5 Ways Stress Makes You Gain Fat

stress makes you gain fat

Sometimes eating right and exercising just doesn’t seem to provide results for people looking to lose weight. When this happens, it can be extremely frustrating knowing you’re putting in all this effort but not seeing the benefits. This process itself can become very stressful, and for many, exercising and dieting just becomes an extra stress. Add that to the average stress levels from work, family, bills and everything else and we see a pattern occurring. Unfortunately, it may be this very stress that is contributing to your weight gain and exercising and dieting might make it worse. Stress can have drastic effects on our metabolism that lead to increased adipose tissue (fat) and managing it should be a primary concern for addressing weight loss and overall wellness.

Let’s look at 5 ways stress makes you gain fat.


Raises Cortisol

Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, is elevated during times of stress. This hormone increases blood glucose and chronic stress can lead to elevated levels of blood glucose. Chronically high blood glucose can lead to many pathologies and an increase in adipocyte glucose uptake (larger fat cells) and potentially adipogenesis (the creation of new fat cells)1.


Suppresses Hormones

The metabolic pathways for creating many of the bodies hormones are similar. When cortisol is chronically elevated, this causes a flux in the pathways towards synthesising more cortisol and less of the other hormones. This can decrease things like the sex hormones and growth hormone which are vital to maintaining a balanced metabolism that keeps us lean2.


Decreases Insulin Sensitivity

Stress has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity which is vital for cells to uptake blood glucose. This can lead to elevated blood glucose, which as we saw above, can lead to further complications. Decreased insulin sensitivity is also a leading marker of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes3.


Causes Oxidative Stress and Inflammation

Although stress is mostly a psychological experience, it has very drastic effects on the physical body as well. Stress has been shown to increase oxidative stress and inflammation throughout the body. This leads to increased adipose tissue and myriad other conditions that can contribute to weight gain and disease4.


Leads to Overeating

A very clear and direct consequence of stress is the tendency to binge eat and eat unhealthy comfort foods5. This doesn’t require any scientific descriptions of how this can lead to excess fat gain.


Stress has a very profound effect on our metabolism and should be a primary part of your weight management and overall health plan. Meditation and Mindfulness practice can help combat these effects and keep you functioning at your best while keeping off that excess fat. The Body Refinery Online can give you guidance on how to use mindfulness to achieve success.


      1. Pasieka, A., & Rafacho, A. (2016). Impact of Glucocorticoid Excess on Glucose Tolerance: Clinical and Preclinical Evidence. Metabolites, 6(3):24
      2. Boudou P, Sobngwi E, Ibrahim F et al. (2006). Hyperglycaemia acutely decreases circulating dehydroepiandrosterone levels in healthy men. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf), 64(1):46-52.
      3. Rosmond, R. (2003). Stress induced disturbances of the HPA axis: a pathway to Type 2 diabetes? Med Sci Monit, 9(2):RA35-9
      4. Aschbacher, K., O’Donovan, A., Wolkowitz, O. M., Dhabhar, F. S., Su, Y., & Epel, E. (2013). Good stress, bad stress and oxidative stress: Insights from anticipatory cortisol reactivity. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(9), 1698-1708
      5. Mathes WF, Brownley KA, Mo X, Bulik CM. (2009). The biology of binge eating. Appetite. 52(3):545-53


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