Stress And Weight Gain- How Cortisol Can Affect Weight

cortisol and weight gain

Can Stress Cause Weight To Fluctuate?  

Stress can affect both the body and the mind in many ways; one of which is the fluctuation of weight. Sufferers of stress can often see an unexpected increase or decrease in body mass, often as a result of hormonal imbalances.  

There is a direct correlation between the hormone cortisol and weight gain/loss. This is because of cortisols effect on the bodies automatic mechanisms, including metabolism.   

What Is Cortisol.

Cortisol is your bodies "fight or flight" hormone; it is released into the blood in moments of danger or high stress as a way to prime the body to protect itself. cortisol does this by suppressing bodily functions such as the reproductive system, immune system, and metabolism; to ensure that available energy is put to work in the right places. You don't need to be wasting energy on digesting food when your being chased by a bear.

In modern times it's highly unlikely that you will find yourself in such a life or death situation, but the mechanism of the fight or flight response remains the same.          

Experiencing stress triggers this response (whether we want it to or not), overtime this results in a depletion of cortisol levels. Low cortisol levels and weight gain are directly linked. 

Why Low Cortisol Levels Can Cause Weight Gain.  

Low cortisol and weight gain are both a product of ongoing stress. The Reason why cortisol causes weight gain is due to a number of reasons.

  1. Cortisol has an effect on insulin sensitivity. High levels of cortisol increases insulin sensitivity, whereas low levels of the hormone does the opposite, increasing insulin resistance. Having a Resistance to insulin is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
  2. Cortisol stimulates the metabolism of fat and carbohydrates. If the metabolism is not able to efficiently metabolise fat and carbs, they will, in turn, be stored as fat. Increases in body fat is known to decrease testosterone levels, which leads to reduced muscle mass. Low muscle mass diminishes the basal metabolic rate, which also leads to an increase in weight gain.
  3. Cortisol causes cravings. Because cortisol causes the body to unnecessarily store calories as fat, the body is left with the feeling of being 'without'. Due to this feeling, the body craves high-calorie food to fill the gap. High-calorie foods dense with refined sugar and unhealthy fats will lead to weight gain when consumed in excess in relation to activity levels.   

low cortisol levels and weight gain

Can stress and anxiety cause weight loss?  

Can stress and worry cause weight loss? is a question that many sufferers ask. Any level of stress can put the mind and body under tension that can lead to changes in eating habits and body composition. Stress and anxiety can lead to both weight gain and weight loss; it all depends on how the issues are dealt with by the individual. 

Stress-induced eating habits:

Emotional eating - Eating certain foods in an attempt to relieve stress is often referred too as emotional eating. When someone is feeling stressed they can be encouraged to reach for unhealthy, high-calorie foods. This can because their minds are so full of other worries; that eating healthy seems insignificant.  

Emotional eating can also see sufferers only wanting to consume plain foods, in small quantities. Stress and depression frequently come as a pair; when experiencing both, limited enjoyment is found in food and as a result, only the bare minimum is consumed, leading to rapid weight loss.  

Lazy eating - Lack of motivation is something that a lot of stress sufferers experience. Not go to work, avoiding social situations and eating lazy are common symptoms of stress. Eating lazy is when you eat whatever is easiest, making food choices on how convenient they are, instead of how nutritious they are. This can see an increase in microwave meals, takeaways and fast food, all of which are high in calories and can lead to weight gain.  

Skipping meals - Stress can fill your mind with racing thoughts, constant problems and mental tension. When stressed it can be easy to be distracted from normal routine and to miss meals. Missing or choosing to skip meals is not a healthy practice, and can lead to unwanted weight loss and in some cases develop into an eating disorder.  

Overeating - Everyone responds to stress in different ways, some may find that their appetite is suppressed, others may find that they can't get enough. Overeating is a common symptom in those suffering from stress. Food is naturally comforting for most, and many people find happiness in eating delicious food. Eating can be an easy escape from stresses of everyday life, even if it is only for few mouth fulls. 

Overeating as a result of stress can send someone on a downward spiral of weight gain; increasing in momentum over time.  

Managing Stress And Weight Gain.  

If stress is causing weight gain the best thing to do is:

  • Focus on reducing stress.
  • Put into practice healthy eating habits.
  • Commit to regular exercise.  

can stress and anxiety cause weight loss

3 steps to reduce stress and manage your weight.  

  1. Mindfulness

Practising mindfulness is the process of centring your mind on the present moment, reducing thoughts of anxiety and stress. Meditation is the most common form of mindfulness but there are mind other ways that you can implement mindfulness into your life. Yoga, deep breathing and mindfulness walking; are all excellent examples of mindful practices.  

  1. Achieve ample amounts of quality sleep.

Sleep is incredibly important to overall health and wellbeing, and must never be overlooked. Receiving between 7-9 hours of good quality sleep can result in a notable reduction in stress levels.

If you struggle with falling asleep or getting enough sleep, try curating a sleep routine. A sleep routine can be seen as a bedtime ritual, in which you do the same process every night before bed. This can involve having a hot bath, reading a book, making a conscious effort to wind down and turning off all screens. By doing this regularly you will teach your mind and body that bedtime is sleep time, not stay up and stress time.  

  1. Focus on your health.  

When stress has such a detrimental effect on your health, it comes at no surprise that focusing on your well being is an excellent way to counteract it. Putting your health and well-being at the top of your priority list can really put things into perspective.

Plan your diet around healthy, well-balanced and nutritionally dense meals; and commit to exercising regularly and keeping active.

Those who maintain a healthy diet and follow an active lifestyle often report lower levels of stress than those who don't. Following such a lifestyle is hands down the best way to directly maintain a healthy weight.