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Why does extreme stress and anxiety cause some people to lose weight, while others pile on the pounds?

Stress is a bitch. Intense, chronic stress messes with your body in so many different ways that it's hard to realize quite to what extent you're being altered — your muscles, respiratory system, heart, brain, liver, hormones, bowels, and reproductive system are all affected. It's not for nothing that doctors stress the need to destress, but we all know that isn't always possible. Find yourself in a life-altering situation, whether it's a relative's terminal illness, the loss of a job you financially depended on, divorce, war, or being stalked by a psychopathic ex, and your body will suffer the consequences.

What kind of an impact is a prolonged period of stress likely to have on your weight?

Why Extreme Stress May Make You Lose Weight

Stress affects all bodily systems, and your gut is no exception. When you are acutely stressed, your gastrointestinal mobility, gastrointestinal secretion, and  intestinal permeability are all affected. In plain English, the speed at which your food moves through the digestive system and the way in which it works are altered when you experience extreme stress. 

Stress can speed your metabolism up, at least temporarily. Your body's hormones, caused by the fight or flight response, may make physical changes even if you don't change your lifestyle. 

We all, however, know that stress does cause us to alter our lifestyle. 

People facing extreme stress, anxiety, and depression are prone to losing their appetite. When you genuinely don't feel hungry or the thought of eating makes you feel nauseous, your daily calorie intake is going to decrease, clearly causing you to lose weight. If a loved one has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness, for instance, you are likely to be focused on supporting them and being at their side. You won't have much time to eat, and when you do, you may simply not feel like it. Because your body is running on adrenalin, you may not feel hungry at all.

Traumatic events also cause people to feel nervous, sometimes physically forcing them to be more physically active to release some of those worried feelings. Pacing around a room, engaging in more exercise to feel better, or simply running around town all day in order to try to solve your problems all increase the rate at which you burn calories, adding to weight loss.

When you face extreme stress, lots of people will tell you to try to remember to take care of yourself. Ironically, the self-care mechanisms you develop may be partially repsonsible for unwanted weight loss. You may sign up for the gym or an aerobics class to destress, and you may attempt to eat healthier foods, which are also incidentally less caloric. You may add therapy sessions to an already busy schedule, again giving you less time to cook and to eat.

While it's logical and tempting to blame your stress for your weight loss, it is also important to keep the possibility that other factors are responsible for your ever-dropping pounds in mind: those suffering from existential stress may also suffer from hyperthyroid or other genuine medical conditions that cause them to lose weight. If you are worried about your weight loss, seeing your doctor is always recommended. 

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