Beating the Stress and Weight Gain Connection

stressed-out-woman, photo by Cultura/Sporrer/Rupp (getty images)Have you ever noticed that you seem to gain the most weight when you are under considerable amounts of stress? How would you like to put an end to that and no longer have to deal with this pesky weight gain thing? The human body is an amazing machine and doesn’t put extra curves on your midsection to annoy you but to defend itself. When a variety of stressors begin to invade your life, your brain will activate your “fight or flight” stress response system to begin a chemical and hormonal chain of events that will place your body in defense mode. Several chemicals increase heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and hinder body fluid regulation in preparation to weather this storm.  Ample amounts of stress will lower your immune system, create chronic muscle tension, and impair overall productivity from a lack of quality sleep and body repair.  These responses alone are reason enough to take a minute of Zen every day, but we will now come to focus on the response stress has on your waist line.  This barrage of defense will also slow your metabolism, reduce nutrient absorption, and trigger chemical cravings for comfort foods that are often high in carbohydrates. It also raises cortisol levels, creating the perfect whirlwind of weight gain. The fight or flight response system was designed for short bursts when the everyday caveman needed to outrun the local saber tooth tiger. In modern times, the average person can hold stress easily for weeks on end, resulting in significant physical and emotional complications. Avoiding stress in this age is easier said than done, but managing stress for short periods of time is definitely a viable option.

So what is this cortisol everyone keeps talking about? Cortisol is an important hormone secreted by your adrenal glands that maintains blood sugar metabolism, blood pressure, insulin release, immune function, and inflammatory response. In short bursts cortisol is actually very good as it gives a burst of energy, heightens memory, and lowers pain sensitivity. The problems most associate cortisol with stem from chronic stress, keeping this hormone’s levels up. Prolonged cortisol levels decrease bone density, suppress thyroid function, impair mental clarity, decrease muscle tissue, raise blood pressure, lower your immune system, and increase abdominal fat. This special abdominal fat is called “omentum” fat and is the bad kind below the muscle that wraps around your organs and causes so many health complications. The hormonal response to stress places your body in a self defense, preservation mode in which you store more body fat for protection. Your body is not trying to hurt your ego but prepare itself for hard times. However, if you convey to your body through relaxation methods that you are in a good place, you can forgo all these defense mechanisms and enjoy a significantly healthier, slimmer body.

Stress Management Solutions:

  • Physical Activity – Activity does not need to be exercise in a gym but can translate into a night of dancing, a bike ride on a winding trail, or swimming at the beach. Physical activity releases powerful “good” hormones that combat toxic levels of stress chemicals and restores your balance. The movement literally helps physically circulate rich, healing oxygen into your system and detoxify your body. Just make sure your activity is enjoyable as exercise can be a stressor itself to some and salvation for others.

  • A couple being intimate - Photo by Laurie and Charles (Getty Images)Sex – I am sure I don’t need to convince you on this option, but you should definitely take up more healthy sex during times of high stress. There are countless positives on a mental, physical, and spiritual level to enjoy sex during periods of stress, though many have less sex due to the anxiety. Clear your mind for enough room to enjoy your partner, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the stress reducing powers of sex.

  • Massage – Massage is also a very effective method of relieving stress, increasing weight loss, aiding in body contouring, physical/hormonal balance, and infinitely more. Massage physically detoxifies the body and mind while placing you in a relaxing mental state that prepares you to take on your world.  To read more about the benefits you can visit:


  • Yoga/Tai Chi/Pilates/Meditation – You have heard time and time again that these choices are great for relaxation, and it’s true. Yoga-like exercise or activities focus immensely on breathing, which fills your body with richer amounts of oxygenated blood that can more efficiently clean out all those toxic levels of stress hormones. It helps clear your mind to allow it to focus on your body so that it can best heal you and regulate hormone levels.

  • Journaling – Sometimes you just need to vent; and when there is no one to share with, writing it all down can be just as therapeutic as talking. While journaling, take the time to identify what is triggering your stress and stop to think of what you could do to either prevent the stressor or at the very least prevent it from taking over your life. Be lHealthy Food (Getty Images)ess reactive and more proactive, as having control of your circumstance alone will reduce an immense amount of stress.
  • Laughing – Distract yourself with laughter, and stress just melts. Find the friends that keep you smiling, that favorite movie.  Head to a comedy club, play with a child you like to be around or anything else that makes you smile, and surround yourself with laughter. Laughter and happiness cause a cascade of powerful good chemicals that wash away all the stress chemicals and actually help you lose weight faster!

  • Eat, Drink and be Merry! – Many go to food for comfort, but the problem lies in the food choices and heavy caloric quantity. If you are a food lover who needs comfort food, aim for better foods and higher fiber, combined with just a taste of the bad stuff. Your taste buds simply crave flavors so you can take a taste-sized portion of your favorite food and follow it up with a healthy salad to provide the low calorie feeling of being full. Drink lots of water to help scratch the hunger itch or supplement your diet with teas or herbal remedies that curb cravings as well. Just a few drops of passion flower extract have been known to do wonders in combating anxiety and stress. Food does not need to be a stressor or negative outlet when good food is meant to heal.


Ebrecht M, Hextall J, Kirtley LG, Taylor A, Dyson M, Weinman J. Perceived Stress and Cortisol Levels Predict Speed of Wound Healing in Healthy Male Adults. Psychoneuroendocrinology. July 2004.

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