Stress and your weight

Can stress cause weight gain?
can you lose weight without dealing with your stress
Can stress cause weight loss?

Actually, it seems that it may do both.

Stress triggers your body to release a variety of hormones. In the short term these often create loss of appetite, but if they continue for longer, your appetite - and your weight - is likely to increase.
  • Prolonged stress affects your blood sugar levels, causing mood swings and fatigue; you reach for the comfort food and can't be bothered (or feel too tired) to exercise.
  • Most people who do 'comfort eat' choose instant fixes such as crisps, chocolate and takeaways - all high in fat.
  • One of the stress hormones is cortisol. Receptors for cortisol are located in the abdomen and high cortisol levels are thought to trigger fat storage there.
  • Cortisol may also slow your metabolism, so you can gain weight even if you eat the same amount as usual.
  • Most weight reduction diets are based on deprivation. That is, they have a long list of what you can and can't do - and a lot of the things you enjoy are on the banned list! This adds to your stress.
  • If you do eat something that's "not allowed" you feel like a failure. This also adds to the stress and the whole thing cycles around again.
It's logical from this that if you want to maintain a healthy weight, dealing with your stress can help.

The Research

A recent study showed significantly better weight loss results for those who also practiced stress management. Researcher Kelly Webber, an associate professor in the UK Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, published a report via the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and environment in January 2014. She compared the effectiveness of two intervention weight-loss programs and found that an intervention which included stress management was more effective in helping people lose weight than one which simply taught people to eat according to their appetite. Those in the stress management intervention also reduced their blood pressure and maintained their weight loss better over time.

In July 2014 a study was published by the Ohio State University which showed that, for women, worrying slows down the metabolism and results in them burning around 100 fewer calories a day - this could mean a weight gain of almost a stone over a year. Women who are stressed also tend to have higher insulin levels which can increase further increase the liklihood of fat storage. So not only does stress influence what and how much we eat, it also means that we are more likely to burn up fewer of the calories we are taking in because of the changes in our metabolism.

How does this help?

This doesn't mean that weight gain is inevitable when we are stressed. However, it does emphasise the importance of keeping healthy snacks around, and building some relaxation into your healthy eating regime.

Reducing your stress levels helps your metabolism return to normal and you to feel healthy, energised and motivated. A well balanced diet and regular exercise become positive choices instead of the source of more stress.


Author: is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control. Find out more on  or phone 01977 678593