How Stress Can Make You Hold Onto Weight

How Stress Can Make You Hold Onto Weight

Understanding how stress can make you hold onto weight is a very insightful tool. Let’s start with what is considered stress.

What Is Stress Actually?

As obvious as it sounds, there are different types of stress such as environmental, physical, socio-economic (money stress) and emotional. All of which can have a direct effect to the severity of how your body interprets it.

It’s first important to understand the interplay that cortisol (our stress hormone) has with other hormones in your body. As every individual interprets stress differently, cortisol levels will differ from the next person even if the situation is the same.

Check out the article “What’s Considered Normal Cortisol Levels?The article goes over a few fundamentals but also has an easy “Stress Test” to see if your blood cortisol levels may be high. For a lab analysis from our clinic, please click here.

How Cortisol Works With Other Hormones

Let’s start with how our stress hormone cortisol works with other hormones. When malfunctioning, chronic stress will offset these hormones and can make you hold onto stubborn mid-section weight!

  1. Stress increases cortisol levels. Usually this leads to increased appetite and abdominal weight gain.
  2. Increased cortisol levels reduces testosterone levels (yes in women too!), leading to loss of sex drive and an increase of fatigue and weight gain. Lower testosterone also can decrease muscle mass.
  3. High cortisol levels in fat cells (not always the blood). Our fat cells contain an enzyme called HSD that can raise cortisol levels within that cell. This encourages more fat storage.

Stress, Cortisol and Your Metabolism

Note that cortisol is not bad. What is “bad” is chronically high or low levels of cortisol. All of our hormones have purposes and just like food, moderation is key. Cortisol is also important because it helps us utilize energy efficiently following stress. To understand what cortisol is and how it works, read this article.


Cortisol has the ability to stimulate the release of glucose (sugars), fats and amino acids (building blocks of protein) for energy production. In the liver, cortisol also stimulates the breakdown of glycogen into glucose. Glycogen is the stored version of glucose. In adipose tissue (body fat), fatty acids are released in response to a rise in cortisol. (You’re probably thinking, “Great! I can lose weight!” The answer is no, not long term. Chronically high elevated cortisol levels results in weight gain! And stubborn at that.) In the skeletal muscles, cortisol stimulates the release of amino acids which can be used for muscle energy or sent to the liver for conversion into glucose (long term this can result in muscle loss).

Stress and Your Weight

The reason why cortisol’s response during a stressful event leads to increased appetite is because it tries to encourage the body to refuel after responding to the stressor. An elevated level of cortisol will make you feel hungry all the time. The type of fat that accumulates from this will generally locate itself in the mid-section area (as it tries to be ready for the next stressful encounter). Unfortunately, this type of fat and the location of it increases chances of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *