The Link Between Stress and Weight Gain

By Tysan Lerner
Tysan Lerner
Tysan Lerner
June 7, 2013 Updated: July 12, 2015

When you read about weight loss techniques, it often seems so simple. Exercise more and consume fewer calories. But sometimes, no matter how many miles you run, or how healthy your diet is, you just can’t seem to get the weight off!

What’s going on there? It could be a number of factors, from what medication you’re taking to the quality of your sleep or the health of your gut—or it could simply boil down to your level of stress.

According to Dr. Libby Weaver, author of “Rushing Woman’s Syndrome” and “Accidentally Overweight,” living under a constant state of low-grade stress causes your body to release the hormone cortisol.

Unfortunately, having too much cortisol in the body will cause weight gain in the belly, back, and behind the arms. The extra fat would help keep you alive if you were facing a famine. But instead of a famine, what you are facing are more emails, errands, and responsibilities than you can keep up with, so you end up in a constant state of feeling that there is simply not enough time.

So when your body gets the signal you are not safe, the only way to bring it out of this protective mode of retaining fat is to slow down and relax.

Slowing Down

Often, stress is a result of having a to-do list that is longer than you can finish in one day. A simple way to reduce stress is through better planning.

Think about how much time things will take you, and how much energy you have to get it done. If you end up planning far more things than you actually have the time and energy for, you will likely end up feeling stressed out at the end of the day.

When you add too much to your to-do list at the expense of self-care, your mind will force you to slow down. That’s usually when you’ll crave a smoke, coffee, soda, sugar, or some kind of five-hour energy drink. These stimulants only serve to fuel more stress.

You end up making mistakes, living in a chaotic environment of clutter and unfinished projects, and lacking the wisdom you need to get things done well.

Instead, create time for slowing down. For example, if you eat breakfast in five minutes, then take 10 minutes. If you eat it in 10 minutes, take 15 minutes.

Take at least a full 30 minutes for lunch and dinner. Refrain from multi-tasking as you eat. See what happens if you just sit and eat. Pause between bites, and chew each bite thoroughly.

What is likely to happen is that you will feel more energy at the end of the meal because you will have kept your stress levels at bay, and taken the time to break each bite down by thoroughly chewing it.

Chewing thoroughly ensures that food gets broken down before entering the stomach organ, and powerful digestive enzymes get released. Your body won’t have to spend as much energy breaking the food down in the stomach, and will feel energized from the food rather than drained.

Paying Attention

When you pay attention to eating rather than multitasking through your meal, you may notice ways in which you use chaos and stress in your life to deal with underlying attachments.

When we are busy we don’t need to face ourselves, but when we slow down and get really present, suddenly it’s just us and … a void, or a pain, or a discomfort. Who wants to sit with that? Isn’t it easier to be busy? Temporarily it is easier, but we will never really feel at peace when we chronically run away from discomfort.

If you commit to paying more attention during set periods of time throughout your day, you begin to notice times when you may lack ease. Take a step back and observe that discomfort with an objective eye. No need to fix it, just notice it, and get curious about what the discomfort is about. Breathe slowly and deeply as you do that to help keep your stress levels calm.

The more you do that, the stronger your muscle for tolerance gets.You’ll become more self aware, and more clear about what you need to do to handle your emotional stressors.

When you no longer live under a chronic umbrella of stress, your cortisol levels will go down. As a result, your body no longer needs to retain fat like it did when in the stressed state, and you can start to drop the weight.

Tysan Lerner is a certified health coach and personal trainer. She helps women attain their body and beauty goals without starving themselves or spending hours at the gym. Her website is

Tysan Lerner