How Stress Can Cause Weight Gain

Stress can have a big impact on your ability to keep a healthy weight and even make it harder to shed extra pounds. This connection between stress and weight gain is evident. It can be due to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, unhealthy behaviors triggered by stress, or a combination of both.

To combat stress and its unwanted effects on your eating habits it's important to embrace self-care strategies. Practicing mindfulness, keeping a journal, and incorporating regular exercise into your routine can be powerful tools to help you manage stress and maintain a healthy weight. So to know more about this in detail let's dive into the blog.

The Link Between Stress and Cortisol

Researchers have understood for a while that increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to weight gain. When you experience stress your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol causing glucose (your main energy source) to enter your bloodstream. This happens to provide you with the energy needed to respond to a threatening situation. It is often referred to as the fight or flight response.

Once the danger has passed the initial adrenaline rush fades, and your blood sugar level decreases. At this point, cortisol becomes more active to swiftly restore your energy supply.

Cortisol and Sugar Cravings

When you're stressed your body craves sugar for quick energy. But eating too much sugar can lead to your body storing it, especially as belly fat is hard to lose. So, it becomes a cycle: stress releases cortisol, causing weight gain, more sugar cravings, more sugar consumption, and even more weight gain.

Cortisol and Metabolism

Stress can slow down your metabolism even if you're not eating fatty or sugary foods making it hard to lose weight. In a study from 2015, researchers interviewed women about their previous day's stress and then gave them a high-fat, high-calorie meal. After the meal, they checked their metabolism rates, blood sugar, cholesterol, insulin, and cortisol levels.

The study found that, on average, women who experienced stress in the previous 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories than non-stressed women. This could lead to an 11-pound weight gain in a year. Stressed women also had higher insulin levels, which can lead to storing fat.

Stress-Induced Unhealthy Habits

In addition to the hormonal changes related to stress, stress can also lead to engaging in various unhealthy behaviors, all of which can contribute to weight gain.

Emotional eating: Elevated cortisol levels can trigger cravings for unhealthy food and lead to overeating due to excess nervous energy. You may turn to snacking or second helpings for temporary stress relief, but this can make it harder to manage your weight effectively.

Eating "accessible" or fast food:Stress often leads to impulsive and less healthy eating choices. In such moments, you might opt for fast food or whatever's quick and easy, rather than investing time and effort in preparing a well-balanced, healthy meal.

Exercising less:Given the many demands on your schedule, exercise might end up at the bottom of your to-do list. If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Long commutes and hours spent sitting at a desk often leave little room for physical activity.

Skipping meals:When you're handling many tasks at once, having a healthy meal can sometimes become a low priority. You might skip breakfast because you're in a hurry or miss lunch because your to-do list is overwhelming.

Sleeping less:Stress often leads to sleep problems, and research connects lack of sleep to a slower metabolism. Feeling very tired can also lower your willpower and make you eat less healthily.

How to Break the Cycle of Stress and Weight Gain

When you're stressed, it's common for healthy habits like eating well and regular exercise to get neglected. To establish these good habits and fight stress-related weight changes, having a schedule or routine can be really helpful. Here are some strategies to help you break the cycle of stress and weight gain.

Make exercise a priority

Exercise is vital for reducing stress and managing your weight. It tackles both these issues together, making it a key tool against stress-related weight gain. Whether you take a walk at lunch or hit the gym after work, make regular exercise a part of your routine.

Eat healthier comfort foods

You don't need carbs or fats to feel better. A study found that even healthier comfort foods, like air-popped popcorn, can improve your mood just as well as "unhealthy" ones. Keeping these healthier options in your pantry makes it easier to choose them during stressful times.

Practice mindful eating

Concentrating on your meal without distractions can reduce stress, aid in weight loss, and prevent weight gain. Research showed that overweight women who practiced mindful eating with stress and nutrition training could avoid emotional eating, resulting in lower stress levels and less belly fat over time. When you have your next meal, try savoring it without your phone or the TV to see the benefits.

Keep a food journal

Being mindful of how you eat can give you control over your food intake. A review of studies in 2011 found that people who kept a food journal, whether through an app or writing in a diary, were more successful at managing their weight. So, keeping track of what you eat can improve your eating habits and help you with weight management.

Drink more water

It's common to mix up thirst with hunger, and this can make you eat more calories than your body requires, causing weight gain. To distinguish real hunger from thirst, make sure you're not slightly dehydrated. If you're feeling hungry a few hours after eating, try having some water first. If you still feel hungry, then go for a snack.

Incorporate stress-relief strategies into your daily life

Whether you like yoga or reading a book, consider adding easy stress relievers like deep breathing, listening to music, or taking a walk to your daily routine. These activities can lower cortisol levels and assist you in managing your weight.


If stress and its impact on weight gain are causing you significant distress and interfering with your daily life, it may be the right moment to consider seeking professional help. Psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can be a valuable resource for learning effective coping techniques to manage both stress and weight. In conclusion, recognizing the connection between stress and weight gain, along with adopting proactive strategies, can lead to a healthier and more balanced life.

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