How Is Anxiety Linked to Appetite Loss?

Author Tracy Smith
Updated on June 2, 2024

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.

lost appetite

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.

Chemical Factors

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

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. 

You may suffer from fatigue and lack energy when you don’t eat enough vitamins and minerals. This creates a cycle that can cause difficulties in coping with stress and reducing anxiety, further decreasing your appetite.

Possible Solutions

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 to remind you to eat or eat several small meals per day instead of 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.

Final Thoughts

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, many factors 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.


Author Tracy Smith

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for a Community YMCA. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents.

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