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Diet Fatigue: When Losing Weight Causes Stress

7 Ways Your Weight Loss Program Can Cause Anxiety


Updated March 29, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Diet Fatigue: When Losing Weight Causes Stress

Don't let stress undermine your goals

Jessica Miller/Getty Images

There are plenty of resources for people who need to manage stress with a better diet. But what do you do when your diet is the cause of your anxiety? How do you cope when your weight loss plan creates stress, tension, fatigue or changes in mood?

The bottom line is that change is hard. Every dieter knows that the changes involved in a comprehensive weight loss program are substantial and the results may take a long time to see. So, it's not unusual for dieters to feel frustrated or even ashamed when they can't lose weight or the diet takes longer than expected.

Use this list to help understand some of the various forms of "stress" caused by your diet. Then use the resources below to keep your spirits elevated and your motivation on track.

7 Common Diet Stresses

  1. Fatigue. When you decrease your energy intake, your energy levels can plummet. And if you add a new exercise program to the mix, it's not unusual why some dieters complain of being chronically tired. Eventually, your exercise program can help you to feel energized, but the initial loss of energy can also cause a dip in your mood.

  2. Very Low Calorie Diet/Liquid Diet If you've chosen to go on a very low calorie diet or a liquid diet, you may experience stress simply from being deprived of good nutrition. You should only undertake a VLCD under the supervision of a health care professional, but even if your health is being monitored, it is very possible that your body will react to the significant loss of calories. Liquid diets, in particular, can cause stress simply because you no longer experience the satisfaction of eating a meal.

  3. Cortisol. Clinical trials have demonstrated that calorie restriction increases the body's level of cortisol, your stress hormone. While the hormone plays an important role in the proper function of your body, chronic elevations in cortisol can cause changes to the body that are unhealthy, like higher blood pressure, decreased immunity and impaired cognitive functioning. Over the long term, increased levels of cortisol may put you at higher risk for depression.

  4. Binge Eating. In a perfect world, dieters would never fall of the wagon. But, in many cases, long-term calorie restriction causes dieters to binge, sometimes repeatedly. Researchers found that over time, bingers often experience worsening body image, shame, and are at a greater risk for depression.

  5. Medication. Prescription weight loss medication is helpful for some people. But the side effects may cause anxiety or depression. For example, people who take Alli or Xenical (orlistat) can experience oily stool that may become severe if they eat too much fat. The condition can be embarrassing and stressful. Qysmia, a newer prescription medication, also carries the risk of side effects including depression, mood problems, trouble sleeping, and poor concentration.

  6. Loss of Comfort (foods). The act of eating promotes a feeling of comfort. When we no longer experience the joy of eating, it's not unusual to feel a loss. One small study found that a men and women on a diet became more preoccupied with thoughts about food, had strong urges to eat more frequently, and were more likely to feel out of control of their eating. Dieters may also experience internal struggles when faced with decisions about eating foods that they used to enjoy.

  7. Unrealistic Goals. If you set up your weight loss program properly, you defined specific short and long-term goals at the outset. But if the goals are unrealistic, they could easily backfire. Not reaching your goals cause feelings of frustration, depression or failure. One analysis found that this is more likely to happen if you go on a very low calorie diet. Researchers found that people who go on VLCDs are more likely to underestimate their post-diet body size.

How to Manage Stress from Dieting

Use these resources to manage the specific and unique anxiety that happens when you are trying to lose weight. These resources may also help the people around you offer more support.


Cargill, B. R., Clark, M. M., Pera, V., Niaura, R. S. and Abrams, D. B. " Binge Eating, Body Image, Depression, and Self-Efficacy in an Obese Clinical Population." ObesitySeptember 6, 2012.

Clare Warren, Peter J. Cooper. " Psychological effects of dieting." British Journal of Clinical Psychology September 1988.

Janet Tomiyama, PhD, Traci Mann, PhD, Danielle Vinas, BA, Jeffrey M. Hunger, BA, Jill DeJager, MPH, RD and Shelley E. Taylor, PhD . "Low Calorie Dieting Increases Cortisol." Psychosomatic Medicine April 2010.

P M O'Neil and M P Jarrell. " Psychological aspects of obesity and very-low-calorie diets." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition July 1992.

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