Stress, Cortisol, and Weight Changes

Stress, Cortisol, and Weight Changes

At some point in our lives, we trade in the fun cereal, early morning cartoons, and playgrounds for this weird thing called “adulthood”. Everyone experiences it differently but there are a few shared things we can count on: taxes, DMV visits, and stress. That stress may be related to taxes and the DMV, but it can also come from the mounting responsibilities of growing up. Maybe it’s a job, a project, or raising a family… especially teenagers. Regardless, we all experience stress, and we all know – it kind of sucks. Unfortunately, stress can also cause weight changes

Alright, that’s not entirely fair. Stress is in fact a natural biological response to “threatening” situations. Nowadays those situations aren’t so much being attacked by a saber-toothed tiger, but it can be a big presentation. That stress prepares your body for the difficult task ahead by pumping out adrenaline to give you energy and sharpening your focus. However – chronic stress does suck. This is the stress that feels like a ton of bricks on your chest day in and day out. The side effects of stress, especially chronic stress, range from headaches and anxiety to fatigue and depression. Being stressed out can affect your mood, energy levels, stomach, and even your sleep! But did you know it can also affect your weight loss goals?

Stress Effects on the Body

Stress can interfere with many of your body’s natural processes and lead to changes in weight. What exactly those changes in weight look like depends largely how stress affects you. For example, in some people stress may cause loss of appetite and poor nutrition choices which may lead to weight loss. On the other hand, stress can also lead to overeating, craving unhealthy foods, and therefore gaining weight. Stress may also trigger inflammation in the body, which interferes with the way your gut processes and metabolizes food. This change in metabolism may also lead to weight changes.

Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

As far as gaining weight (or struggling to lose weight) goes, there are three reasons why stress may be the culprit:

1. Poor Sleep will Stress You Out

We’ve talked about the importance of sleep when it comes to weight loss. When you’re asleep, your body resets and heals itself. This keeps everything working smoothly so it can recover and get back to optimal performance the next day. However, when you don’t get enough sleep, things fall out of whack. Your hormone levels may be all over the place, your insulin resistance increases, your decision making is impaired, and you’re just not going to want to work out. The combination of all of these things can lead to overeating, choosing unhealthy foods, interfering with your body’s optimal fat burning processes, and therefore lead to weight gain or having a real hard time losing weight. For more information regarding sleep and weight loss check out our previous blog.

2. Stress – Induced Cravings

Ever felt particularly snacky after a long day? Maybe you had stressful meetings after stressful meetings at work. By the time you get home (or move from one room in your house to another) you’re starving! Not only that… but some cookies sound really good. Maybe even some cookies with ice cream. After all – it was a crappy day, and you deserve it! Though there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself after a rough day every once in a while, repeating this behavior too often can definitely get in the way of your weight loss goals. This increase in appetite and cravings come from the release of the “stress hormone” known as cortisol.

3. Fatigue and Low Motivation

If you’re stressed out you may not be sleeping well, and you might also feel unmotivated. These two things combined mean you’re less likely to stick to your nutrition and exercising regimen.

Stress, Cortisol, and Weight Changes

Of course, it seems impossible to talk about stress without talking about the so-called “stress hormone” known as cortisol. Cortisol gets a bad reputation when it comes to weight loss, but what exactly is it?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. When you’re stressed out, your body enters a fight-or-flight mode that triggers the release of both adrenaline and cortisol. Your body secretes cortisol every day, especially in the morning. Then it sort of peters out to, hopefully, allow you to sleep. However, cortisol spikes will occur in response dealing with threatening, dangerous, or challenging situations. It’s supposed to help you have the energy and focus to succeed! As the saying goes though, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Some of the Effects of Cortisol:

Increasing blood sugar levels: This is meant to give you energy, but if maintained for too long, can be harmful

  • Reducing inflammation: Some inflammation is a natural process your body goes through to heal and protect yourself. If it’s not able to do that properly, it can lead to complications like illness.
  • Suppresses the immune system: Ever feel like you get sick a lot when you’re stressed? Increased levels of cortisol are suppressing your immune system, and over the long run, it can mean you’re not able to protect yourself as well from disease!
  • Aids in the metabolism of nutrients: A helpful and important process!

Side Effects of HIGH Cortisol

So, you see, cortisol is not inherently bad. It has some important roles in the body! However, it’s that chronic stress that keeps cortisol levels too high which you want to avoid.

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Higher levels of cortisol have also been associated with other side effects such as:

  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Flushed face
  • Thinning skin
  • Difficulty concentration
  • Increased insulin resistance

High levels of stress may lead to higher levels of cortisol. However, the thing is, stress affects everyone differently. Some people are more responsive to stress than others and may experience higher levels of cortisol when under similar stressful conditions. The important thing is to be aware of these possible side effects for yourself. Do you eat more when you’re stressed? Do you crave the sugary/fatty foods more than the healthy ones? Does it take more food to make you feel satisfied? Do you find yourself lagging on your nutrition and your exercise? These things can all contribute to difficulty losing weight and even increase the likelihood of gaining weight! However, there are many things you can do to help manage stress.

How to Manage Stress

1. “Stress” Good Nutrition in Your Life

There are certain nutrients that can help combat stress and its side effects. For example, Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the stress hormones, including cortisol. Vitamin C can help reduce stress, cortisol, and keep your immune system running smoothly. Complex carbs such as whole grains and starchy vegetables can increase serotonin (a feel-good hormone) and combat stress. Lastly, magnesium can help improve your sleep, decrease fatigue, and reduce headaches!

2. Try Breathing and Relaxation Exercises to Slip Off Stress

You can find many breathing and relaxation exercises online that help guide you through the process. The important thing is that you find something that you enjoy, works, and you can stick to!

3. Meditate

There are many ways to find meditations as well. You can either search the web, download an app, or attend a yoga class with guided meditations.

4. Get Moving!

Exercise is a great way to manage stress. Even just going for a 20-minute walk can leave you feeling more refreshed and relaxed. Plus, you’ll burn some calories which will also help in your weight loss journey. Strength training specifically is known to help in weight loss because it burns a lot of calories and helps build muscle. Those with more muscle burn more calories at rest. Finally, exercising regularly can also help you sleep better which is just as important as proper nutrition and exercise when it comes to weight loss!

5. Listen to Good Music or Read a Good Book

Find some zen music or pick up your favorite book. What matters is that you make time to relax and give your mind and body a break.

6. Sharpen Those Time Management Skills

Nothing stresses us out more than feeling like we don’t have time to do everything. Working on improving those time-management skills can really help the days feel less stressful!

7. Get Enough Sleep

 Sleep sleep sleep. That’s all we really need to say at this point, huh? You probably already understand… SLEEP IS IMPORTANT.

8. Talk to Family and Friends

Talking to a loved one can really make a difference when we feel stressed and overwhelmed with life.

9. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is basically putting all your attention and focus into one very specific thing. This can focus on your breathing, on the taste and texture of the food you’re eating, or on the feeling of a good book in your hands. The goal is simply to focus on something, calm your mind, and let thoughts flow without being pulled into them.

10. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

These substances may increase symptoms of anxiety which can contribute to stress.

Stress is a part of daily life, but it shouldn’t be all of life! These are just a few techniques you can use to help manage stress, stay healthy, and stay on track with your weight loss goals!

How FK Can Help You

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Sometimes planning out what you need to eat for weight loss can be stressful! There’s so much information out there, it can be hard to make sense of it all. What if we told you that’s one stressor, we could alleviate for you? At Fran’s Kitchen, planning meals for optimal nutrition and taste is our specialty! Whether you’re looking to lose weight, keep your weight, or transform your health for optimal living – we’ve got your back.

You can join our FK family today by signing up for our FK Online Meal Plans! We offer three customizable online meal plans:

  • Keto
  • Vegan
  • Metabolic

Customizable for Stress – Free Nutrition

Yep, our Online Meal Plans are customizable! Once you choose your path to crushing your fitness goals, for example, a Keto diet, you’ll fill out a survey. This survey lets us know about your current health, your goals, and any diet restrictions you may have. We take all of this information and make you a unique, delicious, nutritious meal plan delivered right to your inbox! After just a few days, you’ll get a meal plan in your email and be ready to start your health journey!

It comes with a full list of everything you need to know to reach your fitness goals and transform your health. The meal plan will include the outline of meals, how to prepare them, cook them, store them, and even a shopping list for every week so you’ll know exactly what you’ll need! Plus, the extensive nutrition information provided will let you know exactly what you’re getting out of each meal.

The Power of FK Online Meal Plans

Our FK Online Meal Plans won’t only help you lose weight (if that is your goal). They will transform your health by:

Improving immunity

  • Restoring gut health performance
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Boosting your energy
  • Improving focus
  • Helping in the management of health conditions
  • Helping prevent the development of health issues

What do you say? Are you ready to get started on crushing your fitness goals, optimizing your health, and changing your life?

Don’t stress about what you need to eat every day or how you’re going to cook it. We’ve got you covered! Join our FK family today and get started on the journey of lifetime!



NOTE: Fran’s Kitchen offers two different meal plan services. Our Delivery Meal Plans are delivered to customers on an agreed upon schedule. Our ONLINE MEAL PLANS are NOT delivered. These online meal plans are sent to customers via email to be cooked, followed, and enjoyed from the comfort of their own kitchens! Please be mindful of these differences when registering for Fran’s Kitchen services. Thank you!


Can Stress Make You Gain Weight?

Cortisol and Weight Gain: Is There a Connection?

Emotional eating: How to overcome stress eating.

Losing weight because of stress? What to know

Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior

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