5 Ways Stress Can Make You Fat

Stress can take a toll on your physical, emotional, and mental well-being, and there’s no telling what the next day, or hour, will bring. From everyday stress, to tragic events to seemingly mundane tasks, stress is affecting you, whether you realize it or not. And gray hairs aren’t the only thing it causes — extra pounds are a very real side effect, as well. In case you were wondering, here are five ways stress can make you fat.

1. Stress triggers appetite-inducing hormones

woman eating fruit cake

Stress eating is a very real thing. | iStock.com

It’s no secret hormones play a major role in a person’s overall health. They can affect your skin, mood, sex drive, and weight. So, how exactly does this happen? It all leads back to adrenaline. When you’re faced with a stressful situation, whether it be seeing a snake in the grass, or a looming credit card bill you’re not able to pay, your body triggers its fight or flight response, and you get a burst of adrenaline. According to Prevention, the burst of adrenaline taps into your stored energy, shortly followed by a surge of cortisol (aka the stress hormone), which signals your body to replenish that energy (even if you’ve used none at all). You’re left feeling very hungry, and your body will keep pumping out cortisol until the stress has been relieved.

2. Stress causes you to crave comfort food

junk food consisting of fries, onion rings, chips, soda, and a burger

You’ll probably want this heaping pile of junk food when you’re stressed. | iStock.com

Now that you know cortisol plays a factor in your diet, it’s time to learn just how negative its effects can be. According to WebMD, increased levels of cortisol also cause higher insulin levels, causing your blood sugar to drop. When this happens, you’re left craving sugary, fatty foods. Enter in comfort foods. A bowl of mac and cheese or a warm brownie with ice cream is certainly more appealing than a salad or bowl of fruit, wouldn’t you agree? The intake of such foods has a direct calming effect, thanks to the chemicals your body releases in response to them. And we all know that while comfort food tends to deliver instant gratification, the honeymoon period doesn’t last long. Soon after you’ve finished your meal, or binge, you’ll typically be left feeling not so great.

3. Stress slows your metabolism

female feet on a weighing scale

Your metabolism may suffer. | iStock.com

You probably don’t have the same metabolism you did when you were eight, but that’s no reason to totally give up hope. In a small study conducted by Ohio State, researchers asked 58 women with an average age of 53 about their stress levels from the previous day. The women were then given a 930 calorie meal (with 60 grams of fat) in attempts to measure how long it took them to burn it off. The women who had been stressed the day before burned less, and also had higher levels of insulin, which contributes to fat storage. As Health reported, these women burned 104 fewer calories, which is enough to account for an 11 extra pounds over a year’s time.

4. Stress interferes with your sleep cycle

man trying to fall asleep at night

Stress negatively affects your sleep. | iStock.com

We all know there are consequences when you don’t get enough sleep, and weight gain is one of them. Research shows that people who get too little sleep tend to overeat. According to Psychology Today, a lack of sleep interferes with a person’s weight in a few different ways. And in fact, more than 40% of people in the U.S. lie awake at night as a result of stress. A lack of sleep can disrupt the functioning of ghrelin and leptin, which are chemicals that control appetite. Additionally, you’re more likely to crave carbs when you’re tired or grumpy. Furthermore, your willpower and ability to resist temptation take a serious hit when you’ve been sleep-deprived.

5. Stress can cause you to skip meals

man checking off items on a to-do list

Don’t let a long to-do list interfere with meals. | iStock.com

Have you ever had a to-do list so long, it seems like you’ll never get through it if you take any breaks whatsoever? Well, in the case of food, being stressed can certainly play a role in your diet. Even if you swear by proper eating habits, stressors can hinder your otherwise wise decisions to maintain a healthy diet throughout the day. When you claim you’re too busy to eat, you’re setting yourself up for disaster later. According to Women’s Health, forgoing a meal can slow your metabolism and result in binge eating later on. Additionally, low blood sugar levels can make work harder for you, causing even more unwanted stress. So, before you decide you simply have no time to eat, do yourself a favor and convince your mind otherwise.