Specialists in health and in psychology have differing opinions on the extent to which stress and anxiety affect weight. Some people react to highly stressful situations by neglecting to eat and eventually starting to lose weight. Others deal with their anxiety by eating excessively or seeking comfort in unhealthy foods high in sugar or salt.
An article from 2011 compares and contrasts the opinions of various heath experts on how much stress influences weight gain or loss.
Weight Gain Research from 2010
The article begins by summarizing a compilation of research on stress and weight. It found that two-thirds of the studies did not provide evidence of a connection between weight gain and stress. A quarter of the studies in question showed an association between stress and weight gain, while a small percentage indicated that stress led to weight loss.
After the results from the studies were released, a dietitian from UCLA was asked her opinion on the effects of stress on the body. She argued that there are individual differences in how people react to stress. She says that for some, stress may very well lead to weight gain.
The dietitian also mentioned that the body’s reaction to stress can influence sleep patterns, hunger, and energy. This produces a change in eating habits, making stressed people more likely to eat more processed foods and exercise less.
The author of the article points out that the type of stress someone experiences may determine whether weight is lost, gained, or unaffected. For example, chronic financial worries may have a different effect on the body than stress caused by a single, traumatic event. Prolonged, intense emotion — even if it’s positive — affects the brain and the body.
Stress and Cortisol
Livestrong, a site dedicated to health and fitness, describes the harmful effects of stress on biological processes. It explains the stress response, which increases levels of cortisol in the body. Livestrong also states that cortisol is “associated with increased appetite, cravings for sugar and weight gain” and can lead to “obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.”
Preventing Stress-Related Weight Changes
So what should be done to stay fit and healthy in the midst of a stressful situation? The renowned Dr. Oz has some tips on his site which can help with reducing poor eating habits. He recommends drinking black tea, self-massaging, or practicing deep breathing exercises when tempted to snack due to stress.