Anxiety Can Cause Weight Gain


Anxiety typically leads to weight gain.

Even though you’d think the opposite to be true. If you suffer with an anxiety disorder, you know that weight loss or sticking to a diet plan can be extremely challenging.  We may start out every day with the best intentions but by late afternoon we cave.

Anxiety & Stress

In general, where there’s anxiety, there’s usually some form of underlying, unregulated stress. For most of us, continuous stress results in weight gain.  When we’re already concerned with our appearance or weight, what happens? Our anxiety level simply increase. This added distress results in even greater cravings for unhealthy food. Eating carbs reduces stress. So…for emotional self-preservation we tend to eat more of them than is healthy.  This is where anxiety derails attempts at weight loss. This is also a significant reason why diets fail and we end up weighing more than when we started. This cyclical pattern of anxiety and weight gain will likely continue until we develop our RECOGNITION and RESISTANCE skills.

A brief review of anxiety symptoms that affect our mood, health & weight

Anxiety, like depression, ranges from mild to severe. The category includes separation anxiety, specific phobias, social anxiety, and general anxiety disorder (GAD). It also includes panic disorder and agoraphobia; the debilitating fear of leaving home.

For the purposes of this program we’ll look at the diagnostic criteria for GAD (APA, 2015).

  • restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  • being easily fatigued
  • difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep)

If you’re thinking there are a lot of similarities and cross-overs between depression and anxiety disorders you’re right!

Anxiety, depression and our health

Even though they’re considered separate disorders some of the similarities include:

  • poor health habits,
  • lack of physical activity,
  • unhealthy eating,
  • stress-related problems, and
  • sleep issues

Constant anxiety can easily result in habitual patterns of emotional eating. Eventually these patterns can lead to the development of disorders such as binge eating disorder (BED) or Bulimia.

In the Solution – the path to weight loss & wellness

As with other BreakThrough! sessions, the first task is RECOGNITION. In session we move through the next steps: RESISTANCE, RESILIENCE and RECOVERY. Compulsive, impulsive and repetitive behaviors are often the expression of unresolved stress, anxiety, frustration and obsessive worry. Try working through a mini BreakThrough! 4 R process.

STEP ONE…what are my impulsive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors? Write them down!

STEP TWO: Am I trying to do too much? Do I need to say “NO” more often?

  • Effect on eating: If I’m not rushing I can resist fast food

STEP THREE: Everything is OK! I am capable of doing what needs to be done

  • Effect on Self View: I am competent there is just a lot to do

STEP FOUR: I’m fine; (we’re fine) the important things are getting done!

  • Effect on Peace of Mind I can enjoy this day

BreakThrough! challenges anxiety, fears and our self-view

Self-view is of great importance to the BreakThrough! process. How we think about ourselves directly affects how we feel about ourselves and our relationships with others. Many times we have good reason for our fears, but at some point we need to evaluate these.

With the exceptions of truly dangerous situations, most of our fears are based on past experience and our interactions with others. Fear and learned responses has ensured the survival of our species as we emerged from caves. But much of our fear mechanism is unnecessary given how we live our lives now. Rarely do we take the time to evaluate whether our present fears are legitimate, productive, or protective. Looking at our fears in the context of our lives and examining how they influence our choices can be challenging and insightful.

This is a small snapshot of how the BreakThrough! course unfolds. (1/3/22) Please note the website is under revision for 2022 so check back soon for updated links, articles, and course postings.