June 08, 2022

Stress and Weight Gain: The True Story

The Qilo Team avatar
The Qilo Team
Dr. Bosah Chike avatar
Medically reviewed BY
Dr. Bosah Chike
Weight Loss
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It seems like everywhere you look these days, there's another article about how stress is killing us. While this is true, I want to give you the true and entire story of how stress affects our weight and physical health, and also a little bit about why stress does what it does. So pop up your feet, pour yourself a glass of wine (or whatever you're into), and let me help you get a better understanding of how your body works when under duress!

What is stress?

Stress can be a normal part of life. It's what your body does when it perceives a threat, and the response is meant to help you deal with that threat. The problem is that stress isn't just a feeling: it's also a biological phenomenon, and sometimes it can lead to an unhealthy response.

This is why stress needs to be managed properly—understandably, we want to reduce our anxiety levels as much as possible; however, too much stress can lead to weight gain over time! But is that statement really true? Does stress truly cause weight gain? Let's learn more about this.

How does stress cause weight gain?

Stress and weight gain are common problems, and the two have a cause-and-effect relationship that leads to weight gain. I'll explain.

Primarily, stress causes weight gain because how it disrupts the body's metabolism, and also makes you crave sugar and carbohydrates. When under stress, the body produces the hormone cortisol to help deal with the situation at hand. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that help us deal with stressful situations. It increases blood sugar and suppresses the immune system, which can lead to illness and weight gain. It tells us to eat more food than usual by increasing appetite, increasing cravings for carbs, and increasing fat storage around the middle section.

Furthermore, it becomes more difficult to sleep well at night—a lack of sleep causes your body's metabolism rate to slow down, making it harder for you to lose weight or maintain your current weight.

Also, stress can cause you to eat more. You may think that skipping meals will help with weight loss goals, but this isn't always true! Skipping meals leads your body into "starvation mode", where it goes into high gear by storing calories as fat instead of burning them off (also known as ketosis). In addition to causing unnecessary stress on our bodies, starvation modes encourage us not only to seek out high-calorie foods but also to consume larger portions at dinner time—which may lead us straight back into obesity before we know what hit us! So try not skipping meals altogether; instead, opt for low-energy-dense foods such as fruits with high water content (like watermelon) rather than high carbohydrate snacks like potato chips which won’t fill up on their own without any nutrients being consumed alongside them."

Another very important but often neglected angle is this; stress makes us tired and when tired, we tend not to exercise. Exercising less than usual because of stress especially when we're talking about healthy activities, can lead to weight gain.

Stress hormones and weight gain

The stress hormone cortisol is released by the adrenal gland in response to stress. Cortisol has many roles in your body, including increasing blood sugar and fat storage, preparing muscles for fight or flight, suppressing the immune system, and raising blood pressure. It’s helpful if you are suddenly chased by a bear while out on a jog—but it can also be detrimental when you're sitting at home watching Netflix.

The main problem with cortisol release is that most people don't challenge themselves enough to trigger the fight-or-flight response regularly—so their bodies never get to use it down again.

What does this mean for weight gain? Well, when we're stressed (which often happens during work hours), cortisol levels spike and stay high for longer than they should be. And because cortisol increases appetite and cravings for high-calorie foods (like sweets!), this rise can lead directly to weight gain over time.

Stress and Weight Gain Without Overeating

While stress is a well-known trigger for stress eating, binge eating and comfort eating, it's also been shown to cause people who don't normally overeat to do so when under pressure. But aside from this, weight gain can also happen without overeating when stressed.

As explained earlier, one of the roles of the hormone cortisol is to increase fat storage in the body during periods of stress (especially along the middle section of the body). Without enough physical activities, instead of the body using up this "emergency" fat storage, it stores it, and this leads to increased body weight.

Can anxiety and stress cause weight loss?

The honest answer is: Yes, anxiety can cause either weight loss or weight gain. But it's not always straightforward.

For example, if you have an anxiety disorder and are consuming far fewer calories than you need, then yes—anxiety can cause weight loss. In fact, this is one of the most common symptoms of an eating disorder or disordered eating (when people try to restrict how much they eat to lose weight).

And if you're already underweight or overweight and then become stressed about your appearance or body image? That can certainly trigger some serious overeating habits that lead to weight gain. But it doesn't mean these habits will set in just because of stress alone! It mostly depends on how strong your natural tendencies are towards healthy eating habits versus unhealthy ones (and whether those tendencies were there before the stress started).

How to manage your stress levels and lose weight

Stress can be an overwhelming and debilitating experience. The best way to combat the effects of stress on your body is to find methods that help you de-stress regularly. These healthy habits will not only reduce the amount of stress in your life but also make it easier for you to lose weight and keep it off.

There are many ways to manage your stress levels, but here are some of my favorite techniques:


A regular exercise routine helps boost serotonin levels in our brains, which makes us feel happier and more relaxed even if we’re going through tough times in other areas of our lives (like getting stressed out about work). Plus, it gives us something positive to focus on instead of negative thoughts! Just remember that intensity matters when trying new exercises; so don’t worry too much about what kind of workout plan works best—just pick something fun! For example: if running around outside isn't doing anything for you at this point then maybe try cycling instead? Or maybe go swimming instead? Just remember that intensity matters when trying new exercises; so don't worry too much about what kind

Exercise can help counteract the effects of stress and cortisol.

  • Exercise can help you manage stress
  • Exercise can help you sleep better
  • Exercise can help you feel more energized
  • Exercise can help you manage your weight
  • Exercise can help you manage your mood
Get enough sleep

Because lack of sleep is a major contributory factor to increased stress levels, try going to bed earlier and setting an alarm so that you wake up earlier than usual, giving yourself some extra time before work or school begins to prepare at your pace, and do everything you need to do without stressing out.

Take a break

This is the easiest and most effective thing you can do to relieve stress. Just take a break from whatever is causing it and do something else for a little while. If you're working on something, step away from your desk or computer for five or 10 minutes and go get some fresh air, go get coffee—just give yourself some time away from the situation. This will help bring down your stress level and give you a chance to think about things in more objective terms when you return to the task at hand.

Take a deep breath

This might sound overly simple, but taking deep breaths actually does work (and it's free). The act of breathing deeply helps oxygenate your body by bringing more oxygen into your lungs as well as reducing certain hormones that cause stress (like cortisol). A study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that participants who practiced diaphragmatic breathing had lower blood pressure levels than those who didn't practice diaphragmatic breathing after putting their minds through stressful situations like public speaking or mental arithmetic tasks.

Eat well

When you're stressed out, it can be tempting to reach for comfort foods like ice cream or cookies, but these foods are often high in sugar and fat which will only make things worse! Instead, try eating smaller portions of healthier foods like fruits and veggies to help keep your blood sugar even so it doesn't spike when you're stressed out (and then crash afterward).


Let's face it, stress is a part of life, most of us experience stress daily, and that doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon. But you can learn how to manage your stressors if they get out of hand. From drinking more water to exercising and even getting a massage, many ways will help you cope with stressful situations without gaining weight as a result.

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