Overweight & Anxiety

Trembling. Rapid breathing. Fatigue. These are all common symptoms of anxiety, a condition that affects millions of people. In fact, approximately 40 million adults in the United States have some type of anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health 1. While a number of factors can contribute to the development of anxiety -- such as past trauma or continual stress -- research reveals that being overweight is associated with the condition as well.


Anxiety itself is not a mental disorder and is a necessary part of life. It's a biological reaction to danger that can help keep you out of harm's way. Anxiety becomes a problem when it is continual and affects your daily activities. In some cases, you may experience powerful feelings or thoughts of doom, panic or death. This is typically associated with panic attacks.

Risk Factors

While anxiety problems can affect anyone, certain factors put you at increased risk. Having ongoing stress in your life due to issues such as chronic illness or financial problems can contribute to developing anxiety disorders. A history of traumatic events or substance abuse are also potential risk factors. In addition, having a family history of anxiety problems can raise your likelihood of having anxiety. Being female is another risk factor; women are more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic 2.

Weight & Anxiety

Research studies on the relationship between weight and anxiety reveal that the two are associated. A 2008 study published in "Psychosomatic Medicine," found that being moderately overweight is associated with increased anxiety and substance use problems 4. General anxiety and panic disorders were both more common in overweight study participants than those of normal weight. In addition, research published in the "International Journal of Eating Disorders" in 2003 found that obese adolescents who were binge eaters had higher levels of anxiety and depression than the obese adolescents that did not binge eat 5.


Being overweight can have a significant impact on your level of anxiety -- and ultimately your health in general. In a 2008 study of minor males with anxiety, those who were also overweight were more at risk for developing metabolic syndrome. Having this disorder is considered a warning sign for the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In some cases, you may be experiencing anxiety due to underlying medical problems including heart disease and diabetes -- both conditions that are associated with being overweight or obese.


While no one fitness program or diet can cure an anxiety disorder, maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help reduce its effects. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine is recommended because both can increase anxiety symptoms. Choosing foods containing tryptophan may also help calm you. Options include:

  • oats
  • nuts
  • milk
  • soy
  • peanut butter
  • poultry

Eating small meals throughout the day containing whole grains and other healthy foods can limit anxiety symptoms by keeping your blood sugar levels stable. Research also shows that participating in regular vigorous exercise can help reduce anxiety for up to five years, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center 3.