Three Ways Stress Is Making You Fat and What You Can Do About It

In the last post we discussed the three major factors that play a role in body fat accumulation…stress, toxins, and malnutrition.  I want to show you just three ways that stress can be contributing to your weight control struggle.  Now there are significantly more ways then the three mentioned here, but let’s start with the simple and obvious interactions.

Stress could be hindering your weight loss efforts.


It is important to realize that a chronic stress response leaves you in a constant “flight or fight” situation.  When you are under a constant stress load your body doesn’t take care of the “non-critical” life processes.  These include weight management, reproduction, digestion, cognition, and tissue healing.  Let’s face it…if your body thinks the saber-toothed tiger is going to eat you, it’s not too concerned with whether you can think through the next few moves in chess.


Stress can cause increased weight gain in a variety of ways, but I hope these three ways demonstrate the broad sweep that stress can have on your overall health and well being.

(1)  Cortisol Makes You Fat

The hormone cortisol is a stress hormone.  This hormone causes a process called gluconeogenesis…it forms more blood sugar.  If your body is running away from the lion then you want enough glucose pumping to your muscles to get to a safe place.  Only problem is you aren’t running from a lion.  You are sitting behind an office desk silently hating your job and waiting to go home…all the while your cortisol levels are maintaining an abnormal elevation.  So what happens to all that excess blood sugar?  It’s stored as fat!

(2)  Stress Causes Cravings

Prolonged cortisol excess causes a deficiency in a very well-known and talked about neurotransmitter…serotonin.  Serotonin can be thought of as our feel-good neurotransmitter.  Stress burns out serotonin.  When serotonin is low, in addition to feeling depressed, you will start to crave sweets and carbohydrate rich refined foods.  In other words you try to self medicate with sugar.  Guess what happens with that excess sugar?  It’s stored as fat!  (See the trend developing here?)

(3) Stress Ruins Your Sleep

To go along with step #2 your serotonin levels are important to maintain the levels of another compound used by your body.  This is melatonin and helps you sleep peacefully and soundly all night long.  When your melatonin levels are altered because of stress then your sleep becomes disturbed.  Abnormal sleep is highly inflammatory.  Inflammation makes you fat!  So you might be popping pain pills and anti-inflammatories like crazy, but if you aren’t sleeping properly you are just feeding the fires of inflammation.

Ways You Can Stop This Negative Cycle

  • Identify your response to stress.  This can be done with a simple saliva test measuring your stress hormones called the Adrenal Stress Index.
  • Work on daily stress management with deep breathing, journaling, and removing yourself from stressful events.
  • Consume adequate protein each day and avoid all processed foods, refined foods, high sugar foods and artificial sweeteners.
  • Consider trying a supplement that contains 5-HTP to help increase serotonin levels.  I like to use 5-HTP alone or in a blend.
  • Consider trying a supplement that contains melatonin and/or casein tryptic hydrosylate (CTH) to help you sleep better at night.  As with the 5-HTP I like to use alone or with the combination of melatonin and CTH (if not dairy sensitive).

So take control of your stress and weight today!  If you aren’t sure how to manage your stress feel free to schedule a stress consult in our office.  If this post was beneficial to you please go ahead and share it with friends and family!

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