Can Too Much Stress Cause Rapid Weight Gain?

Woman stress weight gain

How is Weight Gain Related to Stress?

Stress has a physical effect on the body.  When stressed, the body releases adrenaline and a hormone called Cortisol, which is also produced by the adrenal glands. This results in an increase in heart rate, and the release of glucose to fuel your body to react in a risky situation.  This is known as the fight or flight response.

Once the trigger for stress has subsided or gone away, adrenaline wears off, causing blood sugar levels to drop back to normal.  Cortisol responds to this drop by signaling that your energy supply needs to be replenished.  Sugar is a fast source of energy, which is why you may often experience sugar cravings when stressed.  

The body typically stores sugar as abdominal fat, which is notoriously difficult to shed.  Additionally, cortisol slows metabolism, meaning you burn fewer calories when you are stressed.  It also increases insulin levels, which can further contribute to fat storage.  Being in a constant state of stress can cause a vicious cycle of weight gain.

If being constantly stressed is contributing to your struggles to lose weight, a prescription weight loss aid can enhance the effects of eating a healthy diet and becoming more active. Wegovy weight loss can help keep blood sugar in check and delay emptying of the stomach, which helps reduce your appetite.  Studies show that the combination of Wegovy with lifestyle changes increases the percentage of total body weight loss, compared to diet and exercise alone. 

It’s important to note that weight loss aids only address weight, and are not a treatment for stress.  It is important to address the underlying causes of your stress to prevent long term health issues.

The Stressful Habits Which Lead to Weight Gain

In addition to the natural shifts taking place in the body, the behavioral patterns resulting from stress can contribute to weight gain as well. Our actions tend to have an impact not simply on our state of mind but on our physique as well. 

emotional binge eating

Emotional and binge eating

As stated before, cortisol can result in sugar cravings as the body seeks to restore fuel for energy.  Stress can also result in both emotional and binge eating, forms of overeating triggered by overwhelming emotions.  Often, the food choices made when emotional or binge eating are unhealthy.  Eating can provide a sense of comfort when you are stressed, but the effects are temporary and results in more difficulty managing weight.

Heavy drinking and substance use

Drinking alcohol or using recreational substances often results in food cravings.  Eating while under the influence often results in overindulgence.  Additionally, alcohol is high in calories and takes a toll on various elements of the metabolic process.

Fast food

When stressed and in need of a meal, we usually go for the most easily accessible option, which are frequently fast food establishments. These businesses often offer foods that are high in fat and sugar.  The lack of nutritional value and high caloric intake contributes to the vicious cycle of stress and weight gain.

Eating too fast

Eating while stressed often leads to mindless eating, which often means you are eating faster than you normally would.  The brain can take up to 20 minutes to realize it is full.  Eating too quickly can result in consuming far more calories than needed to feel full.  Consistently doing this over a period of time can lead to weight gain.

Exercising less

Feeling stressed can leave you feeling desperate to remove tasks from your busy schedule.  Going to the gym or participating in another physical activity can feel like an easy way to lighten the load.  However, frequently doing so over time can result in further stress as you miss out on the numerous benefits of exercise for mental and physical health.  Increased stress and burning fewer calories can result in further weight gain.

Not getting enough sleep

It is common for stress to negatively impact sleep.  Insufficient sleep has been linked to slower metabolism.  Additionally, feeling overtired makes mindful eating more of a challenge.

Skipping meals

When trying to manage multiple tasks, eating is frequently less of a priority.  However, for those trying to manage insulin-related weight gain, skipping meals can cause low blood sugar levels.  It also causes your body to use energy less efficiently.

How to Combat Stress-Related Weight Gain

There are several ways you can help end the cycle of weight gain and stress:

  • Practice mindful eating
  • Keep a food journal
  • Seek out healthier comfort foods
  • Cook more balanced meals at home
  • Prioritize exercise and stay active
  • Practice good sleep habits
  • Drink more water

If stress is affecting your physical well-being, you should consider seeking treatment from a mental health professional.  Learning coping skills to reduce your overall stress will not only help you lose weight, but improve your health overall.

About Steve Calvert

Steve Calvert (CPD Certified in Nutrition for Weight Loss) Steve is an experienced writer and researcher with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the fitness, nutrition and weight loss sector. He has a background in bodybuilding and the martial arts and continues to use a combination of exercise and healthy eating to stay in shape. Steve has reviewed hundreds of supplements since 2012. He is very accurate and methodical in his approach and understand the importance using correctly dosed ingredients. LinkedIn