ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Why Stress Causes Weight Gain or Weight Loss

Updated on June 27, 2013

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?

See results

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?


Copyright ©2012 Stephanie Henkel


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 

      5 years 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.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      8 years ago from USA

      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!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      8 years ago from North Central Florida


      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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      8 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Neinahpets profile image


      8 years ago from 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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      8 years ago from USA

      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.

    • talfonso profile image


      8 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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      8 years ago from USA

      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!

    • profile image

      Olde Cashmere 

      8 years ago

      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 :)

    • profile image


      9 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

    • Stephanie Henkel profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • LaThing profile image


      9 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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      9 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!:)

    • profile image


      9 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!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Eliminate Cancer profile image

      Eliminate Cancer 

      9 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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Carmen H profile image

      Carmen Beth 

      9 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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      9 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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      9 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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • littlethespians profile image


      9 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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 

      9 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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      9 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 imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

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

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 

      9 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!

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 

      9 years ago from India

      This is a very informative hub and written scientifically.

      Thanks for SHARING


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)