June 19

The Connection Between Stress and Weight Gain

The Connection Between Stress and Weight Gain

When it comes to weight and fitness goals, there are many factors at play. Your calorie count is going well, your training’s a good mix of cardio and strength training- but when it comes to results, you’re not getting the traction you want. What gives?

Many factors can come into play, but one big culprit might be stress. Here are some suggestions why and – along with ways you can lower your stress levels – and possibly your scale’s number too.

The Role of Cortisol

Feeling run-down or overwhelmed triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone designed to assist with our “fight or flight” response when we’re faced with danger. Cortisol gives the body the energy needed to cope with threats, and it certainly plays an important role in keeping us motivated and energized.

Over time the constant release of cortisol turns from being a good thing to being pathologic to the body.

But you don’t even need to overeat for cortisol to affect your waistline. The chronic secretion of the hormone itself can become a problem, adds Eliza Kingsford, psychotherapist and author of “Brain-Powered Weight Loss.”

Constant release of cortisol may increase your risk of developing insulin resistance, raises your blood sugar, alters your appetite, reduces your ability to burn fat and increases the rate at which you store fat.

In most people this results in a spectrum of symptoms along with characteristics weight gain in the abdomen or belly. Put in simple terms the pattern looks like this:

 High stress = high cortisol = high insulin = elevated blood sugar = weight gain in the belly!

Stress Upon Stress

Getting stuck in this habit can be very frustrating, especially when you’re tracking your calories and not seeing results – or potentially gaining more weight than you want to be.

“Once there is a chronic level of cortisol secreted, no amount of exercise or calorie restriction will budge someone’s weight,” says Kingsford. “Imagine eating well, exercising and doing everything you can to stay healthy, only to find you’re gaining weight. This, in turn, leads to feelings of distress and the cycle continues.”

Strategies For Chilling Out

Don’t over exercise

This part can be confusing for many people. You’re taught that in order to lose weight you must exercise, exercise, exercise. The problem with some forms of exercise is that they actually put an increased demand on the body and an increase on cortisol levels.

Studies show that cortisol increases as exertion and intensity increases (which makes sense). You can read that as they are causing stress to the body. Under normal circumstances this is a good thing. Your muscles recognize the stress, they break down slightly and then they repair but this time stronger and more capable to tolerate the stress. The problem with excessive exercising is that you may never allow your body to heal from the last time you exercised.

This leads to over exercising, chronic exhaustion and even weight gain – even if you are exercising daily!

Eat Enough Carbs

The consumption of sufficient healthy carbohydrates may be necessary for energy production in those suffering from adrenal and cortisol issues. The tendency of most overweight patients is to avoid carbohydrates completely. The trick with consumption of carbohydrates is different for what each person needs.

 As a general rule:

Those people who are more active tend to require more carbohydrates than those who are not, this includes those people who are under a tremendous amount of stress – regardless of the cause.

Over-exercising, chronic social stress, high demand at work, etc. these all increase the demand on your body and may increase the demand for carbohydrates.

It’s also true that some people simply function better with more carbohydrates than others, there isn’t a catch-all diet that will work for every person because each of us is quite unique.

Even small hacks can have a big impact for example try not to look at your laptop or emails until you start work, or get an hour or so of no emails and no social media.

Being preventive when it comes to stress is far easier than handling a stress monster in full-blown cortisol mode. So, even if you’re not stressed now, putting strategies in place to stay that way can be crucial for staying on track, no matter what your long-term weight goals might be.


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