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Anxiety And Your Appetite


min read


Medical professionals are aware of the link between appetite and anxiety, however the connection still isn’t fully understood. We all respond differently to anxiety, however, many sufferers report that stress results in not only appetite changes, but also changes in how they relate to food and enjoy eating.

Externally, appetite issues caused by anxiety may appear to be a minor problem. However, it can be a lot more serious than it appears. Often, how people change the way they eat in response to anxiety results in a worsening of their symptoms and a worse outcome overall. If you’re suffering from appetite changes due to anxiety, it’s important to work on solving them.

What Type Of Appetite Problems Stem From Anxiety?

Appetite issues can never be regarded as a primary symptom. There is always something else that is attributable to it. Many anxiety sufferers don’t even recognize that they have changed the way they eat. Rather, they feel they’re only eating differently because they’re going through a stressful time.

Many different appetite changes take place due to anxiety, however some of the most commonly seen include:

  • Eating more – for some people, their appetite increases if they’re suffering from anxiety
  • Eating less – in other cases, people feel less thirsty and hungry if they suffer from anxiety

Why Does Anxiety Cause Over-Eating?

Some people will always turn to food if they’re feeling stressed. Experts don’t fully understand why this occurs, however it is known that eating for some people is linked to feelings of being comforted. Positive neurotransmitters like dopamine are released into the body and this makes the sufferer feel warm and happy. As soon as they eat, their brain releases dopamine which makes them feel better.

Eating food, therefore, represents a form of coping strategy for such sufferers. As soon as they feel anxious, they begin experiencing hunger too. The urges combine and, over time, the sufferer becomes conditioned to believe eating is going to take their anxiety symptoms away. Eventually, the body begins to associate eating with anxiety or stress reduction. It will then begin to occur even when you aren’t actually hungry.

Why Does Anxiety Cause Under-Eating?

Some people find that when they are feeling anxious they have very little appetite. This is one of the most common anxiety symptoms. Experts theorize that when someone is anxious their stomach retains more acid and this makes them feel fuller for longer. This, in turn, reduces hunger, since the signals which normally cause us to feel hungry can’t reach the brain. Also, the neurotransmitter serotonin which regulates mood has a role to play both in feeling hungry and in anxiety. People who suffer from anxiety have issues with maintaining the correct level of serotonin, so this is another factor which could cause people to lose their appetite if they are feeling anxious or stressed.

There are also other different neurotransmitters and hormones which are associated with hunger, digestion, and anxiety. Any of these could be telling your brain that you’re not ready to eat, even if you’re actually hungry.

Now, let’s add into the mix a number of other mental factors that come into play too. Lots of people suffering from anxiety are simply too busy focusing on other things to eat. When you don’t respond to the signals that tell you that you’re hungry, eventually your body stops sending those signals altogether. Also, of course, some people feel nauseous when they are anxious, and this causes them to link eating and food with negative experiences and thoughts.

Why Are Appetite Changes Due To Anxiety A Problem?

Some people believe that changes in their appetite aren’t that important. Anxiety can be difficult to cope with every day, and losing or gaining appetite may seem to be irrelevant. However, it’s important to be aware that appetite changes can actually be very problematic, not just for your well-being and health, but also for how you manage your anxiety problem.

We all know that eating too little or too much is unhealthy. If you eat too much, you run the risk of becoming overweight or obese. If you eat too little, there’s a chance your body won’t gain sufficient nutrients to function properly.

Appetite changes due to anxiety cause a host of problems in all aspects of your life including:

  • Reduced energy and fatigue – appetite changes combined with anxiety are likely to impact on your energy levels, making you feel fatigued. People who overeat often find that they lack energy and are excessively sleepy. Meanwhile, those who undereat don’t manage to eat sufficient nutrients and calories to remain energized. Both undereaters and overeaters are fatigued and this makes it more difficult for their bodies and minds to handle the anxiety and stress they experience every day.
  • General health – overall, your health has a vital role to play in handling anxiety. People who overeat usually find that they have poor overall health. The extra calories that they consume will eventually put too much physical strain on their bodies. Their heart has to work harder and their joints are under more stress. Meanwhile, people who are undereaters may have a faster heart rate, impaired metabolism and a poor immune system that cannot fight off infections. All of those stresses serve only to make the anxiety problem worse. If your overall health worsens it’s only natural for anxiety levels to worsen too.
  • Hyperventilation – if you become obese due to overeating you are more likely to suffer from hyperventilation. This is because your diaphragm is unable to depress fully and enable your lungs to expand as much as they should. This, in turn, forces you to take shallower, shorter breaths which result in hyperventilation over time. This can cause or be a symptom of a panic attack.
  • Nutrient deficiency – if you don’t eat enough calories, you could find that your diet is altered in such a way that nutrient deficiency is expedited. Some minerals and vitamins are associated loosely with anxiety. If you have too low a level of vitamin B12 and magnesium, for example, existing anxiety symptoms can worsen. If you have nutrient deficiencies, you may also experience unusual physical sensations which could make you more likely to suffer from a panic attack.

As well as all of the above reasons, stress is a key component when it comes to appetite changes affecting your anxiety levels. If anything is stressing your body, whether that is a lack of minerals and vitamins or having to digest huge amounts of food, your body will experience more anxiety. It will also make it much more difficult to reduce the symptoms of anxiety that you’re experiencing.

What Can You Do If You Have An Anxious Appetite?

The easiest way to ensure your diet isn’t too badly impacted by anxiety is to eat healthy food in portions of the right size and at the best times of day. It’s important to use your logic when navigating through daily life. If you’re overeating due to your anxiety, avoid purchasing any foods which could tempt you to stress-eat. If there are no cookies or ice cream in your home, you can’t eat them!

If you’re an undereater, you should set yourself regular reminders so you can remember to eat food at the right times. Set an alarm for breakfast time, lunch and also dinner. You must also encourage yourself to have balanced, nutritious meals. While you shouldn’t force food down if you really don’t feel hungry, you should try to eat healthy, small snacks if finishing a huge meal feels too daunting. If this approach works more effectively for you, try to eat more regular small snacks throughout the day rather than three full-sized meals.

If you’re finding that you lack sufficient motivation to prepare meals for yourself, it’s a good idea to keep it simple. A bowl of porridge is quick and easy to prepare and takes little effort to eat. A can of soup is speedy to open and heat. If you’re having a good day, try to cook some batch meals and then freeze them in portions so you can just heat them up on your more challenging days. You may even consider arranging for some meals that are freshly made to be delivered to your home from a food prep organization, or one of the food box companies to deliver the ingredients and recipe so you can just whip up a rapid meal in minutes.

Another option is to organize a meal at a restaurant or café with friends or family members. This will serve a dual function as you’ll be enjoying company and socialization – something which is vital for anyone suffering from anxiety – and you’ll also have the benefit of being provided with nourishment at the same time.

Can I Regain My Appetite If I’ve Lost It Through Anxiety?

Although you know you need to eat, it can be difficult when you’ve lost your appetite because of anxiety. There are a few steps you can take to try to regain it again.

  • Identify what is making you anxious and then get some help from a therapist to control your stressors.
  • Sleep more. With the right amount of rest, you can combat poor appetite due to anxiety.
  • Make an eating schedule. Your body will only regulate its fullness and hunger cues if you’re eating consistently.
  • Find food you’re able to tolerate then eat that food. Even if you don’t want to eat a large meal, you can find plain or simple foods which your body can cope with.

Top Tips For Coping With Anxiety-Induced Appetite Problems

Whether you’re finding it hard to motivate yourself to eat at all due to your anxiety or whether you simply don’t seem to be able to stop reaching for the cookie jar when you’re feeling stressed, there are some excellent tips to help you to cope with your issues:

  • Put your focus on your breakfast. When you eat the right kind of breakfast, you can set up your energy levels and mood for the day. Even better, breakfast is a quick and easy meal to prepare in advance. Of course, it’s important to make the right kind of breakfast. You need to balance your complex carbohydrates and protein with some quality fats, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Choose foods that you can digest easily. If you often have digestive problems when you’re feeling anxious, as many people do, you should choose foods that your body can process easily but which are also beneficial for the gut. Some good examples are live probiotic yogurt, smoothies with lots of vitamins, minerals and nutrients or kefir.
  • Eat foods that offer consistent and slow-release energy. Some good options are complex carbohydrates as well as foods that are rich in fiber. Choose wholemeal or rye flour instead of white flour, brown rice rather than white, quinoa, and parsnips, carrots and other starchy root vegetables.
  • Eat enough protein. Everyone needs the essential amino acids produced by protein to create the vital neurotransmitters that we need for our hormonal and cognitive functions. Good sources of protein include poultry, lean red meat, eggs, yogurt, tofu, seeds, and nuts.
  • Eat good quality fats. We’re often conditioned to believe that all fat is bad, however, this is not true at all. In fact, we need some fats for hormone creation and for good brain health. The key is to choose the right kind of fats. You need to choose monounsaturated fats which are derived from sources such as olive oil, seeds, and nuts. You should also be eating plenty of oily fish three times weekly including herring, mackerel or salmon. You could even get the same benefits from vegan sources like walnuts, flax and chia seeds.

Coping With Your Anxiety And Appetite Issues

Therapy | Anxiety | The Meadowglade

When you’re struggling to manage your anxiety, it’s only natural to experience some appetite changes. However, these should be addressed to prevent the problem from worsening over time. Seeking help from a counselor to address your issues is the best way to get back on the road to recovery and to start eating healthily again.

If you’re struggling to get back to your normal and have a better grasp on your anxiety, consider taking some time to heal at a residential treatment facility like The Meadowglade.  Contact us in order to learn more about how we can help you!

Fight for yourself, not with yourself.

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