Lifestyle Nutrition

Stress, weight & the impact on your waistline!

March 4, 2019

Stress and Weight Gain

Stress is something that can affect people in different ways, but did you know there is a link between stress and weight gain? You might be eating the healthiest of diets, but if you are experiencing stress, this can have an impact on your waistline.

How often do you feel stressed? Stress is around us day in, day out and is often caused by things that are out of our control (ie. stress at work, stress at home etc.). Eliminating the causes of stress isn’t easy or always possible, but identifying the cause of stress and finding ways to manage stress is the best way to help to reduce stress. This will enable you to manage stress levels and ultimately manage the relationship between stress and weight gain.

Identifying stress can be just as tricky as finding ways in which to reduce it. What does stress look like to you? Does stress make you feel increased tension? Does stress make you feel more anxious? Does stress affect your ability to fall asleep? Does stress impact your heart rate? We all experience stress in different ways and the first step is to identify what stress feels like for you.

Fight or Flight?

Fight or flight is part of our normal nervous system function and stress response. The human body triggers a response when in a stress situation. As part of the physiological stress response, this occurs to allow us to get away from a potentially ‘dangerous situation’ quickly and whilst this is happening, a number of changes can occur in the body before we return to our natural state of homeostasis.

Potentially ‘dangerous situations’ are those that occur when you are threatened, in danger etc. although, in times of stress, you aren’t necessarily in a ‘dangerous situation’, but the body is responding as if it is by triggering a stress response. This stress response is becoming increasingly common in the workplace due to the pressures of daily life and although you aren’t actually in danger, your stress response is telling you otherwise.

When stress levels increase, so does the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. Along with the increased production of the stress hormone, cortisol, a few physiological changes occur:

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

The Role of Glycogen in Stress

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

When cortisol is released, glycogen is released to give us extra energy to ‘get away from danger’ or from a stressful situation. We have cortisol receptors located all over our body, however, we have an increased amount located around our abdomen to protect our vital organs. This is of course really useful when in an actual ‘danger’ situation. However, if this constant release of cortisol is due to daily workplace stress, glycogen is being released to provide energy, but isn’t being utilised and therefore stores around your waistline.

This is a key reason many people struggle with weight loss when they are experiencing stress, even if you are eating a well-balanced diet. Increased levels of stress can also impact sleep quality. Increased sleep deprivation can also impact food choices. This can essentially become a vicious circle of increased stress levels.

Reducing Stress

If you are feeling under increased levels of stress there are a few things to consider:

  • Do you consume a lot of caffeine? Caffeine increases the production of the stress hormone, cortisol.
  • Do you drink plenty of water? Dehydration cause increase production of the stress hormone, cortisol.
  • Do you consume a diet high in processed foods? This can affect your gut microbiome, stress response and energy levels.
  • How well do you sleep? Sleep deprivation and chronic stress can play havoc with the production of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Being in a state of stress isn’t always obvious. Some people are highly aware they are feeling increased levels of stress, 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 how this is a key part to maintaining a healthy weight and cardiovascular health.

If you would like to understand more about stress might be impacting you, how it can be affecting your weight loss goals and get the tools to help reduce your stress, please contact me at to book a Nutrition Consultation or Dietary Analysis.

Recommended further reading: 

The common effects of stress.



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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