How does stress impact body weigth?

fatloss menopause stress Mar 16, 2023

Firstly let's understand the stress hormone CORTISOL.

CORTISOL isn't inherently bad; it has some beneficial functions - maintaining blood pressure, immune function anti-inflammatory processes.

Cortisol rises in fight or flight situations, increasing glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream and enhancing your brain's use of glucose to deal with that stressful situation. 

How we live now has caused us to have many more stressors, not just survival, we have work stress, financial stress, relationships, cost of living, kids, and dieting stress.

These don't go into separate buckets; they all add up to total body stress.

Chronically high levels of cortisol can negatively impact your health and show up with :

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment


Cortisol stimulates your fat and carb metabolism, increases your appetite and causes your cravings for sweet/ fatty foods.

Too much cortisol can cause insulin resistance. And this is quite common in menopause, and why you see the abdominal fat gain in menopause or the menopause belly.


Insulin resistance is a condition of chronically elevated insulin levels, the hormone that stimulates your cells to take up glucose. The hormone insulin itself isn't the issue, we need it, and it has some fantastic qualities like turning food into energy, promoting muscle growth and maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle. 


The problem comes when the cells stop responding to insulin resulting in the pancreas making more insulin to help glucose enter your cells; over time, your blood sugar levels go up. If this goes untreated can eventuate into type 2 diabetes. 


Indirectly stress can cause habit and behavioural changes, which can cause weight gain.

Too stressed, too tired, lack of motivation, you don't exercise, that reduction in output decreases your energy expenditure across the day. If you are also eating more due to increased appetite caused by elevated cortisol levels, we now see a shift in the energy balance equations tipping this into a surplus.

Low mood and low motivation also result in less focus on your goals; you'll find your order take-out because you can't be bothered to cook, eating highly fatty, salty foods, you then feel "meh", and the cycle continues.

Stress can also impact your sleep, and we KNOW the recovery process happens during sleep. 1hr less sleep a night has a negative impact on body composition.

To summarise, stress can, directly and indirectly, impact body weight; the indirect impacts likely have a more significant contributing factor to weight gain and the most negative effect on the quality of life, health, mood, outlook and motivation. 

It's essential to understand your stressors and implement management tools for these.