Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

Does Stress Affect Weight Loss? (From A Dietitian)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

As a personal fitness coach, I often deal with people who are desperately struggling with weight loss. Some believe they are doing everything right by eating less and being more physically active.

However, I learned from my dietitian years ago that stress hormones can significantly influence body weight.

So, I decided to spend a day with her to go through reliable scientific research papers to see what too much stress does to weight and what you can do about it.

We found a few surprising details.

Quick Summary

  • The stress hormone cortisol doesn’t just impact mental but also physical health, especially when it’s not managed.
  • In a stalled weight loss journey, it’s often a stress response that can disrupt eating behaviors and a few other lifestyle choices.
  • How you manage stress all comes down to a few simple daily routines that can influence your body’s ability to deal with stress hormones.

Can Stress Keep You From Losing Weight?

African American person not in the mood

Yes, stress can keep you from losing weight, and for many people, it’s a significant hurdle to overcome.

Several peer-reviewed studies have found that work and daily life stress tends to be a significant contributing factor to weight management issues [1].

Both men and women can get into a situation where outside factors constantly lead to the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

And while that may lead to emotional eating, there are several other factors that can make it difficult and even impossible to lose weight.

More on those shortly.

Even if you don’t feel chronic stress, just think back to a particularly stressful day at work.

You’ll probably find that you reached for snacks more often and possibly didn’t even do this consciously.

And when stress adds to the mental and emotional drain, you probably also don’t feel like going for that run or workout in the gym.

If this happens once, it’s not a major issue, but when this becomes a regular thing, then stress effects add up.

How Much Does It Affect Weight Gain?

A stressed woman and a weighing scale going up

Stress affects weight gain in quite a significant way, especially for people who have regular or chronic stress, which is a daily issue [2].

And when it comes to weight gain, cortisol influences it in several different ways.

Stress And Food Cravings

Chronic stress is the result of emotional and environmental factors, and it results in the adrenal glands releasing more cortisol. Ultimately, when cortisol levels peak, it can lead to stress eating [3].

And when that means you reach for sugary treats and cans of soda, then it can quickly add to your abdominal fat.

“If cortisol levels are elevated for a prolonged period of time, such as during repeated and constant stressors, this can lead to increased food consumption, fat storage, and weight gain.”

- Erin Gager, R.D., L.D.N., Dietitian at The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Make sure you keep an honest food journal and write down every cookie and candy bar. Then analyze your journal and see if your stress levels were particularly high when you reached for those unhealthy snacks.

Stress And Metabolism

Stress can cause slow metabolism, no matter what your overall nutrient intake is.

Scientists have confirmed this slower metabolism and have identified that people who experience one or more stressful events in a day burn over 100 fewer calories [4].

As you consistently gain weight and visceral fat, there may also be a much higher risk of fatty acids and cholesterol building up in the bloodstream, potentially leading to heart issues.

Stress And Poor Lifestyle Habits

The other thing that stress can lead to is poor lifestyle habits. I already mentioned eating habits above, but it’s also common for people to start becoming more sedentary.

And the less exercise and activity you have on a daily basis, the more difficult it will become to deal with body fat.

You could end up in a vicious circle where you do fewer workouts and feel hungry all the time. You eat more, exercise less, and then release cortisol on a more regular basis [5].

Stress And Sleep Issues

A woman in fetus position

One of the more disruptive problems with chronic stress is that it can severely disrupt your sleep. See, stress impacts your melatonin which can make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep [6].

It’s why stress management is particularly important in the evening time, and it’s important to get into a routine that calms your mind and balances your hormone levels.

You can do this by turning off digital devices at least one hour before you go to bed, taking a hot shower, and drinking some herbal tea to help you relax.

Related: Can You Lose Weight While You Sleep?

Stress And Mental Health

Chronic stress can cause weight gain through several mental health issues as well. Long-term stress is known to lead to depression and anxiety, as you might constantly feel like you’re in fight or flight mode [7].

And ultimately, that can lead to weight gain that is difficult to tackle.

Whether it’s financial worries, health, or work-related stress, it’s important to talk to friends and family about the problems you’re dealing with.

I’ll get to some tips for dealing with stress shortly.

Does Being Stressed Burn Calories?

A person dealing with stress while sitting on the chair

Yes, being stressed can burn some calories in the short term [8].

As we’ve mentioned, it can slow your metabolism down, but as your cortisol levels rise, your body will become tenser, and it can also lead to a higher heart rate and blood pressure.

While those acutely stressful situations can sometimes lead to some extra calories being burned, this is not a healthy or desirable situation to be in.

The small amount of body fat that you might burn away is far outweighed by the gain that can happen in the long term.

 

How Can You Deal With Stress To Lose Weight?

Trying the weighing scale

You can deal with stress to lose weight by taking actions that tackle your diet, exercise, and mental health.

Here are my five tips to stop a vicious cycle of stress and weight issues.

Balanced Diet

While stress can mess up your food intake through unhealthy snacking and skipping meals, your diet will also influence your cortisol levels. Scientists recommend that you focus on Omega-3, B vitamins, and magnesium-rich foods [9].

A balanced and healthy diet will provide these naturally, but it’s also important to keep a close eye on how much sugar and fast food you occasionally go for. These can lead to blood sugar spikes and pile on belly fat.

To achieve more weight loss consistently, I would also advise working with a nutrition coach.

Regular Exercise Routine

The more calories you burn off through physical activity and exercise every day, the more control you will have over body fat.

First of all, regular exercise will significantly lower cortisol in your body, and that will ensure you don’t gradually feel worse [10].

As you do more workouts, you’ll develop more muscle mass, and that will further boost your resting metabolic rate.

It’s how exercising can accelerate weight loss through more than just the initial calorie burn.

Better Sleep Routine

A woman sleeping peacefully

Sleep deprivation can further elevate cortisol levels, and that will then make the next day more stressful and more difficult to sleep again [11].

There are a few simple things you can do to lower stress levels in the evening and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep.

First of all, turn off all digital devices at least one hour before bedtime, as the blue light from digital screens disrupts your melatonin production [12].

You should also try to cool down your bedroom and dim the lights. Take a hot shower or bath to further relax your body and brain, and sip a nighttime herbal tea.

It might take a few days to build up this routine, but you’ll see major benefits for your restfulness and immune system.

Regular Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness can help to calm stress levels [13]. Researchers found that even a short meditation exercise a couple of times a day can disrupt your body’s stress response.

There are a few free online resources that provide guided meditation. But an app like Calm could be the ideal way to deal with cortisol and get you into a much healthier frame of mind.

Introduce Supplements

Holding supplements on hand

And finally, there are several ways in which you can boost your weight loss efforts and reduce stress-related eating habits.

One of the best options is to try out natural fat-burning supplements that can help you boost your energy expenditure and help to suppress your appetite.

These aren’t the type of magic pills that give you a beach body while you eat donuts on the couch.

But they can help you get rid of abdominal fat more easily and consistently, which can then boost your motivation to stay on the path to healthy weight management.

FAQs

Does Stress Make Your Metabolism Faster?

No, stress doesn’t make your metabolism faster. It may cause a very short boost in metabolic activity, but in the long term, it’s more likely to slow down your metabolism and make it difficult to manage weight and appetite.

Can Stress Lead To Obesity?

Yes, stress can lead to obesity. The more stressed you are, the more significant the mental and physical strain will become. Ultimately, it can disrupt your metabolism and exercise, causing you to eat more and burn fewer calories.

Put An End to Stress And Weight Gain

If you experience stress on a regular basis, then it’s important to gain control over your cortisol levels. Once your diet and exercise routine are in line with your goals, take advantage of some meditation techniques to reduce stress.

And to control your weight gain once and for all, try taking some natural fat burner supplements.

We have tested dozens of these to come up with a recommended list:

Give these a try to see how much of a difference they can make to your weight goals and well-being.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2727271/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5958156/
  3. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/tips-to-manage-stress-eating
  4. https://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(14)00385-0/fulltext
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18787373/
  6. https://www.sleepcycle.com/sleep-science/cortisol-and-sleep/
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
  8. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/stress-weight-loss#stress-and-weight-loss
  9. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/eat-these-foods-to-reduce-stress-and-anxiety/
  10. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4688585
  12. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/blue-light
  13. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858
Was this article helpful?
YesNo

About The Author

You May Also Like

Write a Reply or Comment

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