How Stress Causes Weight Gain And Ways To Tackle It

How Stress Causes Weight Gain And Ways To Tackle It

Stress can impact our weight in a variety of different ways. From increasing levels of fat-storing hormones to triggering non-hunger eating. In this article, we look at the various ways stress and weight are linked and how you can minimise stress induced weight gain.

We are a team of qualified, experienced nutritionists who specialise in weight loss. We can help you overcome your weight challenges, achieve your desired weight and maintain it long term. Schedule your complimentary call with a member of our team today to find out how we can help you.


Stress can contribute to weight gain in several ways. Cortisol, a natural stress hormone, is responsible for regulating metabolism, and excess amounts of cortisol can lead to weight gain. Studies show that chronic stress can increase the rate at which new fat cells are formed. Stress can also make you feel hungry, and you may crave highly processed foods that are high in sugar and inflammatory fats. Feeling stressed can drive non-hunger eating which can result in weight gain. Not only can stress lead to weight gain, it can lead to health issues such as depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, heart disease and anxiety.


At our clinic, we see many clients who are dealing with the unwelcome side effects of leading a stressful life. Symptoms of significant stress can include:

  • Feeling irritable or impatient
  • Feeling anxious, nervous or worried
  • Feeling over-burdened (like you have more on than you can handle)
  • Experiencing low mood / a lack of interest in life
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing issues with concentration and memory

Different people are affected by stress in different ways. While some people display outward signs of being stressed, others suppress it. If this is you, it doesn’t mean that your stress is any less significant or valid.


There is simple test that can accurately identify the levels of your stress hormone cortisol over the day. We provide this to clients at our clinic but we can also organise this as an at home test kit for you at home. Our Adrenal Stress Test is available to purchase here.

Here, we break down exactly how stress can impact your weight.


Stress leads to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which contributes to the storage of fat, particularly abdominal (or ‘belly’) fat. Stress can also lead to a decrease in fat oxidation, the process that allows fat to be burnt as energy. This means that you don’t necessarily have to be consuming significantly more food to gain weight.

Combat this issue: Take steps to manage your stress such as deep breathing, taking a short walk or building time into your day to relax. Herbal supplements such as ashwagandha and rhodiola have been shown to help lower cortisol levels. (If you are taking medications, always check with your doctor before taking supplements).

Read our guide to belly fat here.


Ongoing stress has been linked to a slowed metabolism, particularly in women. One study found that on average, stressed women burned more than 100 fewer calories per day than non-stressed participants.

Combat this issue: Support your metabolism by including a source of protein at meal times and doing some (moderate) daily exercise.


Fluctuating hormone levels in times of stress can leave us with excess nervous energy which often results in non-hunger eating (often labelled ‘emotional eating’) as we reach for food as a distraction or temporary relief from the stress.

Combat this issue: When you open the snack cupboard or reach for seconds, take a moment to consider whether you’re actually hungry or eating as a distraction from the issues or activities causing you stress. If you realise you’re tempted to eat due to stress, take a few minutes to do a deep breathing exercise or go for a short walk instead.


You’ve probably heard of the body’s ‘fight or flight response’ in times of stress. This was designed to prompt us to run away from or fight something that had the potential to cause us harm or threaten our lives. Of course, these actions require fast energy and the body knows that sugar is the fastest way to get quick energy. Hence cravings for sugary and starchy foods when we feel stressed.

Combat this issue: Ensure your cupboards are free from temptations that you might reach for in times of high stress and instead make sure you have healthy, easy options such as nuts, boiled eggs and vegeatble sticks prepared.


Excess nervous energy combined with time pressures that are causing you stress can lead to eating your meals too quickly. You might think that you’re saving time by speeding up your eating, but not properly chewing your food makes it more difficult for your body to digest, which can lead to symptoms of indigestion. In addition, the faster you eat, the less likely you are to receive your body’s signals that you’re full-up, which can lead you to eating a larger portion than you need.

Combat this issue: Set aside a decent amount of time for your meals and chew your food thoroughly. If you’re really pushed for time, serve yourself a smaller portion than normal and wait at least half an hour after finishing to assess if you really need more.


Skipping a meal might seem like the best option when your body is flooded with adrenaline and you’re pushed for time. But skipping meals can lead to overeating later in the day or reaching for less healthy convenience foods when hunger strikes you while you’re on the move.

Combat the issue: Plan out what you’re going to eat and when throughout the day. This will help you to manage your diet when you have a hundred other things on your mind. If you can meal prep in advance at less busy times, you’ll thank yourself later.


It can be tempting to reach for a drink to help you relax when you’re stressed. Alcohol is a depressant and in the short term, it can help you feel more relaxed. However, it will not help your weight or stress long term. Alcohol can lead to weight gain in a variety of ways. As well as the sugar and calories in the drinks themselves, drinking can lead to late-night takeaway orders and overeating the next day to stave off a hangover.

Combat the issue: Find alternative rewards to help you relax, such as a cup of herbal tea or a bath. Limit your drinks to one glass with a meal and opt for low-sugar options like a glass of dry wine.


If you end up sleeping less because of stress you probably burn more calories, right? Sadly not. Sleep deprivation is linked to a slower metabolism and increased hunger. Being overtired also makes you more likely to opt for quick, unhealthy food choices the next day.

Combat the issue: Work on your sleep health, with a strict bedtime and no phone in bed. Eat your last meal at least two hours before bed. Avoid dinners based around starchy carbohydrates and high sugar desserts.


There are a number of simple steps you can take to help you reduce your stress and minimise the impact of stress on your weight.


Make a list of everything you’re feeling stressed about and identify practical ways to eliminate or reduce each point. Prioritise these actions and you’ll start to find it more manageable. If you identify factors contributing to your stress that you struggle to manage yourself, consider speaking with a therapist. A qualified and experienced therapist can be invaluable in helping you working through life’s challenges.


Setting and keeping to a daily routine can help minimise stress. Aim to stick to a consistent wake time and bedtime, aiming for eight hours sleep a night whenever possible. Time blocking for working, exercise and self-care can help you keep life in balance and ensure you’re prioritising your needs as well as those of others.


Just half an hour of daily exercise can have a noticable impact on both your health and your mood. But don’t over do it. Excessive exercise will only further stress the body. Try getting out for a walk first thing in the morning if you can. The morning light exposure can support your circadian rhythm and can even help you sleep better at night.


Plan your meals in advance where possible to ensure you have healthy food in the house. Ensure you’re eating a balanced diet rich in healthy fats, protein and plenty of vegetables. Here’s our guide to creating balanced meals.


If you’re looking to lose weight, we can help. We are a team of qualified, experienced nutritionists who specialise in weight loss. We can help you overcome your weight challenges, reach your happy weight and maintain it long term. Book yourself in for a complimentary 25-minute call or contact us and a member of our team will be in touch soon. We can talk through your challenges and explore whether one of our Intelligent Weight Loss programmes is right for you.


Sarah has worked with hundreds of clients over the past decade to help them live in a healthy body that they feel confident in.

Sarah spent a large part of her teens and 20’s as a professional dancer battling with orthorexia and an unhealthy relationship with food and her body. This created a desire to understand the human body more so she could finally cut through the confusion and end the cycle of yoyo dieting. This fuelled her passion to help other women do the same.


Sarah specialises in supporting women who are struggling to lose weight due to underlying health issues. She’s helped many women manage their weight during and after the menopause, as well as clients with thyroid disease and immune system dysfunction. Sarah loves food and sharing healthy recipes with her clients. Her aim is to ensure that clients don’t feel deprived and instead, achieve their weight loss and health goals in a positive and sustainable way.


To enquire about working with Sarah, please contact us.



Ailsa is one of our most experienced practitioners. She specialises in helping clients to lose weight, develop a healthy relationship with food and finally feel comfortable in their skin. Ailsa’s mission is for everyone she works with to enjoy the journey and that working with a nutritionist should not be a punishment, but your access to a new possibility.


Ailsa is not only an experienced weight loss nutritionist, she is also a skilled coach. She helps our clients overcome emotional eating, destructive habits and self-sabotaging behaviours that have prevented successful weight loss in the past. Ailsa has spent years in clinic working with clients who have experienced yo-yo dieting and have discovered that long term weight loss is not just about eating less until you can stand it no longer.


Working with Ailsa you will be comprehensively supported, not only in improving your nutrition and lifestyle, but also your eating habits and your relationship with food. When you work on all these elements together, the results can be truly astonishing.


To enquire about working with Ailsa, please contact us.

Test Nikki is our Practice Manager, managing our team of practitioners and heading up the day-to-day running of the business. Nikki is involved in the strategic development of our practice, coming from a strong business background in town planning. A Florida girl, Nikki relocated to the UK in 2014 with her husband and two children.



Nikki is our Practice Manager, managing our team of practitioners and heading up the day-to-day running of th clinic.


Nikki is involved in the strategic development of our practice, coming from a strong business background in town planning.


A Florida girl, Nikki relocated to the UK in 2014 with her husband and two children.


Stéphanie is a skilled nutritional therapist and functional medicine practitioner with additional training in eating disorders, disordered eating and obesity. She believes that working towards both physiological and mental health is key in achieving optimum wellbeing.


Stéphanie’s personal experience of emotional eating and the ongoing struggle to find the right support led her to combine the science of nutrition with behavioural coaching to motivate and empower her clients. She specialises in helping people who struggle with their weight and their relationship with food. She helps them develop a healthier and more peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.


To enquire about working with Stéphanie, please contact us.


Inna is passionate about supporting women on their journey to improved health and wellbeing. She believes that the solution to effective weight loss does not lie in ever more restrictive diets, but a more sophisticated approach that optimises health and vitality, as well as promoting effective weight loss.


Working with Inna you will benefit from her in-depth knowledge of female health and hormones. She will support you in developing a healthy diet, lifestyle and mindset that ensures you reach your ideal weight and maintain it in the years to come.


Inna is passionate about food with a wide repertoire of delicious healthy recipes and meal ideas to ensure your weight loss journey is as enjoyable as possible!


To enquire about working with Inna, please contact us.



Ania is a firm believer that improving your health and losing weight should be a positive, empowering journey, not one centred around deprivation.


After being diagnosed with two autoimmune conditions in her twenties, Ania spent several years educating herself on the power of food and nutrition. She put it all into practise and changed her diet and lifestyle, reversing her endometriosis and thyroid disease. After experiencing such a significant improvement in her health, Ania had a big desire to help others. She embarked on a four year journey to study nutrition, graduating from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition with distinction.


Ania specialises in autoimmunity and works with clients who have underlying health issues preventing successful weight loss. Her expertise enables her to successfully support our clients with conditions such as hypothyroidsm (underactive thyroid), PCOS and diabetes. 


To enquire about working with Ania, please contact us.

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