Anyone else tired of hearing of “good stress“? It certainly feels like stress has a lot more negative effects in modern life than positive ones.
Stress and weight gain: Fast facts
Can stress cause weight gain?
Yes, stress can make you gain weight for different reasons. Stress could cause you to seek comfort in unhealthy food habits. That can lead to unwanted weight gain. Stress-related weight gain could also be the effect of higher cortisol levels.
What’s the link between stress, cortisol, and weight gain?
When you’re stressed, your body amps up production of cortisol. (That’s a hormone that controls the way you respond to stress.) Cortisol can increase your blood sugar levels and slow your metabolism. This can promote weight gain.
How to stop cortisol weight gain
Tackle stress with calming activities, including:
Counteract unwanted weight gain by:
Stress can not only wreak havoc on your mental state, but it can also manifest physically. (That includes unintentional weight changes.) In some cases, folks experience weight loss when stress hits. However, the majority of peeps who experience stress-related weight fluctuations notice weight gain.
And it doesn’t matter what type of stress you’re dealing with. A large 5-year study, suggests that both perceived stress and life event stress can cause weight gain. If you’re dealing with multiple forms of stress, the chances of experiencing unwanted weight gain are even higher.
Stress increases cortisol
When you sense something stressful is coming, your body’s spidey-senses begin to tingle. It starts to prepare to fight with or run from an enemy. (This is your fight-or-flight response.)
During this reaction, cortisol releases glucose into your bloodstream to give you the boost of energy it thinks you’ll need to react to this. Prolonged or chronic stress can keep your cortisol levels on the rise. That can lead to an overload of glucose. If it’s left unmanaged, all of this extra glucose in your blood could lead to obesity.
Stress promotes unhealthy habits
If you find yourself reaching for junk food when you’re feeling stressed, you’re not alone. Stress can cause lots of folks to crave comforting foods (which tend to be high in calories and low on vitamins and nutrients).
Stress can also make you more likely to over-indulge thanks to its effect on your metabolic hormones. If you’re eating more calories than your body needs, that can lead to unwanted weight gain. One study found that stress can also slow down your metabolism and promote obesity.
A 2013 review suggests that stress can also reduce your energy levels and increase your risk of addiction. If you’ve experienced addiction before, a spike in your stress level could increase your risk of relapse.
Finding ways to manage your stress can help you build healthy habits and stick to them.
Looking to lower your stress levels? There are several ways you can reduce stress (and prevent unwanted weight gain in the process).
Try these tips and tricks to keep your stress in check:
- Meditate. Practicing meditation and mindfulness is a totally legit way to manage stress. Meditating helps your mind release stress to promote feelings of calm, focus, and balance.
- Yoga. Yoga focuses on mindful movement and breathing techniques. It helps your mind and body get more in sync. A regular practice can help release stress and anxiety, leaving you feeling ooom, ooom good.
- Do things you enjoy. Whether it’s as simple as listening to your fave music (impromptu dance party, please), curling up with a good book, or getting lost in your latest Netflix binge, doing something you love can create a sense of calm.
- Become one with nature. Take a walk, go for a hike, hang at the beach, or simply sit on your porch and soak up the sun. Fresh air is great for clearing your mind and natural light can help keep worry at bay.
- Talk to a pro. Whether you’re dealing with a tough time or simply need to talk it out on the reg to help stay in touch with yourself, therapy is for everyone. If you’re struggling to find ways to manage your stress, a mental health professional can help.
While these are just a few of our fave ways to create calm, they’re not the only ways to give stress the boot. Try these 40 ways to relax and see what works best for you.
A happy body is good for supporting a happy, stress-free mind.
One study suggests that adopting stress management techniques can help prevent stress-related weight gain. But if you’re already experiencing unwanted weight gain, there are things you can do to manage it.
There are plenty of ways you to incorporate healthy habits into your routine to banish stress and promote weight loss. These include:
- Exercise. Working out does your body good and it releases endorphins. These cheerful chemicals help elevate your mood.
- Eat well. A healthy diet is essential for a healthy body. Stress can often have us reaching for not-so-healthy snacks and meals. While it’s a-okay to listen to your cravings (hey, chocolate), try these stress-blasting foods instead the next time stress-hunger strikes.
- Get plenty of sleep. Not catching enough Zzz’s can lead to unwanted weight gain. When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your hunger hormones can get out of whack. That can lead to late-night snacking.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine. Both alcohol and caffeine have some benefits in moderation (coffee lovers rejoice!), but too much of either can lead to unnecessary stress.
Don’t ignore your body’s signals. If stress is starting to affect your weight, it’s best to talk to your doctor. They can help determine if stress is the only cause, or if there’s an underlying condition that’s at play. They may also refer you to a nutritional specialist or mental health professional.
Weight gain isn’t the only effect of excessive stress. Chronic stress can lead to complications like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, or other serious conditions.
- Chronic stress can cause unwanted weight gain.
- Adding stress-relieving activities to your routine and adopting healthy lifestyle habits can help you manage your stress and prevent weight gain.
- Think stress is at the root of your weight gain? Consult your doctor. They can help determine if there’s any other underlying cause.
- If you’re having difficulty dealing with chronic stress, consider talking to a mental health professional.
- An M, et al. (2016). Why we need more nature at work: Effects of natural elements and sunlight on employee mental health and work attitudes. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27214041/
- Block JP, et al. (2009). Psychosocial stress and change in weight among US adults. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19465744/
- Chao AM, et al. (2017). Stress, cortisol, and other appetite-related hormones: Prospective prediction of 6-month changes in food cravings and weight. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5373497/
- Chu B, et al. (2020). Physiology, Stress Reaction. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541120/
- Goyal M, et al. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754
- Hannibal KE, et al. (2014). Chronic stress, cortisol dysfunction, and pain: a psychoneuroendocrine rationale for stress management in pain rehabilitation. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4263906/
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- Kiecolt-Glaser JK, et al. (2015). Daily stressors, past depression, and metabolic responses to high-fat meals: a novel path to obesity. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4289126/
- Sinha R, et al. (2013). Stress as a common risk factor for obesity and addiction. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658316/
- van der Valk ES, et al. (2018). Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals?. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5958156/
- Xenaki N, et al. (2018). Impact of a stress management program on weight loss, mental health and lifestyle in adults with obesity: a randomized controlled trial. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6296480/