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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?

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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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