Why Stress Causes Weight Gain or Weight Loss

Which food do you crave when under stress?

If you're under stress, it's not your fault that you don't want carrot sticks and celery.
If you're under stress, it's not your fault that you don't want carrot sticks and celery. | Source
Stress hormones can cause you to crave high calorie sweets and fatty snacks!
Stress hormones can cause you to crave high calorie sweets and fatty snacks! | Source

Stress causes weight loss in some people

For most people, stress leads to a greater chance of obesity, but stress can also cause some people to lose weight. The same hormones that are produced in the flight or fight response can cause digestive problems, stomach aches, diarrhea and a reduced desire for food.

Chronic stress can cause anxiety and depression that results in a decreased interest in food as well as a change in the way food is experienced. When one does not enjoy food, less food is consumed, resulting in weight loss.

Some dieters may now be thinking, “Hey, that sounds like a benefit to stress”, but considered realistically, rapid weight loss for any reason is almost always followed by rapid weight gain. When stress causes weight loss, it is unhealthy and can be a symptom of other, more serious health problems.

Stress and Dieting

Dieters contend with many obstacles when trying to lose weight. If one of those obstacles is stress, it can have a significant impact on your diet. Although some short periods of stress can have positive effects, like increased strength and concentration, prolonged stress can have many negative effects on your body putting it at risk for exhaustion and disease.

One of the most common side effects of stress is the impact on your digestion and weight. There are several valid physiological reasons why dieters find it difficult to lose weight while under stress.

Stress Produces Adrenaline and the Stress Hormone, Cortisol

When under stress, the body releases adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol. Adrenaline will raise heart rate, blood pressure and boost energy preparing for the "flight or fight" response.

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and belongs to a category of hormones called “Glucocorticoids”. Cortisol is produced during the “flight or fight” response, and pumps glucose into your tissues and blood stream to provide increased energy to the body. It changes the immune system response and can restrain the reproductive and digestive systems.

Cortisol will make the body crave fats and carbohydrates. Satisfying these cravings will lead to weight gain. Long term stress can lead to over-production of cortisol which is linked to storing fat in your abdomen around internal organs and in your torso. During stress, nutrient absorption is decreased and there can be increased sensitivity to foods. Blood flow to the abdomen is decreased thereby decreasing metabolism. All of these factors make dieting difficult during stressful times.

How Stress Affects Digestion and Weight - Video

Tips for Managing Stress

It does seem that there are more reasons why stress would contribute to weight gain than weight loss. If you are one of the many people who are trying to diet under stress, then you will find these tips on stress management helpful.

  • Make time for exercise! Exercise will not only help control your weight, but it can improve your mood!
  • Do yoga, deep breathing exercises or meditation to help relax.
  • Get enough sleep, but not too much!.
  • If stress is avoidable, avoid it! Stay away from people who create stress, avoid rush hour traffic, delegate some of your workload.
  • Say "NO" to too many commitments.
  • Manage time effectively.
  • Prepare healthy meals.
  • Do things you enjoy. Call a friend, walk in a garden, read a good book, go to a movie.
  • Laugh! Read a funny story or watch a comedy. Share some jokes with friends.


Stress - A double whammy for dieters

Emotional stress often makes people to turn to “comfort foods.” The cravings for carbs and fats caused by increased cortisol in the system can lead to an indulgence in foods that are high in fat, high in calories and high in carbs. Foods like pastries, desserts, chips, macaroni and cheese, or other high calorie foods reminiscent of happier times may be eaten in an effort to comfort oneself in times of stress. It is a dual fight for dieters to have to battle their desire for foods that make them feel better as well as foods that their bodies are craving.

Stress can cause a dieter to just give up dieting

Dieting itself is sometimes stressful, and the dieter may find any additional stress just too much to handle. It is easy at this point to become depressed and give up the diet completely, especially if one has given in to cravings for high calorie foods and blown the diet. Using stress management techniques along with exercise and sensible eating will help keep a dieter on track.

Stress and Your Desire for Food

How do you handle stress?

  • I can't eat when I'm under stress. Stress makes me lose my appetite
  • When I'm stressed, I crave comfort foods.
  • Give me a chocolate when I'm under stress.
  • Stress doesn't affect my desire for food.
  • I can't diet when I'm under stress.
See results without voting

Stress may activate the "Comfort Eating Gene"

As if it weren’t enough that stress produces cortisol which seems to increase desire for high calorie foods, scientists in Great Brittan have now discovered that stress activates a gene that affects the metabolism and increases our cravings for sweet, fatty foods. Nicknamed “the comfort eating gene”, the newly discovered gene produces a protein called Ucn3 in times of stress. This protein is produced in the brain and has the effect of increasing appetite and making us feel less full. It also impacts the way that the body uses insulin and can trigger a desire for sugary and fatty foods.

How does stress affect your eating?

How does stress affect your eating? When you are under stress, do you lose your appetite or have digestive problems? Does stress make you lose weight?

Or are you among the people who crave comfort foods when under stress. Does stress make it harder for you to maintain your weight? Are you likely to gain weight when under stress?

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Copyright ©2012 Stephanie Henkel


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Comments 34 comments

thumbi7 profile image

thumbi7 4 years ago from India

This is a very informative hub and written scientifically.

Thanks for SHARING


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 4 years ago from Illinois

Stephanie - Thank you so much for this thorough answer to my question. I know I have definitely lost weight from stress only to gain it back as you described. I know sometimes stress is unavoidable, so I like your tip to add exercise to combat stress and help with weight loss. I have been making an effort to do that more and more. Thanks again!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Thumbi7 - I'm glad that you found this hub useful and informative! Thanks so much for visiting and sharing!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Ktrapp - Thanks so much for your great question! I enjoyed doing some research on the relationship between stress and weight loss or gain, and I'm glad you found the hub informative. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and aid dieting. Good luck with your program!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Stephanie,

It is hard to stick to a diet when one is under stress. Generally that is the last thing one wishes to think about during those times. Your tips to combat stress are good ones. Voted useful, interesting and up.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Hi Peggy W,

It usually takes a lot of will power to stick to a diet, and the physical effect of stress make it even harder. Hopefully, learning to manage stress will also make dieting easier for those who are watching their weight. Thanks for your comments and votes!


Robin profile image

Robin 4 years ago from San Francisco

It is interesting how different personalities deal with stress. For me, exercising is the key. If I'm under stress and don't exercise I can really feel the difference. Thanks for the information!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Hi Robin,

It is surprising that stress can have two opposite effects on two different people. I know that exercise is a great stress reliever for some people. Thanks for stopping in to comment!


littlethespians profile image

littlethespians 4 years ago from Farmville, Virginia

Nice Stephanie. Stress causes weight loss for me, as I just lose my appetite and have no desire to eat. I also live in a constant state of stress, so I don't eat all that much anyway.

When things are running well, I do, I eat more.

It's very related. Luckily I don't have a weight issue and can gain and lose without causing much harm.

Nice hub.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Littlethespians - Stress seems to affect each of us differently. Whether stress causes you to lose weight or to gain weight, it can still be a problem. Lucky for you that you don't have weight issues! Thanks for your comments!


Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 4 years ago from South Carolina

Great article. I particularly loved the "Tips For Managing Stress" sidebar.

I definitely have an increased appetite when under stress.

Voted up, useful and interesting.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Happyboomernurse - I'm also one of those people who craves sweets, especially chocolate, when under stress. I'm glad you liked the tips for managing stress--some of these have worked well for me. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment!


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

I had some idea about the connection of stress and weight loss, but did not know the exact reasons. Thanks for sharing your expertise.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Vinaya Ghimire - I think we all instinctively know that stress causes us to either lose our appetites or to lose our willpower to resist certain kinds of foods, but it is helpful to know there are physiological reasons for why stress causes weight gain or weight loss that are beyond our control. Thanks for stopping in to read and comment!


Carmen H profile image

Carmen H 4 years ago

A very informative and well-explained hub. Nice to find out about the 'comfort eating gene.' Guess saying 'no' to too many commitments is the advice for me. Voted up and useful.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Carmen H - I think that taking on too much is a great source of stress for many of us. It's not easy to say no when you think that you are really needed, but we do have to take care of ourselves, too. Thanks for stopping by to comment!


Eliminate Cancer profile image

Eliminate Cancer 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Another great hub!! Stress is SO bad - not just for weight issues, but it's linked to all sorts of disease because it depresses your immune system.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Eliminate Cancer - That's true, and taking measures to reduce stress is your life is so important to your health and general well-being. Thanks for your input!


kelleyward 4 years ago

great hub! I don't eat when I'm stress but I know stress can be very detrimental. I have type 1 diabetes and stress is reflected in my blood sugar levels. Sharing this hub!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

GREAT article Stephanie! I can so relate. Just give me chocolate and I'm good to go. Most of the time. Exercise is so beneficial to help reduce stress. I've been doing a LOT of yard work lately which also helps. Between you and me I'd rather just kick stress to the curb!:)


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Kellyward - Stress can have so many detrimental physical effects that it's not surprising that it can affect your blood sugar levels. It sounds like stress management is doubly important for you. Thanks for your comment and for sharing!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Hi Sunshine - Chocolate is one way I deal with stress, too. But, like coffee, I wouldn't give it up! You certainly have chosen a great way to combat stress - gardening not only gives you exercise, but you get fresh air, sunshine and the opportunity to enjoy nature. It's a great activity for the stressed out person. Thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment!


LaThing profile image

LaThing 4 years ago from From a World Within, USA

Very interesting! I definitely lose weight under stress! Haven't noticed my weight gain right after. Maybe, over a time period. Thanks for the info. It helps to know what to do when under stress.

Useful, and interesting!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

LaThing - I'm glad you found my article on why stress causes weight gain and loss useful and interesting. Thanks for stopping by to comment!


Pilot1 4 years ago

Stress is implicated in many of today's illness - not just eating issues. Years ago we ran away or fought the danger that was causing the stress - now we can't but it is still there.Not too many people would lack food in the western world but amny of them would be under ongoing low level of stress. Eat well and exercise

http://anxietyandpanichelp.net/articles/anxiety-an...


Olde Cashmere profile image

Olde Cashmere 4 years ago from Michigan, United States

This hub is rich with informative tips on handling stress in a more productive way. I sometimes let stress beat me up and these pointers will come in handy. Thank you for going over the various ways it can affect us. Wonderful writing Stephanie. Voted up, useful, interesting, and awesome :)


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Olde Cashmere - I'm so glad that you found some useful information in my hub. Thanks so much for your very nice comment and the Up votes!


talfonso profile image

talfonso 4 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

So. Flutin'. True.

I for one am facing a high-stress situation - caring for a dying relative. But I found so many things to reduce stress and still lose weight healthfully.

For instance, I don't just exercise. I added Oxycise! to my workout plan and the deep breathing really calms my nerves (and helped me lose nearly 3 inches in 2 weeks)! I also meditate and that keeps my mind off eating sweets or chips in this trying time.

Thanks for taking the time to write this. It's my reference article to ward off caregiver burnout and weight gain.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Talfonso - Being a caregiver can be supremely stressful. I'm so glad you found some useful stress management tips in my article and that you also have some of your own that work for you. Thanks so much for stopping by to read. I appreciate your comments and wish you well in this difficult time.


Neinahpets profile image

Neinahpets 3 years ago from Greater Toronto Area, Canada

Wow, I didn't know that stress would hinder my dieting. That's probably why I've not been able to maintain good diets while I get stressed out... thanks for sharing this insightful information! Definite vote up!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Neinahpets - It's good that you are now aware of the effects of stress on your diet so that you can find ways to relieve stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle. I'm so glad you found this article useful. Thanks for stopping in to comment!


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Stephanie

This is information that I know but I do not think about consciously as I should. As with most families, I have my share of stress and over the years unwanted weight has been the result of said stress. I am working to rid myself of it.

I am bookmarking this to come back to remind myself to think about these things.

Voted up++++

Sending you Angels this evening. :) ps


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

pstrauble48 - Stress in our lives affect our well-being and health in so many ways, but we can do some things to relieve stress. Good for you that you are aware of your stress points and that you are working to relive it. I'm glad you found this article useful. Thanks so much for stopping in to comment!


Chriswillman90 profile image

Chriswillman90 17 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

Very informative hub. Stress is terrifying and it does so much harm to your body but we all go through it. The best thing to do is try to relax and manage it as best as possible. We don't want it to start affecting our eating habits because it'll only make us more stressful within a negative feedback cycle.

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