According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity and overweight are two of the main health problems facing the world’s population today. They are defined as an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that can seriously damage health.
In other words, the problem with overweight and obesity is that they are two of the most important risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and certain cancers.
Fortunately, we have been able to detect many causes, which in the long term may lead us to reduce their prevalence. Anxiety is one of the most discussed risk factors for weight gain in recent years.
Anxiety and stress: are they the same?
Stress and anxiety are words that we sometimes use synonymously because both refer to psychological and physiological states that alter our mood and activity in general.
Stress can have a positive side (the English term for this is “eustress”, or eustress in Spanish) that helps us respond to the demands of the environment, flee, or adapt to the situation. Thus, stress is the general physiological state, which can have different manifestations and its presence can vary regularly.
But when stress is a constant state, which does not serve us to respond adequately to external demands, and begins to make us feel like we are out of control, then it can become a pathological picture closer to anxiety.
Depending on the level at which it occurs, anxiety is characterized by a series of psychological and physiological experiences such as palpitations, tachycardia, sweating, insomnia, Shortness of breath, constant movement, lack of concentration, anxiety.
Anxiety is a more specific condition than stress and is accompanied by significant changes at the physiological level, such as the secretion of corticosteroid hormones at very high levels and for a long time, which in turn makes our body and our moods are not adaptive, but The opposite.
Although their causes vary widely, some of the most common are lifestyles related to work or school conditions, or more personal experiences that cause vulnerability, such as abuse, harassment, feelings of uncertainty, loss of a loved one, among others.
Why can anxiety cause overweight?
The main cause of overweight and obesity is increased consumption of foods high in calories and high in fat. In turn, this increase can occur due to many factors, for example, reduced physical activity, food processing and distribution, unbalanced diets or a lack of policies that support the health sector.
Apart from that, some recent research has suggested to us that anxiety is another risk factor for overweight and obesity, mainly for the following reason: when we feel anxious, we eat more (and worse).
When we find ourselves in situations that distress us, a whole host of chemical changes take place in our brains. Nowadays, what gives us a feeling of calm and satisfaction are the foods that have a higher caloric concentration, which are also less filling, so we generate the need to eat in large quantities.
In addition, constant stress and anxiety often cause insomnia, which means that in everyday life we need to eat more food, which is usually also high in calories.
Specifically, excessive consumption of sugar activates the brain system responsible for metabolizing glucocorticoids, which are hormones that metabolize carbohydrates, and are also activated in response to stressful situations, causing a feeling of euphoria. The latter is adaptive and important in maintaining homeostasis at moderate secretion levels, but in excess it can be problematic.
Some tips to reduce anxiety
Anxiety, in addition to being linked to obesity, it is linked to a sedentary lifestyle and high consumption of psychoactive substances such as alcohol or tobacco, Which, in turn, leads to an increase in overweight and obesity. In addition, being overweight and anxiety are two problems that greatly affect children.
The good news is that some research suggests that indeed, a constant reduction in anxiety states promotes a decrease in body mass index. For this reason, it is important to know a few ways to avoid this.
Because the causes are not specific, some of the more general recommendations we can make are based on changing habits; problem which may seem quite complicated, but which can also be simple if you have proper follow-up.
1. Detect when we feel stressed or anxious
Stress and anxiety can be caused by very different situations, for example, certain conflicts that we have not been able to discuss or resolve at work, at school, with a partner, with friends or with family; it may also happen that they do not have a clear cause or that a difficulty in setting limits for others is related.
At the beginning it is important to have clues about the situations that can cause us constant stress, so that it is possible to modify them or modify our positions and decisions in front of them.
2. Look for alternatives
One thing we need to be clear about is that habits don’t change overnight, just like anxiety doesn’t go away overnight, so it’s important to learn how to find relaxation through things, which is more functional. than excessive calorie intake.
For example, learning to disconnect and rest, or at the level of interpersonal relationships tries to put limits on others and face our own demands. Also and depending on our interests, we can choose to exercise, go for a walk, visit someone, read a good book, have tea, watch a movie …
3. Establish routines that incorporate healthy habits and enjoyable experiences.
It is about making sure that our everyday life consists of a few basic elements such as eating a balanced diet, in sufficient quantity and as natural and fresh as possible; exercise moderately, have time to rest, share with our peers and try to do activities that generate motivation and personal satisfaction, which can range from a hobby to maintaining professional aspirations to long term.
In any case, it is also important to seek specialist help if we need it. A visit to a psychologist, psychiatrist or neurologist can also be very helpful in reducing our level of anxiety and improving our response to stressful situations.
- World Health Organization. (2017). Obesity and overweight. Accessed April 25, 2018.Available at http://www.who.int/es/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
- Tryon, M., Stanhope, K., Epe, E. et al. (2015). Eating too much sugar can be a hard habit to break: an outlook on the brain and the body. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 100 (6): 2239-2247.
- González-Ramírez, T., Monica, G. and Pompa-Guajardo, I. (2011). Decreased anxiety and body mass index in overweight and obese children after multidisciplinary treatment. Anxiety and Stress, 17 (2/3): 211-219.
- Strine, T., Mokdad, A., Dube, S. et. al (2008). The association of depression and anxiety with obesity and unhealthy behaviors in American adults living in the community. General hospital psychiatry. 30 (2): 127-137
- Mud, A. (2006). Anxiety, an important factor to consider in the proper diagnosis and treatment of overweight and obese patients. Chilean Journal of Nutrition, 33 (2): 325-357.