Managing Anxiety for Weight Loss Success: Tips and Strategies     

February 7, 2024
An anxious woman

Anxiety and weight loss are closely linked. Anxiety can increase or decrease your appetite, causing weight gain or loss, depending on how you manage stress. Anxiety can also cause fatigue and make it more challenging to exercise. According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of adults report that they have overeaten or consumed unhealthy foods in the past month due to stress. Almost half struggle with making healthy dietary choices at least weekly or even more frequently.

Learning strategies to manage anxiety and taking steps to monitor your appetite and energy level while you are feeling anxious can help ensure that anxiety does not derail your weight-loss efforts.

The Connection Between Anxiety and Weight Loss

Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions affecting U.S. adults, with 42.5 million Americans living with anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about one in every five U.S. adults has had an anxiety disorder in the past year. Anxiety disorders were slightly more prevalent in women (23.4%) than in men (14.3%). About one in every three adults has an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

Anxiety frequently co-occurs with depression. This can add an additional challenge when trying to manage your weight. Some people find that they have an increased appetite when they have depressive symptoms, and others find that their appetite is decreased.

Mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, appear to have a bidirectional relationship with body weight. Mood disorders can contribute to poor eating habits, physical inactivity, and poor sleep. Weight gain, especially when it is resistant to dietary changes, can harm body image and self-esteem.1 Learn more about medications and lifestyle changes that help with anxiety and weight loss.

Anxiety Medications and Weight Gain

Several medications used to treat anxiety and depression can also cause weight gain as a side effect. If you were prescribed a medication to treat anxiety or depression that is associated with weight gain, talk to your doctor to see if there are suitable alternatives.

Many people need medications and therapy to manage anxiety and depression. However, incorporating dietary changes and adopting a healthy lifestyle can help you manage your anxiety and support your weight-loss efforts.

The Role of Diet in Managing Anxiety

Diet plays a crucial role in overall health and managing anxiety and weight loss. Fuel your body with a nutritious, well-balanced diet to provide it with the nutrients it needs to manage anxiety. Here are some dietary recommendations to help promote health and reduce anxiety:

1. Complex Carbohydrates

Foods high in complex carbohydrates are slowly broken down to release glucose into your bloodstream and help maintain stable blood sugar levels. Choose foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. These complex carbohydrates can support a healthy gut microbiome and provide a steady release of energy, helping you manage stress and remain calm.

Avoid highly processed foods and simple carbohydrates because they are much more likely to cause blood sugar spikes and dips that leave you feeling tired and irritable. Skipping meals can also cause drops in your blood sugar.

Including complex carbohydrates in your diet can help maintain stable blood sugar levels, promoting a calmer state of mind. Foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are healthier options than processed foods containing simple carbohydrates. Consume a healthy diet to manage anxiety and weight loss.

2. Magnesium-Rich Foods

In animal studies, magnesium deficiency has been associated with increased anxiety-related behaviors. When mice were fed a low-magnesium diet, anxiety-related behaviors increased.2

Magnesium is important in controlling neurotransmitter release in the brain, including serotonin. It also plays a vital role in the human stress response. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency are similar to those reported from stress, such as3

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headache

Consuming foods rich in magnesium can help alleviate anxiety symptoms and promote relaxation. Reducing stress can help with anxiety and weight loss.

Foods rich in magnesium include the following:3

  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Whole cereals
  • Fruits
  • Coffee
  • Cocoa-based products

Magnesium is an essential element involved in many chemical reactions in the body. Severe magnesium deficiency is rare, but chronic low-grade deficiency is much more common.

There appears to be a bidirectional relationship between magnesium and stress. Your dietary magnesium intake may be sufficient to prevent a deficiency, but it may not be enough for optimal health.3  Optimize your magnesium levels to reduce anxiety and weight loss may follow.

3. Foods High in Zinc

Zinc is a trace element that is important for brain and systemic physiology. Like magnesium, zinc is involved in regulating neurotransmitter levels, including serotonin. Zinc deficiency is prevalent, even in developed countries.

Some studies have shown that zinc deficiency may cause anxiety-like behavior in animals, such as reduced physical activity, low appetite, and anxiety.4

Foods rich in zinc include:

  • Oysters
  • Crab
  • Cashews
  • Liver
  • Red meat
  • Turkey and chicken
  • Egg yolks
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Mushrooms
  • Oatmeal

Low zinc levels seem to be correlated with anxiety and depression.5 Your body cannot produce zinc on its own, so it must come from your diet or supplements.

4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are two important omega-3 fatty acids that help keep nerve cell membranes strong and release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

They also have anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce anxiety by reducing inflammation.6

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Fatty fish: mackerel, salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Oils: flaxseed, canola, and soybean
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Seaweed and algae
A healthy diet can set you up for success when dealing with anxiety and weight loss.

5. Probiotics and prebiotics

The gut-brain axis plays a crucial role in managing anxiety. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can increase the diversity of gut bacteria and have been associated with a reduction in anxiety symptoms.

Foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir are prebiotics. These compounds can help your gut bacteria flourish. And they can support your efforts in managing anxiety and weight loss.

More research is needed to understand how probiotics and prebiotics affect health, as it has been difficult for researchers to draw a firm conclusion about whether probiotics reduce anxiety or depressive symptoms. This may be because responses vary by person.7

6. Asparagus

Asparagus is high in folate, potassium, fiber, and vitamins A, C, E, and K. Since folate plays an important role in neurotransmitter release, especially serotonin and dopamine, asparagus has been studied for its potential anti-anxiety effects.

According to research, an asparagus extract that the Chinese government has approved has anti-anxiety properties. 8 Incorporating asparagus into your diet can help alleviate anxiety symptoms and support your weight-loss journey.

7. B Vitamin-Rich Foods

Foods rich in B vitamins, such as avocados and almonds, can contribute to improved mental health. B vitamins, especially vitamin B6, also help stimulate the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.9

Foods rich in vitamin B6 include:

  • Fish: salmon, sea bass, tuna
  • Chicken and beef
  • Tofu
  • Potatoes
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Pistachios

8. Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Anxiety is often associated with a lowered total antioxidant state in the body and increased oxidative stress. Including foods rich in antioxidants in your diet can help support your body’s efforts in managing anxiety and stress.10

Beans, fruits (such as apples, prunes, and cherries), berries (including blackberries and strawberries), nuts (like walnuts and pecans), and vegetables (such as kale and spinach) are all excellent sources of antioxidants that can support your mental well-being and weight-loss efforts.

9. Turmeric and Ginger

Spices like turmeric and ginger not only add flavor to your meals but also possess antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties. Turmeric contains curcumin, which boosts dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, which may explain its ability to help with anxiety and depressive symptoms.11

Ginger can help reduce inflammation and promote relaxation. Including these spices in your cooking can be an enjoyable way to manage anxiety while supporting your weight-loss goals.

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Anxiety and Promote Weight Loss

In addition to dietary adjustments, incorporating lifestyle changes can help you manage anxiety and weight loss. Here are some lifestyle modifications to consider:

1. Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is a powerful tool for managing anxiety and weight loss.

Experts recommend engaging in moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking or jogging, for at least 150 minutes per week for better cardiovascular fitness. Adding extra exercise and physical activity throughout the day can help you manage your weight and boost brain-calming chemicals.

Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters and promote overall well-being.

2. Stress Management Techniques

Stress frequently causes anxiety, so it can be helpful to learn effective stress management techniques.

Yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can all help to reduce stress and promote a sense of calm.

Finding healthy coping mechanisms, such as hobbies or spending time with loved ones, can also help alleviate anxiety during times of stress.

Managing Anxiety for Weight Loss Success: Tips and Strategies     

3. Adequate Sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential for managing anxiety and supporting weight loss. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to optimize mental well-being and physical health.

4. Seek Professional Help

If anxiety symptoms persist or significantly impact your daily life, it is crucial to seek professional help.

A qualified mental health specialist can provide guidance and support in managing anxiety and developing personalized strategies for weight loss success. They may recommend therapy, medication, or a combination of both to help you overcome anxiety and achieve your weight-loss goals.

5. Build a Support Network

Having a solid support network can make a significant difference in managing anxiety and achieving weight-loss success. Lean on family and friends for emotional support, and consider joining a support group specific to anxiety or weight loss. Sharing experiences and connecting with others who are on a similar journey can provide encouragement, motivation, and valuable insights.

Managing Anxiety for Weight Loss Success: Tips and Strategies     

Managing anxiety and achieving weight loss success is possible with the right strategies and support. Incorporating dietary adjustments that focus on a well-balanced, nutritious diet, practicing stress management techniques, engaging in regular exercise, and seeking professional help when needed can help you overcome anxiety and reach your weight loss goals.

If these tips are not enough to help you meet your weight-loss goals, talk with a treatment specialist at Invigor Medical to learn about their full range of weight-loss plans.

Get started today with one of our weight-loss treatment plans.

Managing Anxiety for Weight Loss Success: Tips and Strategies     
Author: Leann Poston, M.D.
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