The Feedback Loop Causing Both Anxiety And Obesity To Skyrocket

The modern world is a veritable minefield of mental and physical health issues. Not only are an ever growing number of men women and children fitting the criteria for obesity, but a whopping 18.1% of the United States adult population met the clinical threshold to receive a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder in 2019. Moreover, the two conditions may be more closely tied together than one might assume.

Mental Health Concerns Like Anxiety Are Common And Debilitating

There is no doubt that many of the challenges people face at the dawn of the 21st century are stressful, a fact reflected in the number of people diagnosed with debilitating mental illnesses including anxiety and depression. While increased awareness and access to treatment may account for the seeming increase in prevalence, many think that anxiety, like obesity, is on the rise. Unfortunately, in addition to stress, misery, and mental debilitation, anxiety can lead to physiological changes in the body.

Psychological And Physiological Health Can Create A Negative Feedback Loop

Obesity is also one of the fastest growing clinical conditions to stalk the nation’s populace. This trend is perhaps unsurprising once one considers the ways in which anxiety and obesity can influence each other, creating an ever upward spiral. While many are aware of popular images of mental health affecting physical health through, for example, stress eating, fewer are aware that eating certain foods can also increase cortisol levels.

Cortisol is commonly known as the stress hormone because it floods the brain when one is under stress. So while the stressed out and anxious individual binge eats on ice cream, they are actually doing themselves even more harm, boosting cortisol levels. Consequently, this increases anxiety levels, neatly closing a feedback loop between anxiety and overeating.

A Positive Mental Health Outlook Can Lead To Lower Incidence Of Obesity

The good news is that if overeating sugary, processed foods can lead to both weight gain and stress, and stress can lead to eating those same foods, then the reverse is also true. By getting in shape one can increase the body’s production of mood altering and cheering neurotransmitters such as endorphins. And by addressing long-ignored underlying mental health issues related to anxiety and depression, you may be able to also shed unwanted weight.

While anxiety is not the only cause of – or even the only psychological trigger which might lead to – weight gain, managing our stress levels certainly has a role to play in the fight against obesity. Indeed, doctors need to be cautious when ascribing a patient’s overweight status to a mere lack of self control. Instead, doctors should screen overweight individuals for mental health concerns and vice versa. Not only can presuming that overweight individuals just need to diet more be a self defeating tactic–leading only to more stress and increased levels of cortisol, and hence weight gain – but such statements also ignore real, physiological problems and mental health conditions which need to be treated. 

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