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Health & Wellness

5 Ways Stress Makes You Gain Weight

Written by Shelby Torrese

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see someone talking about self-care on social media. This wasn’t always the case, so it made me wonder what sparked this era of taking time to do seven-step skincare routines, take daily baths, and indulge in gorgeous stacks of pancakes on the regular. After some [...]
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There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see someone talking about self-care on social media. This wasn’t always the case, so it made me wonder what sparked this era of taking time to do seven-step skincare routines, take daily baths, and indulge in gorgeous stacks of pancakes on the regular. After some digging, it turns out it may be the result of rising amounts of stress in the world. People are busier than ever, constantly sucked into their phones, and rarely leave time for some stress relief TLC

Stress is not inherently a good thing, but what are some of the big reasons we would want to avoid it? I get into all of the details on how stress affects the body (including weight gain), how to reduce it, and some of my favorite realistic self-care routines.

5 Ways Stress Makes You Gain Weight

What is Stress?

Most of us can clearly describe what stress feels like, how it shows up in our life, and who or what it’s most affected by. What most of us can’t explain though, is what exactly stress is.

According to Merriam-Webster, stress is defined as “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension.” [1] Sounds accurate! I definitely notice physical and mental tension when I experience stress. I’m also big into manifesting, so instead of saying “I am stressed”, I choose to say “I’m experiencing stress.” I’ll explain why this is important in the stress relief tips section, but think for a moment about what words you use to describe stress in your life. Do you make it a part of you, or do you acknowledge that it’s outside of you?

How Stress Affects Weight

Stress and weight loss are tightly connected. Stress not only affects our daily happiness and ability to relax, but it also can contribute to unwanted weight gain or loss. Here are the top five reasons why:

1. The Gut-Brain Connection

When we stress, our body enters fight or flight mode. This increases our cortisol levels, and takes our body’s attention away from anything that doesn’t include the issue that put us in that state. The way this is tied into stress and weight loss is that our body no longer puts digestion at the top of its to-do list. It’s important to understand how to reduce cortisol spikes for this reason. (Which I’ll get to!)

2. Fight or Flight Fat Storage

For some people, stress can cause them to avoid or forget to eat. This is problematic because if you’re not fueling your body enough, it will start to store anything you do give it. Our body’s do this as a preparation. Think of it like buying a bunch of canned goods in case of a food shortage. Your body interprets less food as a food shortage, so it begins to store away what you do give it as fat.

3. Cravings

Some of us, including myself, turn to food more during times of high stress. In most instances, you’re not reaching for salads, either. I know I like to turn to the saltiest or sweetest thing I can find. So an increase of sugar or refined carbohydrates can also lead to weight gain. 

4. Less Exercise

Exercise is considered a good type of stress. It challenges our body in a positive, beneficial way, and can even be a form of stress relief for many people. However, if your body is already under a lot of stress, adding any type of stress (even exercise) can be too much to handle. Without proper exercise, your body is more likely to gain weight.

5. Poor Sleep

Another way that stress and weight loss are intertwined is via sleep. More often than not, stress affects our sleep. This can look like difficulty falling asleep, waking up throughout the night, or waking up feeling restless. There are countless studies that show how sleep deprivation and our metabolism work together, and lack of sleep can cause a sluggish metabolism. [2] Thus, leading to unwanted weight gain.

5 Ways Stress Makes You Gain Weight

How To Reduce Stress

Now for the fun part! I’m sharing some of my favorite tips for how to reduce cortisol. These tips will help you reduce stress when you do experience it, but also ways to avoid it altogether. The first suggestion I have is to be mindful of your self-talk. It sounds simple, but it’s life-changing. 

The way you speak about yourself and your life matters! Going back to the example of stress. Instead of saying “I am stressed” which makes stress a part of you, try on “I’m experiencing stress” which makes it separate from you and easier to break away from. The same thing goes for anything else. Instead of saying “I am so behind at work”, try on “I have a lot of tasks to get done for work.” This simple swap can help change the way your body reacts to stress, even if your mind is racing.

The next tip is to incorporate more stress relieving herbs into your life. Adaptogens, in particular, because they literally help your body adapt to stress. If I have a ton of time on my hands, I’ll make an herbal tincture from a bunch of different herbs. When I have less time to pretend I’m a garden fairy living off the land, I just reach for Happy Gummies! They’re delicious, easy to take on-the-go, and contain the perfect amount of ashwagandha to mitigate feelings of stress. Ashwagandha is one of my go-to adaptogens for its ability to help relieve stress and anxiety, and there are even studies showing it can help with depression. [3] Ashwagandha can have an earthy, gritty taste to it. Happy Gummies are a delicious Apple Berry flavor that completely masks the earthiness of ashwagandha.

I know these tips will come in handy next time you’re experiencing times of high stress!

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About The Author

Shelby Torrese

Nutrition, Movement & Meditation Coach

Shelby Torrese is a wellness enthusiast (and matcha fanatic!) from Miami, FL. She attributes her love of movement to her mom, a personal trainer, and her love of food to her dad, a farmer. She studied creative writing in college while getting her yoga certification, and went on to pursue fitness and nutrition in grad school. Her go-to advice is, “Balance,” and she is a firm believer that the ocean can cure just about everything.

  • Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher
  • NASM Certified Nutrition Coach
  • M.S. in Human Performance


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