Stress And Weight Gain: Will Stress Cause Weight Gain?

scale that shows stress and weight gain

Is there a correlation between stress and weight gain? Yes. Can stress cause weight gain and missed period? Yes again. How does cortisol cause weight gain? You’ll see in a minute. 

Stress does put pressure on our bodies. It can impact your weight (down or up), lead to depression and cause serious health issues. Whether stress will lead to weight loss or weight gain (in your case) depends on certain factors. Any stressful event from a spilled coffee (yes, those little things add up as well) to something as big as a divorce can cause stress on your mind and body. There is a clear link between stress and weight gain which we’ll explore. 

Questions We Will Try To Answer In This Article: 

Is there a connection between a high stress job and weight gain?

I’ve heard that stress can cause weight gain and hair loss?  

How to manage stress and weight gain?

What are the dangers of stress fat?

Can stress cause weight gain without overeating?

Stress and weight loss or gain – What is going on?

In most cases, the causes of weight gain or loss are linked to two kinds of factors: hormonal and psychological. When you put stress on your body, it will respond by promoting weight gain (and in some cases, weight loss).  

Cortisol or “the stress hormone” as it’s also called, is the substance that is released in your body every time you are stressed. Along cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine are also released. These two are linked to the “fight or flight” response everyone has when your body thinks you’re under attack. If you’re scared or stressed or both, you send signals to your brain and it tries to protect you.  

After you calm down a bit, epi and norepinephrine levels will slowly return to their regular values. But cortisol level can and will usually stay up over a much longer time frame – in cases of long term stress, cortisol levels are always up. 

Cortisol is responsible (among others) with the creation of energy for your body. What cortisol does to obtain energy is to stimulate carbohydrate and fat. This means you will start feeling hungrier than before. You will crave food, lots of it and not the best kind (fast food, etc). And now imagine you are feeling stressed day in and day out. What will happen? Any time you feel stressed, cortisol kicks in and makes you hungry then you eat and gain weight. Simple, right? 

healthy woman

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And now for more bad news. Research has shown that this extra fat will go to your… drum roll please… abdominal area. This is called “toxic fat” because abdominal fat deposits are correlated with strokes, heart attacks and many cardiovascular affections. Fat going to the abdominal area usually happens but there are also cases where it goes to the hips. Remember, everyone is different. Some people will secret far less cortisol and they won’t overeat, quite the contrary and as a result, lose weight. 

Is stress weight gain real? 

The relationship between stress and weight gain has been confirmed in several studies. A stress and weight gain study, from 2015, done at the Ohio State University (you can find it here) discovered that a link between mental stress and weight gain does exist. 

What the researchers did was to ask a group of women about the things that stressed them the day before after which they gave the women a meal high in calories which was also high in fat. Their blood sugar, insulin and cortisol levels and triglycerides were then measured. The results are as follows:

The women that had talked about 1 or more stressors, burned about 104 fewer calories than the women that had no stress factors at all. Plus the stressed women had bigger levels of insulin which will lead to their bodies storing fat at a greater rate and more than this, their bodies had less fat oxidation resulting in them burning less fat. So, their bodies actually stored more fat. What does this mean in numbers? 104 calories added each day will lead to an 11 pound a year gain in weight.  

Good to know

There is a relationship between stress and weight gain without overeating. Even if you are not eating more food than you usually do, when you are under a lot of stress, over an extended period of time, this may cause you to gain weight. 

There is a strong connection between emotional stress and weight gain. In general, the stressed out you are the more you’re inclined to eat to try and “fix” your stress and you’ll gain weight as a result. 

We recommend meditation for lowering stress. It is the best way to both lower it and become stronger next time stressful matters hit you. Also try yoga. We also recommend you talk to a professional about the thoughts that are stressing you out. You may realize that there are things you haven’t acknowledged that are keeping your depressed and a professional can help you. 

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Did you know that whenever you’re doing a weight loss diet, regime or program, you should also do stress management? And one of the best methods when it comes to stress and weight gain around the middle is to exercise regularly (daily). Why? Because exercise is known to help release endorphins that fight stress and lower cortisol levels. Try going for a jog, do tabata or HIIT, do some pushups, running, etc. Do something to get your body moving.  

Long term stress and weight gain are linked together so make sure you keep calm and have ways to alleviate stress as soon as it hits. 

How Do You Lose Stress Weight And Counteract Stress So You Don’T Gain Pounds Anymore?

How To Reduce Stress And Weight Gain

  1. Make sure you pay attention to what you eat, when you eat and how often you eat. You should always try to focus on eating good, healthy food and avoid fast food and food that is very fat and unhealthy. Make sure that when you’re eating you aren’t mindlessly watching TV or browsing your phone because that will keep your attention focused on the screen and you won’t realize how much you’re eating. Have scheduled meals (as much as your schedule allows it) and eat at those times. Avoid eating or snacking in between meals. Make sure you don’t go overboard with this – eat as much as you need and no more than that. 
  1. Get enough sleep. When you’re stressed, you tend to sleep less than normal. Try to take naps, sleep when you can, make your sleeping room as comfortable as possible, relax your mind before sleep with good music, reading a book, watching a comedy, etc. Just do your best to unwind and relax your mind before sleep so you do get enough sleep and have a restful night. Sleeping less than you need will lead to unhealthy eating habits. 
  1. Exercise daily. Find the best type of exercise for your body. Some people swear by Tabata, others like HIIT, others need to do a certain number of reps and that’s it. Try different types of exercises (Youtube is filled with videos) and see which one works better for you. And do it daily. Exercise will help you eat healthier, drink more water, be less stressed and you’ll lose weight. 
  1. Keep a journal and a food journal. You can also have a journal where you write down what you eat and when. The more you keep track of your feelings, the food you eat and when, the more you’ll see a connection between the two and be inclined to do something about it. The more you keep it in your sight, the more likely you are to improve your behavior, be calmer, eat healthier. You can write down in a food diary or use an app, just do what feels natural to you. 
  1. Try meditation or yoga. Or both. You can start with guided meditation where you will be instructed step by step on what to do. You will learn to breathe and pay attention to your breathing until you reach a state of relaxation. Keep staying in that state as long as you can and when your thoughts take you out, slowly return focusing on your breathing and relax once more. Daily meditation will alleviate stress and strengthen your mind, allowing it to react better when it’s stressed. 

Conclusion: Stress And Weight Gain Can Be Prevented And Dealt With 

Stress and depression cause weight gain. That has been demonstrated by studies. The more stressed we are, the more fat our bodies store in anticipation of a crisis (food crisis, etc). By trying to counteract stress and knowing how to react when it hits us, we will diminish its impact. In time and with practice (by using the solutions we outlined above) you can become mentally stronger and stress will not bother you as much. We all get stressed daily. The questions: how do we react to it? What do we do when stress finds us?  


Can stress cause weight gain without eating more?

Yes, because of the increase in insulin which leads to more fat being stored by the body. 

What stress hormone causes weight gain?

Cortisol also known as the “stress hormone”. 

Can stress cause weight gain and missed period?

Yes. Please see this article for more details

Can stress cause hair loss?

Yes. Please read this for more info.

Stress and weight gain is a serious problem. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact a professional about this. They will help create a personalized plan for you to follow and win the battle against stress.

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