Why Stress Makes You Fat

Why stress makes you fatFrom Tacy: My husband calls me a “fretter” because if there is something to worry about, I will do so at agonizing lengths.  As much as I hate to admit it, he is right!  And what I hate to admit even more is that I have turned to food and alcohol in
times of stress.  That is until recently.

As I continue on my journey of building a career in nutrition and wellness, the mind-body connection becomes more apparent to me.  By not coping (or knowing how to cope) with my stress, I was eating more and in many instances I wasn’t making the smartest of food choices.  And a glass or two of wine to help me unwind after a stressful day at the office was not unusual for
me.  As if consuming empty calories was not enough of a contributor to adding on the extra pounds (primarily around my
mid-section), the actual stress itself was wreaking havoc with my internal system and attributing to weight gain!

So Sarah and I pulled together some information to share with you on why stress makes you fat as well as some things you can do to cope with your stress.  Are you ready for the skinny?  Well, keep reading…..

Here are several reasons why stress is fattening:

Stress causes your body to release cortisol, the fight or flight  hormone. To give you energy for fighting or fleeing,
your body creates glucose, which causes your blood sugar to rise. This, in turn, causes your body to release insulin, which is used for either energy or stored as fat. Since you likely don’t need to flight or flee at that moment, you won’t need the energy, so you will store extra fat (particularly in the abdomen area). It’s like this: stress > cortisol > glucose > insulin > energy or fat. This process can be stimulated by emotional stress and by physical stress, such as allowing your blood sugar to get too low.

Stress can slow your metabolism and lead to emotional eating – a double whammy. Not only is stress known to make you crave unhealthy food, but you often eat more than you normally would during times of high stress.  So you take
in more calories, but your body no longer burns them efficiently. stress reduction tips

Stress can interrupt your sleep, which in turn affects two sleep-related hormones: ghrelin and leptin.

  • Ghrelin levels increase with lack of sleep. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, so when you’re tired, you get more messages to eat.
  • Leptin levels decrease with lack of sleep. Leptin tells your body when it is full. Without a strong message that you are satiated, you’re inclined to keep eating. So, when you’re tired, your body is giving you more messages to eat, with a weakened ability to tell you when you’re full — another double whammy. (See: Acute partial sleep deprivation increases food intake in healthy men. Laurent Brondel et al Am J Clin Nutr 91: 1550-1559, 2010.)
  • What’s more, a University of Chicago study found that three nights of poor sleep makes your body 25 percent less sensitive to insulin! This means that more of your insulin will go directly to fat storage.

What can you do about it?

The first step is to get your stress under control – your control.  When you feel less stressed and more in control, you most likely find it easier to eat healthier and exercise.  That said there are times when stress from external factors enter our lives and can feel impossible to control – work deadlines, car trouble, sick kids, etc.  However, how you react or deal with stressful
situations is where you DO have control and is key to keeping your stresslevels at a minimum.

Learn to listen to your body and take a “time out” when you need it. Recognize stress signals such as
anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness, muscle tension, unhealthy food cravings (high processed, salty and sugary snacks). Once you are aware of these stress indicators, you can consciously take action to deal with it.  Here are some ideas for what to do during thetime out:

  • Lie on the floor. This is a powerful stress reliever. (From Sarah: this is one of my favorites, because it is so simple yet so powerful. Try it!)
  • Close your eyes, say to yourself “Stop!” and picture a stop sign. Breath in through your nose slowly for 6 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts, breath out slowly through your mouth for more than 6 counts. This process taps into the parasympathetic nervous system (the brakes, to counteract the fight or flight response).
  • Try a simple meditation of closing your eyes, and repeating to yourself “I am peace” or “I am at peace” or “I am relaxed” for 10 minutes.
  • Close your eyes and massage your temples.
  • Choose to do something every day that gives you joy and pleasure. If you don’t knowwhat that is, experiment with little things and consider it “research”. Beforeyou know, you’ll be enjoying yourself and in a relaxed state. See if a friend wants to go on a “pleasure diet” with you, so that you two can encourage each other. (Remember that “diet” actually means a manner of living, so a pleasure diet means you are choosing a pleasurable manner of life.)

Don’t skip breakfast and make sure you eat a low glycemic breakfast,which will stabilize your blood sugars at the start of your day.  Studies show that those who ate a high glycemic breakfast ate over 80% more calories throughout the rest of the day than those who ate a low glycemic breakfast.

If you would like a list of common foods and their glycemic indexes to help you determine which foods will spike your blood sugar, email me at tsingleterry@googlemail.com

MOVE your body every day! You don’t have to be a gym rat.  Just move!  It obviously reduces stress, and it also
helps your body to process insulin more effectively – so more insulin goes to energy, less to fat storage.

Prioritize at least 8 hours of sleep.Your body repairs itself at night, and you get the most immune-boosting repairs
after 7 hours, according to Dr. Phillip Tierno of New York University MedicalCenter. I know it’s hard, and I’m a night owl myself, but try this for one week and notice the difference. You don’t have time NOT to get enough sleep!

Seek support from family, friends or a support group. Lack of emotional support can create stress so it is
important to build your own support network. Knowing which family member or friend you can turn to in times of stress is important – choose people who are positive and motivating.  Reaching out to others is the best way to get the support we need.

From Tacy: I am doing so much better these days in dealing with my stress levels since I have incorporated these steps into my life. I won’t claim to be “fret” free, but I am well on my way!  I hope this article helps you to do the same.  J

LAST NOTE! Have you ever wished your body had a RESET button?  If you answered yes and are looking for something to help you jumpstart your body into a healthy state, then you should join Sarah in her “Ready for Summer” RESET Challenge.

The RESET Challenge is an easy way to get your body back on track through balanced nutrition.  Imagine doing a cleanse that doesn’t leave you starving or slow down your metabolism.  Do this program and you will be a walking billboard of health and will never look back!  To learn more, go to http://readyforsummer.eventbrite.com/.

Also read more about Tacy and Sara’s experience with their new business here.

Last 5 posts by Tacy


  1. Thanks for the much needed reminder about the importance of de-stressing. And not just a reminder, but actually showing us how to do it:)

  2. Sarah Thomssen

    I hope you all enjoy our latest post!

    We’d love to hear your comments and any of your favorite stress-reduction ideas. 🙂

    ~ Sarah

  3. Tacy

    Also, be sure to check out the RESET Challenge if you’re ready to reset your body and eliminate your cravings. http:/readyforsummer.eventbrite.com

  4. Indrani

    I loved the simple stress bursters you mentioned. They seem to be so simple but I am sure they can do wonders.

  5. I have been working on lowering my stress levels. I’m a natural worrier and not only does stress contribute to weight gain but it also causes high blood pressure which I now have. This article mentioned quite a few good points, like get move your body everyday and getting more rest. Those two are so important. The more sedentary we are the more overweight we get. 

  6. Great post. I am a stress eater.

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