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How Anxiety Affects Weight Gain and Diet

Diet and exercise are obviously important parts of losing weight. But most people do not realize that diet and exercise alone are not the only causes of weight gain. Your psychological health can also lead to trouble losing weight, and if you are able to maintain as much of a stress free lifestyle as possible, you should give yourself a better opportunity to work on your body shape.

Understanding the Psychology of Weight Loss

The first thing to note is the most important: anxiety can actually cause weight gain through the release of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone released during stress that builds fat around the midsection. It is the number one reason that anxiety causes weight gain.

But what's interesting is that cortisol technically increases metabolism. The reason people gain weight when they experience anxiety isn't necessarily because of stress, and although anxiety does create fat issues around the stomach, it's actually the way that anxiety affects habits that cause weight gain. These issues include:

  • Satiety – Long term cortisol use is believed to turn off the part of the brain that tells you you're full. That causes many people to overeat unintentionally, in a way that can cause you to struggle to lose weight.
  • Eating for Coping – Similarly, some people eat to cope with stress, or snack because stress makes their stomach feel empty. Eating can release chemicals in the brain that improve mood for some people, and if you're one of those people then it's not uncommon to find yourself eating more, even if you're not aware of it.
  • Poor Decisions – Anxiety causes desperation, and desperation can cause poor dieting decisions. In some cases it may be the diet you choose. In others it may be giving up too early. Regardless, when you have anxiety you're not making the best decisions for your health.
  • Weight Checking – One of the secrets to losing weight is to ignore your weight. Motivation is extremely important in weight loss, and when you constantly monitor your weight it is too easy to lose motivation when it "doesn't work." The truth is that not only is weight loss slow – it can fluctuate by many, many pounds regularly, and in some cases you can lose size without technically losing weight at all while still getting what you want out of your weight loss. You never want to see the numbers. You simply want to do the activities that work.
  • Sleep Loss – Sleep is a very important part of losing weight as well, as it promotes healthier weight loss and a healthier body. If you're losing sleep because of anxiety, your metabolism is likely to slow down and work incorrectly, and your energy level for exercise will be low.
  • Fatigue/Inactivity – Speaking of low energy, it's also not uncommon to suffer from fatigue, and fatigue causes inactivity. Remember that it's not just exercise that causes you to lose weight. It's sitting, standing, moving – those that gain weight tend to sit more still than those that maintain a healthier weight, for example – but if you're fatigued, you're often laying down and rarely moving, which causes that inactivity that will make weight loss harder.
  • Anxiety Symptoms – Finally, anxiety symptoms tend to prevent you from exercising as you planned, even if you don’t realize it. It's often very difficult to run a long distance if your heartbeat is up, your muscles are tense, and you're hyperventilating. That extra exercise makes a big difference in your weight control.
These are only some examples of ways that anxiety can hold you back from your weight loss goals.

While so many people focus on the most important factors of losing weight – exercise and diet – your mental health really does play a significant role. That's why you need to stop anxiety quickly if you want to give yourself the best opportunity to maintain your ideal weight.


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