For many people, anxiety and weight gain follow each other in a perpetual cycle. Not only can anxiety cause weight gain but weight gain can then lead to increased anxiety. When trying to lose weight, dieting causes anxiety which makes it nearly impossible to sustain weight loss for any significant length of time.
When we feel anxiety and are overweight, we assume that if we lose weight, it will help our anxiety. However, losing weight does not, in and of itself, lead to less anxiety. We must first deal with our anxiety. Only then can we break the Anxiety-Weight Gain Cycle and achieve long lasting results.
Step 1 – Anxiety causes weight gain
Self Medicating with Food
Many people who experience anxiety cope with food. This is why weight gain is a physical symptom of anxiety. Eating food releases endorphins which can temporarily improve your mood. In addition, the comfort foods we crave tend to be high in fat and sugar.
Anxiety and lack of exercise
Anxiety can make you feel lethargic. Avoiding exercise and sitting more means burning fewer calories. As you gain weight moving becomes even more difficult, making it easier and easier to gain weight.
Lack of sleep
Anxiety can interfere with a good night’s sleep. Sleeping less can cause weight gain. Research has shown that getting too little sleep can increase hunger and appetite.
Step 2 – weight gain causes Anxiety
As you gain weight, you find yourself in a cycle where anxiety causes weight gain and the more you are overweight, the worse your anxiety is. One study showed that being obese can trigger anxiety as severe as Social Anxiety Disorder in obese individuals that do not have the disorder.
Then it is back to Step 1. And so on, and so on…
Anxiety prevents weight loss
It seems reasonable that dieting might have the ability to disrupt this cycle. If we can overcome our anxiety for a while and eat less food, we can lose weight and lessen our anxiety. The unfortunate reality is that losing weight does not relieve anxiety and, more importantly, dieting causes anxiety. Going on a diet, instead of being a third step that disrupts the cycle, is merely part of the anxiety in the first step.
Dieting = Anxiety
We have known that low calorie diets cause anxiety since at least as far back as World War II. The men in that study suffered extreme anxiety by being restricted to 1,600 calories a day for six months. 6% of the participants ended up in a psychiatric hospital and one intentionally cut off three of his own fingers.
Dieting causes anxiety. If you have gained weight because of anxiety in the first place, you aren’t going to be successful at losing weight by increasing your anxiety.
Breaking the Cycle
Dealing with your anxiety is the way to break the cycle. Without anxiety, you may find that you no longer have a need for dieting. Controlling anxiety can mean that overeating to feel better no longer happens. You eat only when you are hungry and don’t worry about missing out on more food. It just isn’t important.