How Stress Can Make You Gain Weight

Editors Note: I’m thrilled to have Nik Toth with us on the blog. Nik is a holistic nutritionist, health coach, personal trainer and the author of the successful weight eBook The Lean Body Formula. She is passionate about educating and empowering women to create a healthy and lean body that they love!


You have probably noticed that when you’re stressed out you either reach for snacks to calm or distract yourself, or you can’t eat even look at food.

Understanding how your body reacts to stress (and the types of food that stress makes you crave) can give you a better understanding of how to stay, healthy, lean and level-headed in demanding times.

Your adrenal glands are responsible for releasing stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol when you’re under pressure. It’s the amount produced that can significantly influence your body composition.

So how can these hormones affect your weight and what is the best way to ensure that increased stress levels don’t contribute to an increased waistline?

How Stress Can Make You Gain Weight

Your nervous system has several divisions, though the two we are concentrating on are the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system, or also called ‘fight or flight’ is your ‘red zone’; responsible for producing adrenaline to help you escape dangerous situations.

When it’s activated in response to stress, your blood vessels constrict, your pupils dilate and blood is directed to your muscles, so that you can run away from danger.

In this state your digestion shuts down because digesting food in a middle of a ‘crisis’ is secondary to firing up your muscles.

Your body is solely focusing on survival, but what happens in reality most of the time is that the actual things you want to escape are deadlines, financial issues, relationship problems or weight worries.

The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect, and sends the body into a relaxed state, the ‘green zone’ or also called ‘rest and digest’ state.

How to stress less

A lot of us are exposed to chronic low levels of stress on the daily basis. To which our bodies respond by activating the sympathetic system. When this system is triggered, your body feels threatened and it wants to hold onto nutrients and body fat.

The hormone that is being released when this occurs is cortisol – the chronic stress hormone, which tends to make you stack it on around your waistline. This is called the visceral fat, which is dangerous because it surrounds your vital organs.

Cortisol tells your body that food is scarce so it encourages you to eat more than just that one cookie, and then stores it as fat for later use.  Sneaky hey!

When high amounts of stress hormones circulate in our system, our body is programmed to burn its preferred source of fuel, glucose.

Glucose is made from sugars and carbohydrates, and once is has been depleted, our body will crave for it and that’s when we tend to reach for excess carbs to supply what we think our body needs.

To manage stress hormone levels it is essential to manage your response to stress and keep your nervous system calm. Yoga, meditation, long and relaxed walks or deep-breathing exercises can help you achieve your inner Zen. The more you can tap into this ‘green zone’ the better body composition results you can achieve long term.

How Stress Can Make You Gain Weight


Try this breathing exercise, which is an excellent way of getting out of your red zone and calm your mind:

  1. Close your eyes inhale through your nose for a count of 5, pause for 5 and exhale through your nose for 5.
  1. Focus on inhaling into your belly, not into your chest.
  1. Relax and repeat this diaphragmatic breathing 15-20 times to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system.


Remember folks, transforming the body on the outside begins from the inside.

Let us know in the comments below if there are any questions or issues you would like us to cover in upcoming posts!

You can connect with Nik Toth here: WEBSITE, Instagram, Facebook


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