What is the Relationship Between Stress and Weight?

B. Miller

The relationship between stress and weight is known to exist, though it can manifest in different ways. Some people lose weight when they are stressed because they are unable to eat, while others gain weight when they are stressed because food provides comfort. Stress and weight are also commonly related to a sedentary lifestyle as well as a higher potential to experience depression and anxiety, which can contribute to changes in one's eating habits.

People who are stressed may crave junk foods, which can cause weight gain.
People who are stressed may crave junk foods, which can cause weight gain.

When one experiences stress, the brain releases the stress hormone known as cortisol. Among other functions, cortisol can slow down metabolism and increase appetite in some people, which is a combination that quickly leads to weight gain. In addition, some people experience food cravings when they are stressed; these might be foods that are high in fat and high in sodium, which leads to another direct correlation between stress and weight. Some people crave foods high in sugar when they are stressed as well.

High levels of stress can lead to weight gain.
High levels of stress can lead to weight gain.

Eating unhealthy foods contributes to the negative relationship between stress and weight. When one is stressed and then eats these unhealthy foods, this also has a negative impact on mood and energy level. One might become more sedentary and spend more time in bed or on the couch. Stress will also contribute to weight gain because it makes people less likely to exercise, particularly if they are very busy at home or at work. This is unfortunate, because exercise is one of the best ways to combat stress and weight gain.

Some people are unable to eat normally and lose weight while battling stress and anxiety.
Some people are unable to eat normally and lose weight while battling stress and anxiety.

Of course, sometimes stress and weight go in the other direction and lead to weight loss. When some people feel anxious and stressed, they find that they are unable to eat normally. This can be caused by cortisol as well as other stress hormones; each person responds to these hormones differently. Persistent stress and anxiety can easily lead to depression, panic attacks, or severe anxiety, all of which can impact one's weight.

The best way to manage stress related weight issues is to try to get to the root of the cause, and manage the stress. Exercise is also a big help, because it counteracts the stress hormones and floods the brain with endorphins, which help to boost mood, relieve depression and anxiety, and help to manage weight. Trying to eat healthy foods and avoid cravings for salt, sugar, or fat as much as possible is another way to manage stress and weight.

Managing stress can help an individual avoid stress-related weight gain.
Managing stress can help an individual avoid stress-related weight gain.

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