Stress and Weight Gain: How Are They Related?

Jenna Hilton
November 16, 2023

Maintaining weight can be challenging for people with busy, stressful lives. Among the many negative impacts on health, chronically elevated cortisol levels can cause hormonal imbalances resulting in excess weight.

The complicated relationship between stress and weight gain involves many physiological and psychological factors. However, understanding how the biological mechanisms behind stress impact metabolism can help you gain control of your weight.

This article explains the link between stress and weight gain, providing actionable tips to shed extra pounds.

Stress and weight gain - how are they related?

Does Stress Affect Weight?

Daily stressors contribute to unexpected weight oscillations, hindering one’s fitness goals and worsening overall health.

Physical or psychological pressure triggers cortisol release as the body prepares for survival. It is natural for this to occur. However, a prolonged spike in cortisol levels may lead to unwanted weight gain.

Chronic stress upsets the metabolic rate in the following ways:

  • Cortisol disrupts insulin signaling and increases blood pressure while suppressing the immune system. Dysregulated blood sugar levels cause people to start craving unhealthy, high-calorie comfort foods (e.g., fatty, sugary, or salty snacks).
  • High cortisol levels slow the metabolism, increasing visceral fat storage, typically around the waist (i.e., abdominal or belly fat).
  • This hormonal imbalance can also lead to low testosterone production, reducing muscle mass and decreasing the calorie burn rate.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns mess up the function of hunger and fullness hormones (leptin and ghrelin) and create a habit of overeating.
  • Emotional eating develops as an unhealthy stress-coping mechanism, often leading to excess calorie intake.

Note: Learn more about the relationship between stress and hormones.

Signs of Stress-Related Weight Gain

Stress-induced weight gain can manifest both physically and psychologically. Symptoms vary in intensity and duration based on the individual’s stress response.

The most typical stress-related weight gain signs are the following:

Note: The inability to cope with daily stress due to chronic tiredness may also be a symptom of adrenal fatigue or low testosterone fatigue.

Long-Term Risks of Stress-Induced Weight Gain

Kickstarting weight loss is a daunting task for the chronically stressed. However, understanding the potential health complications and long-term consequences of weight gain caused by stress can push one to act immediately.

The most critical health risks of stress-induced weight gain are the following:

  • Hormonal weight gain 
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Problems with digestion (e.g., irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Insulin resistance
  • Inflamed skin
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • High blood pressure
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Joint problems (e.g., osteoarthritis)
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Compromised immunity
  • Infertility

Note: Learn more about how hormones and weight loss are connected.

How to Reduce Stress and Lose Weight

Here are some tips to reduce cortisol and minimize stress-related weight fluctuations.

  • Adopt a balanced diet – This includes portion control, consuming nutrient-dense food, avoiding processed foods, and having regular protein-rich meals.
  • Exercise regularly – Incorporate daily physical activity into your schedule, preferably light cardio, brisk walking, and strength training. Avoid physical overexertion, as it can increase cortisol levels and put your body under more pressure.
  • Prioritize sleep – Poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation slow the metabolism and reduce the willpower necessary to sustain healthy habits.
  • Create a stress-relief routine – Engage in relaxing activities that calm the nervous system, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, deep breathing exercises, massage, reading, or prayer.
  • Add supplements – Nutritional supplements for stress reduction can speed up your weight loss by alleviating stress-related symptoms.
  • Increase vitamin intake – Hormone-balancing vitamins and vitamins for stress are effective in promoting relaxation, stabilizing the mood, and reducing built-up tension. Vitamin B and B12 are especially effective in supporting your weight loss efforts.   
  • Try appetite suppressants – You can curb unhealthy cravings with appetite suppressants and medication, such as Relora, metformin, or low-dose naltrexone.
  • Medical weight loss – Join a medically supervised weight loss program for professional help, guidance, and feedback. A customized weight loss strategy with regular follow-up appointments significantly improves the odds of regaining and sustaining a healthy weight.

Note: Read more on how to lose stress-triggered weight gain under control.


Stress is part and parcel of daily life. Luckily, most side effects are preventable, including unwanted weight gain. Learning how to manage stress is vital for both physical health and emotional wellbeing. Stress-coping techniques, lifestyle changes, and professional help can help you stay on track and achieve your health goals.

Contact the Vibrant Vitality Clinic staff for more information about the medical weight loss programs, supplements, and support services.

Next, find out how insulin affects weight loss and what you can do to preserve its function.

Jenna Hilton
Jenna Hilton has been a practicing PA since 2009, specializing in Family, Internal Medicine and Medical Aesthetics. She attended Arizona State University where she received her Bachelor's Degree and graduated magna cum laude. She received her Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies from A.T. Still University.

Jenna has been injecting neurotoxin and dermal filler since 2013. She received certification as a Master Injector in 2017 through Empire Medical in Los Angeles, California. She is currently working on a Fellowship Program in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine through the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Her special interests include use of PLLA, Ablative/Non ablative skin resurfacing, PDO threads, hormone therapy and nutritional therapies to improve cellular regeneration and medically supervised weight loss.

Jenna Hilton believes in a multi-factorial approach, considering internal factors that accelerate aging and disease development. She always enjoys teaching. She co-founded Vibrant EDU courses at Vibrant Skin Bar and regularly performs one-on-one training with fellow injectors. She teaches Aesthetic and Advanced Injectable Courses at National Laser Institute. She has been named Preceptor of the Year and is an Adjunct Faculty Member at Midwestern University. She was born in Iowa, and lives with her husband and three children in Phoenix, AZ.

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