“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Weight Loss; Sudden Weight Loss Anxiety Symptom

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: October 11, 2019


sudden weight loss anxiety symptoms image

Weight loss is a common symptom of anxiety disorder, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and others.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your anxiety symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test or Anxiety Disorder Test. The higher the rating, the more likely it could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including sudden and unexpected weight loss.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and sudden weight loss.

Weight loss anxiety symptom descriptions:

  • You experience a sudden loss of weight for no apparent reason.
  • Your weight dropped by several or more pounds in a short amount of time.
  • For no apparent reason, you’ve lost several or more pounds.
  • Due to your struggle with anxiety, you’ve lost a lot of weight.
  • You’ve lost 10 or more pounds due to being anxious.

Weight loss could have happened rapidly over a few days, weeks, or a few months, or could have happened over the period you have been struggling with anxiety disorder.

You have experienced weight loss of a few pounds, several, or tens of pounds.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

Why can anxiety cause weight loss?

Medical Advisory

We recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning anxiety symptoms be discussed with your doctor as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms, including this anxiety symptom. If your doctor concludes your symptoms are solely anxiety-related, you can be confident there isn't a medical cause. Generally, doctors can easily determine the difference between anxiety symptoms and those caused by a medical condition.

Doctors aren't infallible, however. If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, you can seek a second or more opinions. But if all opinions agree, you can be assured anxiety is the cause of this symptom.

When this symptom is attributed to anxiety, weight loss can occur for the following reasons:

1. The stress response

Anxious behavior activates the stress response, which enhances the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason this response is often referred to as the fight or flight response or the emergency response.[1][2]

Stress hormones are stimulants, which increase the body’s metabolism and fuel consumption. An increase in metabolism can tax the body’s energy resources harder than normal causing it to burn fuel faster. The faster the body burns fuel, the more it needs.

If the body doesn’t receive sufficient fuel from the foods we eat, it will get the necessary fuel from the body’s fat stores. This can cause weight loss if our eating habits haven’t increased sufficiently to offset the increase in fuel consumption caused by overly apprehensive behavior.

2. Stress response hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about.

When stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can't complete its recovery. Incomplete recovery can cause the body to remain in a state of semi stress response readiness, which we call "stress-response hyperstimulation,” also often referred to as "hyperarousal").[3][4]

Hyperstimulation can cause stomach and digestive problems. Those who experience stomach and digestive problems generally eat less because of stomach distress. Eating less reduces the amount of available energy resources for the body, and less energy resources causes the body to use its fat stores for fuel. As the body depletes its fat stores, the body loses weight.

Furthermore, stomach and digestive problems can impact the metabolism of the food we eat, causing a reduction in nutrient absorption, which can also cause loss of weight.

3. Hyperstimulation can increase “nervous energy”

An increase in nervous energy can cause the body to consume even more fuel.

For instance, increased nervous energy often makes it difficult to rest and relax. This can lead to constantly being on the go. Going constantly requires more energy, and more energy requires more fuel.

Here again, the body may be consuming more energy than is being replenished by food, which can cause weight loss.

4. Sleep disruption

Sleep disruption is a common symptom of chronic stress. When the body’s sleep is regularly disrupted, it can cause the body to produce more cortisol than normal.[5] Since cortisol is a stress hormone stimulant, higher levels of cortisol can cause the body to work harder, which can cause an increase in fuel consumption.

These are just a few examples of how anxiety and stress can cause weight loss. The more anxious and stressed you are, the more likely it is you’ll lose weight.

While losing weight can be disconcerting, it’s most often not harmful since the body is capable of maintaining a weight sufficient to sustain itself. Even though you might lose more weight than you think you should, you generally aren’t in danger.

It’s also common to lose a lot more weight than you might expect. For example, a 140 pound person can lose 20 to 40 pounds over the course of a few months. The heavier you are, the more likely it is that you’ll lose more weight. On average, it’s not uncommon to lose 10 to 15 percent of your overall body weight due to anxiety and the chronic stress it causes.

Since each body is somewhat chemically unique, not everyone will experience weight loss due to anxiety disorder. In fact, some anxious people GAIN weight. You can read more about the "Weight Gain" anxiety symptom for more information.

Again, while losing weight might be startling, it generally isn’t a health issue. If you are concerned, talk with your doctor or nutritionist for ideas on how to stabilize or gain weight.

How to get rid of the weight loss anxiety symptom?

Similar to eliminating any anxiety symptom, you can eliminate anxiety-related weight loss by dealing with your anxiety issues, reducing your body’s stress, and giving your body ample time to respond favorably. As your body recovers from hyperstimulation, anxiety-related weight loss should subside.

Faithfully practicing your recovery strategies, including addressing the underlying factors of your anxiety so that your body’s stress can diminish, can help resolve anxiety-related weight loss.

As hyperstimulation is eliminated, and as your stomach and digestive system return to normal functioning, you’ll likely find that your weight stabilizes and eventually returns to normal.

Short-term remedies:

In addition to the long-term strategy of eliminating hyperstimulation, there are a few things you can do right away to stop and even reverse anxiety-caused weight loss:

1. Reduce your body’s stress as much as possible.

Reducing your body’s stress can reduce fuel consumption and weight loss.

2. Slow down your body’s metabolism through an increase in rest, relaxation, and sleep.

Slowing down your body’s metabolism can slow down fuel consumption.

3. Increase your food intake, and especially foods high in protein and carbohydrates.

This increase can offset the higher demand for fuel.

4. Take a nutritional supplement.

A nutritional supplement can also offset a higher demand for fuel.

5. Work with a Nutrition Science Practitioner.

A Nutrition Science Practitioner can give you ideas about how to increase your body’s energy resources, as well as how to counteract the adverse effects of stress- and anxiety-related stomach and digestive problems.

Nevertheless, getting regular good sleep, eliminating unnecessary stress responses, faithfully practicing your recovery strategies, addressing your underlying factors, passively accepting your sensations and symptoms, containing worry, and remaining patient will bring results…in time. When you do the right work the body HAS TO recover.

If you are having difficulty containing your worry, you may want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome what seems like unmanageable worry and anxiety.


The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


Additional Resources:


Return to Anxiety Disorders Signs and Symptoms section.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including the anxiety symptom weight loss or sudden weight loss.


REFERENCES:

1. Selye, H. (1956). The stress of life. New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill.

2. Folk, Jim and Folk, Marilyn. “The Stress Response And Anxiety Symptoms.” anxietycentre.com, August 2019.

3. Hannibal, Kara E., and Mark D. Bishop. “Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2014.

4. Justice, Nicholas J., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-Like Induction Elevates β-Amyloid Levels, Which Directly Activates Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Neurons to Exacerbate Stress Responses.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 11 Feb. 2015.

5. Leproult, R, et al. “Sleep Loss Results in an Elevation of Cortisol Levels the next Evening.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 1997.

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