Fight-or-flight mode is our body’s natural response when we’re in jeopardy. It helps people cope in dire situations and causes various changes in the body including reduced appetite. Sometimes anxiety can cause you to enter fight-or-flight mode, leading your body to respond as it does to danger.
Prolonged anxiety often causes changes in appetite and digestive issues. Some may experience increased hunger and cravings, leading to binge-eating behaviors, while others may experience a decrease in appetite.
Why Does Anxiety Reduce Appetite?
Loss of appetite is a symptom of stress. Worrying can distract you from feeling hungry. Physical responses can also interfere with your ability to correctly assess when you are hungry, as well as cause nausea or an upset stomach. Appetite loss can be fleeting, vary in intensity, and change throughout the day.
Both chemical and emotional factors contribute to a reduced appetite.
During heightened moments of anxiety, we experience elevated levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Increased cortisol can boost the production of stomach acids, which speeds up digestion and creates a sensation of fullness. This sensation halts signals to the brain that initiate hunger. Increased acid production can also result in the formation of stomach ulcers.
Hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain also affect hunger. Individuals with anxiety often have irregular levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which impacts feelings of fullness and controls the intensity of anxiety. If serotonin levels are unbalanced, anxiety and appetite can become irregular. Since hormones and neurotransmitters impact communication with the brain, imbalances may send signals that the body does not need to eat when in fact it does.
Emotional factors also lead to loss of appetite. You may be preoccupied with worry or even experience nausea when you are feeling overly anxious. If you ignore your brain’s hunger messages, the body may eventually stop transmitting them.
The Impact of Appetite Loss
Needless to say, appetite loss can harm your body and how it functions. When bodies are deprived of important nutrients, energy levels, sleep patterns, heart rate, metabolism, and the immune system are all affected.
When you don’t eat enough vitamins and minerals, you may suffer from fatigue and lack of energy. This creates a cycle which can cause difficulties in coping with stress and reducing anxiety, further decreasing your appetite.
If your anxiety is causing a lack of appetite, you might need to intervene to increase your food intake. For example, you could set an alarm to go off during mealtimes as a reminder to eat or eat several small meals per day instead of eating larger meals.
Of course, the most effective and recommended remedy is to address the root of the problem, the anxiety itself. Engaging in mindfulness, speaking with a professional therapist, and in some circumstances, taking anti-anxiety medications can help alleviate symptoms and restore your appetite.
While the fight-or-flight mode is necessary during moments of danger, it can be debilitating if employed too frequently in response to anxiety and stress. As mentioned, there are many factors that contribute to a loss of appetite. If you notice yourself not eating as much as you used to, you should take action.
Of course, ensuring you eat healthily should be your first course of action. In the long term however, you should take steps to treat your anxiety for the sake of improving not just your appetite, but your overall mental and physical wellbeing.
- Cleveland Clinic. (2019, December 9). What Happens to Your Body During the Fight or Flight Response? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-to-your-body-during-the-fight-or-flight-response/
- Uppsala University. (2015, June 17). Individuals with social phobia have too much serotonin — not too little. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 18, 2022 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150617115327.htm
- Center For The Advancement Of Health. (2002, March 12). Nausea Sometimes A Red Flag For Anxiety And Depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 15, 2022 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/03/020311080611.htm