How are Cortisol and Weight Gain Related?

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  • Written By: Victoria Blackburn
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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Cortisol is a hormone that serves many purposes in the body. It regulates blood pressure, sugar levels and, in general, provides energy to the body, as well as playing an active role in the healing process and immune system. Cortisol is usually secreted when the body is under stress or carrying out elevated activity levels. Research has been carried out that shows a positive relationship between cortisol and weight gain, specifically in the abdominal areas.

This hormone is released as a natural response to emotional or physical stress. Cortisol stimulates the body to respond by kicking the metabolism rate into high gear, as if to prepare for a high-energy activity, such as running a race. This means that the body thinks it is going to be breaking down fats and carbohydrates to release energy into the body. Cortisol secretion increases the appetite so that food is eaten to replace the fats and carbohydrates that have been broken down.


Emotional stress can trick the body into thinking that it is gearing up for a physical activity that will burn fat. Unfortunately, emotional stress does not burn fat in the same way that physical stress such as running or jogging does. With emotional stress, the same levels of cortisol are released, which causes the increase in appetite. The difference is that the fats and carbohydrates are not broken down like what happens with physical stress. Instead, they are stored in the body, and added to due to the extra food consumption.

The link between cortisol and weight gain is thought to stem from these increased levels of cortisol release. If the body does not burn fats and carbohydrates, they are stored as body fat, usually in the abdominal area. The body cannot always tell the difference between emotional stress and activity, so it secretes cortisol as an automatic response to both. The link between cortisol and weight gain is something that many people are not aware of, but it can explain many reasons why losing weight can be difficult for some individuals.

People with high levels of stress in their lives will have a steady stream of cortisol being released into the body. The cortisol will mean that the person has an increased appetite over a long period of time, but is not necessarily doing the required activity to break down the fats and carbohydrates. When there are more fats and carbohydrates within the body then are needed, they are stored.

The accumulation of fat storage in the abdominal region of the body can lead to health issues, including high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease. If the body is in a constant state of stress, the cortisol levels will be at a constant state of elevation, putting the person at great risk for weight gain as well as potential health problems. Realizing the direct effect between cortisol and weight gain as well as how stress contributes to the equation can make a big difference in a person’s overall health and well-being.



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Post 1

I have suffered very badly from depression since July 2010. However, I kept active at all times and thereby maintained a healthy weight. This all changed, however in October 2010. Due to my losing a job I had to take whatever work I could get. Unfortunately this meant working nights in a nursing home. I dreaded it. The last time I worked nights I gained 2.5 stone over 18 months with little explanation.

Once I left the job I returned to a day routine with plenty of sleep and, gradually, the weight came off. The same thing has happened again! I have gained 12pounds in weight since October! Admittedly my gym membership has lapsed but I still run on a

4x weekly basis as well as circuit training and walking my dog. The weight will not budge! I am absolutely stressed out. The lack of sleep has not helped.

At last it appears I have found the answer to my dilemma. Thankfully, I am starting day work soon so hopefully I will be able to sort myself out soon. Have any other night workers experienced this? It would be good to hear from anyone who has so I know I'm not alone.

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