Advertisement

Can stress make me fat?

Stress is one of many factors that can cause adverse health effects. When you are stressed out, your bodies hormone levels are altered significantly. One group of hormones that is affected by stress are the adrenal hormones, specifically cortisol. Cortisol has its uses and benefits, but when the body produces elevated concentrations for prolonged periods of time, it has detrimental effects. High levels of cortisol have been linked to weight gain, specifically fat mass gain.

Here is the bottom line, the human body will always function in a way that ensures survival for evolution. A lot of times this means the body will resist the changes we are trying to induce. When you are stressed out the last thing the body is likely to do is lose weight, specifically fat mass. I have found with a lot of clients that progress will come to a screeching halt due to excessive stress in their lives. Focus on decreasing your stress and everything in life will become easier and more manageable!

Janis Jibrin, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
If you’ve ever noticed that the numbers on the scale seem to rise along with your stress levels, you might not be imagining things. Stress can be fattening, according to research on both humans and lab animals. For instance, women who said they were stressed out and/or had higher levels of cortisol (a hormone that rises in times of stress) had more visceral belly fat in studies conducted at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere. This type of fat lies deep in the body, surrounding your organs, and has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Even slim or normal weight women had more visceral fat than women who feel calmer and/or have lower cortisol levels. And when you’re stressed out, you might turn to cookies, chips and other junk food to unwind. That’s a recipe for obesity - at least it is in stressed-out mice, according to a study at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. You may be wondering how it's possible to test stress in mice. It's actually not much different from humans: Researchers placed the test mice with a more aggressive "alpha mouse" (sound a little like your boss?) for 10 minutes daily in a cage. They also made the test mice stand in cold water for an hour a day. The control group, on the other hand, led a relatively stress-free existence. Both groups of mice were given either regular mouse food or the typical American junk food diet. Only the frazzled mice that feasted on junk food became obese. They also developed high blood pressure, early diabetes and high cholesterol. In this Georgetown study, both cortisol and another chemical, neuropeptide Y (NPY), reached high levels in the stressed out mice. NPY sends the body the “store fat” message. This made evolutionary sense in times when stress often meant periods of famine; belly fat converts quickly to energy to fuel us. But now we’ve got the opposite problem - too much food - so we’re still storing “stress fat” which just sits deep on our bellies, growing even larger.
The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes

More About this Book

The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes

Bob Greene has helped millions of Americans become fit and healthy with his life-changing Best Life plan. Now, for the first time, Oprah's trusted expert on diet and fitness teams up with a leading...

Continue Learning about Obesity

How Your Growing Waistline Can Shrink Your Brain
How Your Growing Waistline Can Shrink Your Brain
In Japan, most Sumo wrestlers weigh three to four hundred pounds. While they’re professionally active, they follow a diet and workout routine that hel...
Read More
Do most Americans understand the health risks of obesity?
Dr. Robin Miller, MDDr. Robin Miller, MD
Polls show, Americans know that obesity is a major health problem. People may not realize that they ...
More Answers
How does being overweight or obese cause osteoarthritis?
Alaska Regional HospitalAlaska Regional Hospital
Being overweight or obese puts added pressure on your joints and the supporting structures, called c...
More Answers
What Should the Government Do to Solve the Obesity Problem?
What Should the Government Do to Solve the Obesity Problem?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.