranging from medication side effects to digestive disorders or other illnesses. Even if you are relatively sure that stress is the root cause of your weight loss, it's important to schedule a visit with your doctor to discuss your changes in weight and rule out more serious causes.

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