Weight gain during periods of anxiety isn't unusual, personal trainer Danyele Wilson said.
Ensure your diet and fitness regime aren't adding more stress to your body and mind.
Mental health is as important as physical health, so focus on being your happiest, healthiest self.
Read more Working It Out here.
I've been suffering with really bad anxiety over the last several months. I've had a lot of things change in my life that have caused it. While I'm taking positive steps to learn how to cope with it by working with a therapist, my weight has really suffered. I've gained about 15 pounds in three months. I definitely snack a bit more than I did before I started feeling anxious, but I just feel like the weight gain has been so quick that it must be something else, as I don't think I'm eating that much throughout the day (calorie-wise). I've read that raised cortisol can make it harder to lose weight, which makes it frustrating for me and makes me not even want to change if nothing will happen. I go to hot yoga twice a week and try to run one time a week too. I just want to feel better (the weight gain has made me lethargic).
It sounds like you've had a really hard few months, but well done for asking for help. Mental health is just as important as physical health, so be kind to yourself.
While there are practical steps you can take to prevent further weight gain, working on your anxiety focuses on the deeper problem, not the symptom.
Prioritize sleep and reduce stress
If you feel anxious and overwhelmed, adding extra workouts and dietary restriction is unlikely to help because it will put more stress on your body, strength and conditioning coach Sam Gwazdauskas told Insider.
Getting enough rest and regular sleep will help your energy levels.
"Sleep deprivation can disrupt our body's rhythm, causing hormones such as cortisol to fluctuate irregularly, therefore affecting appetite regulation," Danyele Wilson, Global Trainer of the Tone & Sculpt app, told Insider.
If you're struggling to fall asleep due to stress and anxiety, which is common, Wilson recommends adopting a calming nightly routine, which could include a skincare regimen, reading your favorite book, putting away your phone an hour before bed, meditation, and breath work.
Eat at regular times
"Eating more, especially nutrient-dense and anti-inflammatory foods, can help decrease physical stress and improve recovery," Gwazdauskas said.
Gwazdauskas and Wilson also recommend not restricting foods, eating at regular times throughout the day (don't skip meals), and eating a healthy balance of carbs, fats, and proteins and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables).
Aim for the majority of your snacks to be nutrient-dense foods such as nuts, fruit, or a whole protein source.
"That's not to say you can't enjoy your favourite treat every now and then, it's all about balance," Wilson said.
If you find yourself stress-eating, try taking five minutes to check in with yourself first. I find that when I eat out of nerves or anxiety, I don't enjoy my food at all, so I try to be mindful before raiding the cookie jar.
Drink plenty of water too to help your kidneys filter out any toxins and help reduce bloating, Wilson said.
Incorporate resistance training into your regime
Hot yoga and running are great if you enjoy them, and they can ease some people's anxiety, but they can both be quite intense.
Gwazdauskas suggests trying some lower intensity exercise such as walking or gentle swimming to reduce anxiety and stress.
You may also benefit from replacing one of your workouts with strength-training. I find lifting weights really empowering which helps my mental health, and doesn't leave me exhausted in the same way that cardio does.
Wilson says it's also the best way to effectively and efficiently build muscle and burn fat.
"Try to be as consistent as possible," she said. "As well as the physical effects of a proper fitness routine, exercise will help reduce stress levels and promote the release of endorphins which give us that natural high - win, win!"
Remember that bodies evolve, and as long as you are physically healthy, don't worry if you've gained a little weight. See your doctor if you're concerned though.
"If you can focus on being the healthiest version of yourself, not necessarily the smallest, you will better address the problem rather than the symptom," Gwazdauskas said.
Wishing you well,
As a senior health reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition-certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you're struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks to some of the world's most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she's always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.
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