Stress And Weight Gain – The Effects Of Cortisol

stress and weight gain

How Stress Sabotages Weight Loss Efforts

Today stress symptoms are higher than they’ve ever been in human history. The unfortunate reality is that our bodies respond to traffic jams and late work assignments, in the same way, they would react to being chased by a lion as our ancestors once were. 

Our daily routines are causing all the side effects of stress in our bodies and this includes the sabotage of your weight loss efforts. We can say that there is a direct relationship between stress and weight gain. How is stress sabotaging your weight loss effort?

The Body’s Response to Stress

When stress is triggered, the body releases hormones that have different effects. The primary stress response hormones are epinephrine and cortisol. The stress response is commonly referred to as the fight or flight response.

Flight or fight response

During this phase of the stress response, people experience increased heart rate, increased respiration, and a slowing of the digestive tract company with a release of glucose and fats into the bloodstream. The body also releases cortisol during the stress.

How Stress Causes Weight Gain

When cortisol dumps fat and glucose in the bloodstream, it’s designed to help you have access to quick energy when outrunning a lion. Unfortunately, there aren’t many lions in our current environment only traffic jams and demanding bosses. 

So now, instead of expending all of the energy that cortisol pumped into your bloodstream, you have extra the nutrients, glucose and fat just sitting around. Not only does cortisol have the ability to release nutrients into the bloodstream but it also stops the digestive process.

Now you can see here that the connection between stress and weight gain is the cortisol produced by your body in times of stress.

What does that mean for weight loss?

  • Insulin – the glucose uptake that typically happens with insulin stops, so you’re going to see a rise in insulin levels. 
  • Cortisol also inhibits the muscle’s ability to take in amino acids, which can lead to fatigue because the muscles are not being properly fed
  • Finally, cortisol partially shuts down the body’s immune system because when you’re running away from the bear, you don’t need to be fighting off the common cold. This means that chronically stressed people are more prone to illness.

So what does this have to do with weight loss?

When the body responds to stress all of the normal hormonal processes change, so now instead of handling food, feeding muscles, fighting illness, and using fat, your body is doing the exact opposite. Getting sick, losing muscle, storing food, and storing fat. 

Increased hunger

The increased appetite that’s often associated with stress becomes more problematic when stress shuts down and alters the body’s ability to process food. Fat becomes more easily stored and less used for energy.

These changes happen in the body because of the excess glucose. When you are consuming more calories, and burning less of them, you’re going to store more fat.

Easy energy 

Excess blood sugar happens during the stress response, and the body will always use glucose first. The process to convert glucose to energy is simple. Our bodies are nothing if not efficient. Stress provides a constant source of glucose.

The rapid source of energy stops your body from using fat stores. Your metabolism is lazy. It will always pick the power supply (glucose, amino acids, and triglycerides) that is easiest to process (glucose).

How Can I Stop the Stress Sabotage?

Fortunately, the case for stress sabotaging weight loss is not hopeless. There are plenty of things that you can do to reduce your body’s response to stress.


Exercise helps lower the body’s response to stress. It is a wonderful way to get the right hormones in surplus within the body. Without exercise, many people would live in a chronic stressed out state.


It has been shown that individuals who pray regularly and/or meditate regularly are better able to handle what life hands them. 

Meditation and prayer have a calming effect that is seen well after the actual prayer and meditation stop. 

Deep Breathing

When traffic hits or your boss goes berserk, stop and take a few long, deep breaths. This interrupts the stress response by slowing your respirations. Not allowing your heart rate to accelerate. 

People who exercise, meditate, pray, and practice deep breathing all have statistically lower body weights. 

Can this be because of their ability to handle stress better? 

How do you combat daily stress?