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  • Writer's pictureLola Oni

Weight Gain and Stress - What's the connection?

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

So much has been studied and there are many theories about weight gain/weight loss and weight management.

Now, let us talk about an aspect that is not often talked about; that is how chronic stress contributes to weight gain and obesity. First let us look at:

The Stress Response

The stress response is a natural physiological survival mechanism. That system must be in top shape for good health and survival.

When you sense or see a threat to your life or wellbeing, this is what happens:

-your eye become dilated (For better and clearer vision)

-Your heart beats faster (to transport nutrients round your body faster), hence your blood pressure is raised.

-Glycogen in the liver is converted to glucose. Blood glucose rises.

-Your muscles use more glucose for enhanced movement.

-Your digestive system is suppressed. (‘Services’ not needed in a threat situation).

-Your immune system is suppressed. (‘Services’ not needed in a threat situation).

-Your reproductive system is suppressed. (‘Services’ not needed in a threat situation).

These are the things that happen when cortisol and adrenaline are released into the blood (from the adrenal glands sitting above the kidneys).

In an ideal world, when the threat is over, cortisol and adrenaline levels should drop. But, when the stressor/s is consistent and persistently there, it goes without saying that these two hormone levels will remain high.

So, coming to how all these have an impact on body weight, it can be:


Eating as an activity that elicits the feel-good response to what is going on. Apart from nourishing your body, eating food is pleasurable. We get the feel-good feeling due to the endorphins that is released, and so momentarily, that suppresses the stressful and unhappy/sad/anxious feelings from the situation you are facing. Naturally, we all want to be happy, peaceful, calm and so you will tend to gravitate towards what will give you that.


Lack of sleep and exercise – During stressful times, worry, fear and anxiety and inability to shut down culminates in sleeplessness and a lack of interest, motivation, or energy to exercise. With poor sleep comes the risk of inflammation and insulin and leptin resistance. (Leptin is the satiety hormone produced by fat cells in the body and feeds back to the brain for you to stop eating)

Cortisol increases appetite – Studies have shown that stress is implicated in appetite regulation as it influences the part of the brain that regulates satiety through the hormone, leptin. This means chronic stress will trigger the need to have something to eat more often than you actually need to.

Things to consider as part of a ‘weight loss plan’

Managing stress and stressors need to be a key factor in achieving successful weight loss. Consider the following:

Moderate exercise serves multiple purposes. Besides calorie burning, exercise reduces stress level by reducing the stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline. Exercise also helps with sleep. It is important for exercise not to be too intense as that in itself can constitute stress for your body.

Mindfulness is the practice of being still, focusing on the moment, taking deep breaths, and focusing on your breathing. If you choose, you can include meditation and/or visual imaging. There are good meditation apps online which you can also use as a tool to guide you. Try practising mindfulness for at least 5 to 10 minutes every day. It helps with calming nerves and anxiety.

Resilience 'muscle' building is about being objective about the situation that is causing you stress. This is where you acknowledge and settle with yourself that the stressful situation is something you cannot control (If indeed you cannot do anything about it). Therefore, you resolve to ensure that you do all you can, to keep yourself safe, given that you have no control over the situation. For instance, natural disasters, wars, other people's actions and behaviour.

Engaging in hobbies and fun activities brings relaxation and promotes the release of endorphins (happy hormone). Doing your hobby everyday can be very rewarding for your health and happiness.

Socialising with friends and family always creates the sense that you are not alone (even when you have not explicitly discussed the issue). And when you do discuss the challenges with trusted friends/family, you feel lighter even when the issues are still there. And who knows, you may get some wise counsel at the same time!

Daily affirmations do go a long way. Saying to yourself everyday that you are – Peaceful, Blessed, Healthy, Strong, Bold, focused, Successful, Winning………, and whatever you want to see in your life is powerful. Sub- consciously, you begin to work towards those things. Your thoughts start to dwell on those things. Before you know it, you are working towards and being directed towards making those things happen for you.

Include these in your ‘weight loss plan’ and you actually achieve more than losing those pounds!

You sleep better, have a positive outlook on life, assess situations better, make better decisions, have better outcomes, become more focused and have better relationships.

Wishing you good Health and Vitality from Wellbeingcore.

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