The Unexpected Link Between Stress And Weight Loss

Do you keep losing weight despite eating well? Believe it or not, stress might be the culprit. Stress can affect appetite, metabolism, and food preferences, causing changes in body weight. For example, some people tend to overeat during times of stress, which may lead to weight gain. What's more, insulin and cortisol, the stress hormone, may increase cravings for fatty and sugary foods, says Harvard Medical School. Studies also indicate that stress can raise levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, stimulating appetite.

Being constantly stressed can wreak havoc on your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight. In one study, women exposed to one or more stressors throughout the day burned fewer calories following a high-fat meal than those who didn't experience stress, reports the journal Biological Psychiatry. As the scientists note, this difference in energy expenditure could result in an 11-pound weight gain per year.

However, different people respond differently to stress. Some may turn to alcohol or comfort foods, while others lose their appetite. There are also cases in which stress can actually boost your metabolism and cause unintentional weight loss

How does stress cause weight loss?

Stress is often associated with weight gain, but sometimes it has the opposite effect. A 2018 review published in Cureus explains that acute stress can suppress appetite. Short-term stressful events trigger the fight-or-flight response, increasing the release of noradrenaline, a hormone and neurotransmitter that inhibits hunger. Prolonged or chronic stress, on the other hand, stimulates appetite and triggers cravings for palatable foods, especially those rich in sugar and fats.

According to Medical News Today, episodes of acute stress can speed up heart rate, burning calories. Stress also increases the body's demand for oxygen and nutrients, notes Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Thus, you may experience a temporary increase in metabolism, potentially leading to weight loss. 

Healthline adds that certain stressful situations can cause you to miss meals, causing you to lose weight. In some cases, stress may also cause heartburn, constipation, gas, and other digestive issues, making it difficult to eat.

All in all, it's common to lose a few pounds when you're stressed out. Your appetite decreases, your metabolism goes up, and you may not feel like eating. If the stress continues, your body will remain in fight-or-flight mode, which could lead to weight gain. Harvard recommends trying meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques to calm your mind and banish stress. If you continue to lose weight without trying, Medical News Today suggests seeing a doctor.