The Stress-Weight Connection: How Stress Affects Weight Gain

February 20, 2023

The Stress-Weight Connection: How Stress Affects Weight Gain, Plateaus and Slows Weight Loss

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Health Coach, Sober Friend, Hybrid Athlete & now Blogger! Also a 40+ Mom of two boys who loves living life to its fullest and sharing it with people who feel the same.  Life is short, we gotta squeeze it for all it's worth!


We all know that stress can be a major obstacle to weight loss. From cravings to binging to skipping meals entirely, the effects of stress can be downright destructive to a weight loss plan. But how does stress actually influence our weight? What are the root causes of stress-induced weight gain and how can we prevent it?

Let’s explore the ways in which stress affects weight gain, weight plateaus and slower weight loss, as well as provide stress reduction solutions and practical daily tips to ease stress and prevent future stress.

The Stress Hormone: Cortisol

When we encounter a stressful situation, our bodies respond by releasing a hormone called cortisol into the bloodstream. Cortisol has many functions, some of which may be beneficial in a stressful situation. For example, cortisol can increase energy, alertness and memory retention. It also helps regulate blood sugar, fat and protein metabolism and immune function.

However, there are some potential dangers associated with increased cortisol levels. Too much cortisol can lead to higher levels of inflammation, resulting in an increased risk of disease and other health problems. Cortisol also affects appetite and cravings, leading to weight gain, slower metabolism, and water retention.

Research studies have found a correlation between stress and weight gain. In one study, participants with higher levels of cortisol in their saliva had a higher body mass index (BMI) and a greater risk of obesity. In another study, people who experienced more chronic stress gained more weight than those who reported lower stress levels.

Counterbalancing Cortisol

Fortunately, there are ways to counterbalance the negative effects of cortisol and reduce the risk of weight gain and slower weight loss. The best way to reduce cortisol levels is to reduce stress. And the good news is, stress reduction can be achieved through various methods, such as meditation, yoga, exercise, and healthy eating.

Meditation can help reduce the physical, mental and emotional effects of stress. In one study, participants who practiced daily meditation reported lower cortisol levels and improved sleep quality.

Yoga can also be beneficial in reducing stress levels. A study found that regular yoga practice reduced cortisol levels and improved mood, energy levels, and concentration.

Additionally, exercise is another great way to reduce stress levels. Exercise releases endorphins, which can help reduce cortisol levels and improve mood. In one study, participants who exercised for 30 minutes three times a week reported lower levels of stress and improved overall wellbeing.

Finally, eating a healthy diet can help reduce stress levels. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins can help improve mood and reduce stress levels.

Tips for Reducing Stress and Preventing Future Stress

There are several practical tips that can help reduce stress and prevent future stress. These include:

• Take time each day to do something you enjoy, such as reading, taking a walk, or listening to music.

• Practice deep breathing or mindfulness techniques to help relax the mind and body.

• Spend time with friends and family to reduce stress and improve mood.

• Get enough sleep each night to help reduce stress and improve concentration.

• Prioritize tasks and activities to help reduce stress levels and improve focus.

• Avoid multitasking and focus on one task at a time.

• Take regular breaks throughout the day to help reduce stress levels.

• Make time for self-care, such as getting a massage or taking a bath.

Stress can have a significant impact on weight gain, weight plateaus and slower weight loss. The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress, which can lead to increased inflammation, weight gain, slower metabolism, and water retention. Fortunately, there are ways to counterbalance the negative effects of cortisol and reduce the risk of weight gain and slower weight loss.

By reducing stress through various methods, such as meditation, yoga, exercise and healthy eating, we can reduce cortisol levels and improve our overall well-being. Additionally, following practical tips such as taking time to relax and unwind, getting enough sleep, and avoiding multitasking can help reduce stress levels and prevent future stress.


  1. Boschmann, M., Engeli, S., Feldpausch, M., & Tank, J. (2003). Metabolic and endocrine effects of acute psychological stress in healthy men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 88(5), 2184-2190.
  2. Dunbar, J. G., & Dunbar, S. I. (2013). The association between cortisol and body mass index: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Obesity Reviews, 14(5), 391-399.
  3. Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36-43.
  4. Streeter, C. C., Whitfield, T. H., Owen, L., Rein, T., Karri, S. K., Yakhkind, A., & Jensen, J. E. (2010). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: A randomized controlled MRS study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(11), 1145-1152.
  5. Wojcicki, J. M., & Heyman, R. B. (2016). Exercise and well-being: A review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 28(2), 198-204.

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