Lifestyle Nutrition

Stress, weight & the impact on your waistline!

March 4, 2019

Stress and weight is something that affects people in different ways, but do you know the impact it can have on your waistline?

Life is busy and that’s a fact that is hard to change. So rather than try and change the things that are perhaps out of your control (ie. workload, family, income etc.) finding a way to manage them is typically the best solution and something I always recommend to my clients.

Fight or flight?

You might have heard of the fight or flight response. This is a stress reaction that is part of our normal nervous system function and the human body responds by triggering a response to allow us to get away from a potentially dangerous situation. Once out of the potentially dangerous situation, we return to our natural state of homeostasis. Potentially dangerous situations are those that occur when you are threatened, in danger etc. although this stress response is becoming increasingly common in the workplace due to the pressures of daily life. Although you aren’t actually in danger whilst at work (hopefully!!), the stress response will instinctively kick in and for some, this can start from the minute you wake up. How often do you wake up and the first thing you do is check your emails on your phone? This alone can raise stress levels.

So what actually happens physiologically when we are stressed? Cortisol is released from the adrenal glands and any of the following can occur;

  • Increased heart rate and force of the heartbeat
  • Constriction of blood vessels
  • Dilation of blood vessels
  • Sweating
  • Conversion of glycogen into glucose
  • A decrease in digestive functions

Stress, Weight & Glucose

A key response I want to discuss is the conversion of glycogen into glucose and the impact of stress and weight. Glycogen is the energy we store in our liver, primarily sourced from carbohydrates (although this can include fats or protein).

When cortisol is released, stored glycogen is converted to glucose to give us extra energy to ‘get away from danger’  or a stressful situation. We have cortisol receptors located all over our body, however, we have an increased amount located around our abdomen and waistline. This is great when in a ‘danger’ situation. However, if this constant release of cortisol is due to daily stress, glycogen stores converting to glucose are providing that immediate boost of energy, but the energy isn’t being utilised. Therefore, you end up with more storing around your waistline.

This is a key reason many people struggle to lose weight. It can be an underlying reason that restricts the ability to manage weight and lose weight as well as disrupting your sleep. Poor sleep can make you more susceptible to stress, it also leads to poor food choices which can impact your energy levels and it’s possible to become stuck in a vicious circle.

If you are feeling stressed there are a few things to consider:

  • Are you feeling stressed and do you know how you respond to it?
  • What do you do to relax? How well do you sleep?
  • What are your energy levels like?
  • Do you consume a lot of caffeine? This can add additional stress to your body.
  • Do you consume a diet high in processed foods? This can affect your gut microbiome, stress response and energy levels.

Being in a stressed state isn’t always obvious. Some people are highly aware they are stressed, whilst others thrive on the adrenalin – although, in both types of people, it is important to have an awareness of how stress can impact your overall health and is a key part to maintaining a healthy weight and cardiovascular health.

If you would like to understand more about stress and weight, how it can be affecting your weight goals and would like to understand how to reduce your stress, please contact me at to book a Nutrition Consultation (for more information visit here).


Amy Savage is a qualified Nutritionist with a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutritional & Dietetic Medicine and is available for consultations online and in Sydney CBD. Email for further details. 

Tortora, G & Derrickson, B 2014, Principles of Anatomy & Physiology’, 14th Edn, John Wiley & Sons.



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