Can Stress Cause Weight Gain and Hinder Weight Loss

balancing stress mindfulness

Confessions of a Bloated Boss: Unraveling the Mysterious Weight Gain Puzzle.

I was shamefully embarrassed. There I was, the face of a successful multimillion-dollar health facility, expected to exude vitality, energy, and serve as the epitome of a healthy lifestyle.


But behind the scenes, I had become a far cry from the role model I once was. Instead of being fit and energised like I was when I started, I found myself trapped in a body that felt bloated, tired, lethargic, and worst of all, rapidly gaining weight.


You see, managing and growing a thriving health company comes with its fair share of stress. From juggling budgets to motivating a team, implementing wellness programs and teaching fitness classes. My days were a whirlwind of responsibilities.


Yet, the stress of not living up to my own expectations weighed even heavier on my shoulders.


Why had I, someone well-versed in the intricacies of health and wellness, piled on over 15 kilograms in such a short amount of time?


It was a perplexing puzzle that demanded an answer, one that lay beneath the surface and far beyond the simplistic calories in versus calories out equation.


In the world of weight management, we're often led to believe that it's a simple numbers game – eat less, move more, and the Kilo's (pounds) will magically disappear. 




My journey into the depths of my own weight gain conundrum revealed a hidden truth, a truth that went beyond the surface-level explanations.


As I delved deeper, exploring the complex interplay of hormones and the impact of stress on our bodies, I realised that there was a secret culprit at play.


The answer wasn't just about counting calories or stepping up my exercise routine.

It was about understanding the intricate dance between stress and weight gain, and how it can throw our bodies out of balance.


You see, stress is a cunning saboteur that most of us over-look. It releases a hormone called cortisol, which acts as both a lifesaver and a troublemaker. In survival situations, cortisol surges through our bodies, giving us the energy to fight or flee.


This energy comes from the release of  glucagon and adrenaline (epinephrine). These levels rise and more glucose is released from the liver (so we have the extra energy to fight the tiger or flee the scene). Adrenaline kicks your heart into high gear, raising your pulse, pumping up your blood pressure, and providing a surge of energy.


But that's not all! Cortisol is a cunning multitasker. In a fight-or-flight scenario, it plays the role of the ultimate decision-maker, shutting down nonessential functions and potential hazards. It alters immune responses (so lowers our immune system function), puts the digestive system on snooze, and hits the pause button on reproductive and healthy growth processes.


But what if it's not physical stress, like a tiger about to munch down on us for breakfast, but instead emotional and psychological stress?


There's no running or fighting involved to use up all that extra release of glucose in the blood. It just floats around in there aimlessly not knowing what to do.


When stress becomes a chronic companion, cortisol levels remain elevated, wreaking havoc on our metabolism and appetite regulation.


Sustained activation of the stress response system, coupled with prolonged exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones, can wreak havoc on nearly every process within your body. This leaves us with a host of health issues and symptoms including (certainly not limited to):

  • Feelings of "always rushing" and anxiousness
  • Cravings (because blood sugars are out of balance)
  • Troublesome digestive problems
  • Frequent headaches
  • Unrelenting muscle tension and pain 
  • Feeling Tired and Hangry
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Unwanted weight gain (there it is)
  • Inability to release body fat (Inhibits weight loss)
  • Impaired memory and difficulties with concentration


Acute psychological stress may also cause the development of insulin resistance.


 That's when the trouble begins. Elevated cortisol levels can trigger insatiable cravings for comfort foods – the sweet, fatty, and salty delights that offer temporary solace but leave a lasting impact on our health and waistlines.


It's like a never-ending battle between willpower and the relentless call of stress-induced hunger.


But there's more to this intricate web of stress and weight gain.


Cortisol doesn't stop at cravings; it also interferes with our body's ability to build and maintain lean muscle mass. As a result, our metabolism can slow, and those extra calories we consume are more likely to be stored as stubborn fat, especially around the abdomen (called visceral fat).


That's right, the dreaded "toxic visceral fat" that not only affects our appearance but also puts us at risk for a host of health complications.


So, there I stood, armed with this newfound knowledge, ready to unravel the mystery of my weight gain and reclaim my vitality. The journey wouldn't be easy, but armed with determination, a fresh perspective, and a sprinkle of self-compassion, I was ready to take on the battle against stress-induced weight gain.


I'm now on a mission to help others understand that weight gain or the inability to lose weight and keep it off isn't just about calories in and calories out. That's so old an out-dated,  yet it's still being spruked to health professionals and lay people alike.


It's a hormonal dance.


Stress induced Cortisol triggers Insulin imbalances. When we have too much insulin (from stress and processed foods) our cells start to resist it and we make more, so we start to over-store fat like a squirrel on a caffeine high, hoarding acorns and forgetting where they buried half of them.


To add fuel to our spiralling self-esteem and shame cycle this stress response triggers rapid highs and lows in our emotional states. Enter emotional eating. 


We need to stop thinking about the calories in and out equation. Our bodies are not a computer or mathematical equation. They are a beautiful eco-system of many systems working together, all influencing each other.


So as we come to the end of this journey exploring the intertwined connection between stress and weight, take a moment to reflect on your own experiences.

What have you learned about yourself?

What changes can you make in your life to manage stress more effectively?


If you'd like to take one step today...


Start to adopt daily habits to balance stress (that doesn't include wine or netflix).

Check out our Relaxation Library HERE to help you kick start your journey.

Attend a local yoga class or check out our Live streaming options HERE

Enjoy some gardening, go to the beach or take walks in nature often.


I'm currently working working on a Mindful Eating, Mindset Magic and Metabolism Mojo course to help you curb uncontrolled overeating, emotional eating and learn evidence based ways to bring balance to your eating, your mind and your body.



Remember to embrace self-compassion and embrace the process of self-discovery. With each step forward, you're one step closer to finding balance, both in healthy weight management and overall well-being.


Much Love

Larissa xx

Kinesiologist, Life Coach, Breathwork, Mindful Eating, Meditation and Yoga Teacher


Heal your Food Triggers and Revolutionise the way you Eat, Think and Behave around Food.




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