Stress & Weight Gain

The Link between Stress, Cortisol & Weight Gain —
The Antidote? Learn to Relax!

Would it surprise you to know that a study called the “Study of Women’s Health across the Nation” demonstrated that stress is directly linked to weight gain? Probably not!

I’m sure many of us have noticed that when we feel stressed, we start to eat (or shop, or smoke, or bite our nails, or…). What’s interesting, however, is that the link between stress and weight gain is not just the tendency to overeat when stressed, but the fact that the body produces a hormone called cortisol in response to stress, and increased cortisol cause the body to store fat. So, even if you are watching your diet, stress can cause you to gain weight!

You can find lots of advice about how to stop overeating in response to stress, but when you feel stressed out, it is very difficult to follow good advice! Some will suggest that you find ways to reduce the stress in your life. We can do this to some degree, but the fact of the matter is that life in these fast-paced times is stressful. There’s only so much you can do to change that.

What we need to do is directly reduce the impact that the stress is having on us, as well as changing how we respond to the stress.

One of the best ways to do that is to learn to relax!

Relaxation’s Link to Reduced Weight (and Much More!)

Relaxation is one of the most important keys to good health. It can help lower cortisol levels, and is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress.

In writing this article, I was reminded of the fact that I once had a problem with my weight which, believe it or not, I hardly ever think about anymore. I used to over-eat, snack frequently, and even did some binge eating in my time.

Whenever I felt stressed, I would reach for food. What’s remarkable is that after struggling with this for years, the problem completely disappeared, and as I look back on it, the key was relaxation.

I didn’t do anything specific to change that habit. I simply learned some easy ways to relax and made relaxation a top priority in my daily routine.

As a result, I not only felt better, but I was taking better care of myself and making healthy lifestyle choices quite easily. In fact, there were a number of problems that got better as I became more relaxed and learned to cope with stress — difficulty sleeping, smoking and much more.

Over and over again, I have seen this same thing happen in the lives of my clients and students as they learn to relax.

I was very fortunate to learn about the effects of stress and how to relax early on in my life. I started to meditate back when most people had never even heard the word (and also looked at me funny if I mentioned it). I learned other ways, also, to relax, including breathing techniques and yoga. These days, meditation and yoga are pretty much “household words”.

Times have changed and we are very fortunate to have this awareness of the effects of stress on health, as well as how to cope with stress.

Using What You Already May Know

Usually when I counsel people about coping with stress, I find that they are already aware of ways to reduce stress. They have even tried things already that are very effective for them. The challenge is that they don’t use the things they already know.

It can be difficult to change habits, and it takes motivation. Unfortunately, often that motivation comes in the form of a physical condition that has become so uncomfortable or even life-threatening, that we finally take action. I’m hoping to inspire you to take action before developing a major disease.

Just knowing that most diseases are stress-related or stress induced may not be enough, because it is so hard to break old habits. Usually we need to introduce change gradually, a little bit at a time.

Your health, appearance, relationships – everything – are affected by stress and how well you cope with it. There are many different strategies for coping with stress.

Each individual is unique, and not everyone benefits equally from all of the different approaches. Relaxation, however, plays an important role in any stress-reduction program.

Try finding ways to relax each and everyday. Even if you start with just one minute a day, get started!

On our How to Relax page, we suggest some very simple things that you can start to do to relax. (Read about how to relax.)

Visit our Relaxation Room for a Guided Meditation Relaxation Break now!



Stress & Weight Gain — 2 Comments

  1. When I’m stressed I have no appetite and I’ve lost 20 lbs. over this past year as there have been so many things going on. I was my daughters caregiverbecause she was in accident and had to learn to walk talk, everything. I’m about to erase this however I changed my mind. Son moved in with fiancee and she was killed a month ago in car accident. My finances are out of control. There are no grief support groups in my area. I’m up all nite and finally fall asleep at 7 am get up 2:30 pm and feel like a zombie Please how can I get some weight back on. thank you

  2. maryfran07, we recommend you get some professional support with this, some personal bereavement counseling would be a good start. It would be good also to discuss your insomnia with your doctor.