Can Stress Make You Gain Weight?


Stress is simply a fact of nature, created by forces from the outside world which affect the individual. Individuals respond to stress in ways that affect both themselves and their environment. Hence, all living creatures are in a constant interchange with their surroundings – the ecosystem – both physically and behaviorally. This interplay of forces, or energy, is of course present in the relationships between all matter in the universe, whether it is living (animate) or not living (inanimate). However, there are critical differences in how various creatures relate to their environment. These differences have far-reaching consequences for survival. Because stress is overabundant in our modern lives, we usually think of stress as a negative experience. However, from a biological point of view, stress can be either a neutral, negative, or positive experience.

In general, stress is related to both external and internal factors. External factors include the physical environment, which consists of your job, your relationships with others, and your home, in addition to all the situations, challenges, difficulties, and expectations you’re confronted with on a daily basis. Internal factors influence your ability to handle stress and include your nutritional status, overall health and fitness levels, emotional well-being, and the amount of sleep and rest you get. These internal factors determine your body’s ability to both respond to and deal with your external stress-inducing factors.

Stress has driven evolutionary change, which is the development and natural selection of species over time. Thus, the species that adapted best to the causes of stress (stressors) have survived and evolved into the plant and animal kingdoms we now observe. Man is the most adaptive creature on the planet because of the evolution of the human brain, especially the part called the neo-cortex. This adaptability is largely due to the changes and stressors that we have faced and mastered. Therefore, we, unlike other animals, can live in any climate or ecosystem, at various altitudes, and avoid the danger of predators. Moreover, most recently we have learned to live in the air, under the sea, and even in space, where no living creatures that we know of have ever survived. So then, what is so bad about stress?

If stress is persistent and low-level, it can effect all areas of the body’s stress apparatus ,(the brain,heart,lungs,vessels, and muscles) become chronically over- or under-activated. Stress over long periods can be attributed to physical or psychological damage.

Studies have shown that the inability to cope/adapt to stress can be associated with depression or anxiety. In one study, two thirds of subjects who were affected by a stressful situation had nearly six times the risk of developing depression.

On a physiological level, studies have shown that high levels of stress produce increased levels of the hormone Cortisol. This can result in hyperactivity in the hypothalamus – pituitary – adrenal axis and disrupts normal levels serotonin , the nerve chemical that is critical for feelings of well being. In short stress directly impacts One’s life.

Cortisol is an important hormone in the body, secreted by the adrenal glands and involved in many key functions;

  • Proper glucose metabolism
  • Regulation of blood pressure
  • Insulin release for blood sugar maintenance
  • Immune function

Cortisol is present at higher levels in the body in the morning, and lowest at night. It is termed the ‘Stress Hormone’, because it is secreted at higher levels during the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response to stress. There are also some positive effects of temporary increased levels in the body.

  • A fast burst of energy for survival reasons
  • Increased memory functions
  • A burst of increased immunity

It is the body’s inability to produce what is termed the ‘Relaxation Response’ to increased Cortisol levels, which enable the increased levels to return to normal that damages the body’s functions.

The following have been found to be very helpful in aiding the body in maintaining healthy Cortisol levels:

  • Exercise
  • Listening to music
  • Breathing exercises

Cortisol secretion varies from person to person. Where it really appears to impact us in terms of weight gain, is that in studies it has been shown that people with high levels eat more in response to stress,in particular high carbohydrates = Weight Gain.

In conclusion, to get lean and stay lean, manage your stress, keep it to a minimum and let it work for you!

If you are in the Los Angeles area and you would like a complimentary one-on-one assessment with Personal Trainer in L.A. Nicholas Barrett, please don't hesitate to get in touch! Personal trainer Los Angeles. Los Angeles personal trainer. Personal trainer marina del rey.