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  • Writer's pictureTania Cucciniello

Can Stress Make You Gain Weight?

April is Stress Awareness Month, and the truth is, stress affects us all! Stress is often associated with an active mind, full of chatter and/or worry. However, stress also affects so many aspects of the body.

So, to answer the question in the title of this article: can stress make you gain weight? Yes!

Chronic stress can increase fat cells generated in the body because the initial fight-or-flight response can increase your metabolism, which increases your appetite. This can lead to stress-eating, and it’s often junk food or something quick, which means something processed.

Keep in mind that the calories burned during an acute stress response are only temporary, whereas chronic, long-term stress will in fact make you burn less calories than someone who’s more relaxed most of the time.

Let’s look at why this happens.

The Effects of Stress on Weight-Gain

The primary stress hormone that gets disrupted is cortisol. The role of cortisol is to regulate vital levels in the body, including the control of blood glucose, metabolism, inflammation, and memory. When you face a stressful event or have constant thoughts of stress, you produce high amounts of cortisol. Therefore, making it difficult to regulate the above-mentioned levels such as glucose, appetite, inflammation, and memory.

What else happens to the body with high cortisol?

  • Increased cravings, often for sweet, fried, or salty foods.

  • Increased blood pressure.

  • Increased heart rate.

  • Resistance to insulin.

  • Increased muscle tension.

  • Increased fluid retention.

How do you get rid of stress weight gain?

  1. Make being active a priority.

  2. Drink more water.

  3. Eat healthier comfort foods.

  4. Incorporate self-care into your daily life.

  5. Be mindful.

The saying “We eat with our eyes first” – said by Apicius, the 1st Century Roman gourmand, couldn’t be truer, especially when we’ve already reached the point of hunger. To avoid stress or binge-eating, take a moment to breathe, think about the best thing to put in your body during this moment of stress or hunger.

The most important time to eat well, to eat wholesome, nutritious foods, is during times of stress. As we can see by the diagram below, junk foods or processed foods already cause inflammation and bloating in the body. If you should choose to eat those during times of stress, when the body is already releasing more cortisol, this can lead to more weight gain.

Choosing whole foods that are full of vitamins and minerals will calm the body and provide more balance to hormones, breath, and cognitive function; in return, literally helping you reduce stress levels.

Massage Therapy for Stress Reduction

Finally, I would be remiss if as a massage therapist, I didn’t mention the fact that massage is a very popular modality to reduce stress in the body and mind!

The reason why massage therapy can have such a profound effect on stress is because touch promotes the secretion of “happy hormones!” The opposite of cortisol. One massage can make one see and feel a noticeable decrease in stress.

Furthermore, regular massage therapy visits can increase these levels each time. Being consistent with your visits can amount to significant results in how your body and your mind feel. In general, we already feel better when muscle tension and joint pressure is released. By making the body lighter, we can make the mind lighter. Use the body, use touch, ground into the physical aspect of yourself to give a break to all the mental activity. A single moment of peace and quiet can help reduce stress instantly.


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