Anxiety commonly causes a change in appetite. Some people with anxiety tend to overeat or consume a lot of unhealthful foods. Others, however, lose their desire to eat when they feel stressed and anxious.
Anxiety is a mental health condition that affects 40 million adults in the United States each year. Changes in appetite are one of many possible symptoms.
Keep reading to learn more about the link between anxiety and a loss of appetite, some potential remedies and treatments for the problem, and some other common causes of appetite loss.
Anxiety and appetite loss
When someone starts to feel stressed or anxious, their body begins to release stress hormones. These hormones activate the sympathetic nervous system and trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response.
The fight-or-flight response is an instinctive reaction that attempts to keep people safe from potential threats. It physically prepares the body to either stay and fight a threat or run away to safety.
This sudden surge of stress hormones has several physical effects. For example, research suggests that one of the hormones — corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) — affects the digestive system and may lead to the suppression of appetite.
Another hormone, cortisol, increases gastric acid secretion to speed the digestion of food so that the person can fight or flee more efficiently.
Other digestive effects of the fight-or-flight response can include:
This response can cause additional physical symptoms, such as an increase in breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. It also causes muscle tension, pale or flushed skin, and shakiness.
Some of these physical symptoms can be so uncomfortable that people have no desire to eat. Feeling constipated, for example, can make the thought of eating seem very unappetizing.
Overeating vs. appetite loss
People who have persistent anxiety or an anxiety disorder are more likely to have long-term heightened levels of CRF hormones in their system. As a result, these individuals may be more likely to experience a prolonged loss of appetite.
On the other hand, people who experience anxiety less frequently may be more likely to seek comfort from food and overeat. However, everyone reacts differently to anxiety and stress, whether it is chronic or short-term.
In fact, the same person may react differently to mild anxiety and high anxiety. Mild stress may, for example, cause a person to overeat. If that person experiences severe anxiety, however, they may lose their appetite. Another person may respond in the opposite way.
Men and women may also react differently to anxiety in terms of their food choices and consumption.
One study indicates that women may eat more calories when anxious. The study also links higher anxiety with a higher body mass index (BMI) in women but not in men.
Anxiety can cause a loss of appetite or an increase in appetite. These effects are primarily due to hormonal changes in the body, but some people may also avoid eating as a result of the physical sensations of anxiety.
Individuals who experience chronic or severe anxiety should see their doctor.
Sometimes, there may be other reasons for appetite loss that also require treatment.
Once a person addresses the anxiety, their appetite will typically return. Without treatment, long-term appetite loss and chronic anxiety can have serious health consequences.
Src: Medical News Today