Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Why Stress Makes Us Fat

by James Porter June 14, 2011

Whenever I lecture about the detrimental health effects of stress, and especially its effects on weight gain, I start off my seminars by asking the following three questions:

  1. Got stress?
    Of course you do! That's strike one.

  2. How about sleep-do you get less than eight solid hours of restful sleep every night?
    Yes? Strike two.

  3. What about your diet-are you among the millions of people who are actively dieting or concerned about what you eat?
    Yes? Strike three.

As you might imagine, most people have three strikes. In our fast-paced, hurry-up, twenty-first-century world, almost of all of us are stressed out, sleep deprived, and hyper-concerned about our diet and food choices. Because of this chronic stress, sleep deprivation and yo-yo dieting (which may cause you to ultimately GAIN weight) unfortunately, most of us are also overweight.

At last count, national health statistics pegged two out of three Americans (65 percent of us) as overweight or obese - but even more of us (up to 90% by some measures) fall into a category of people who are Tired, Stressed, and Depressed. The interesting thing for me (as a nutritional biochemist) is that being overweight and being stressed/depressed share some of the same biochemical - or hormonal patterns.

 The reason you have had difficulty losing weight in the past may come down to one primary cause-stress. Stressed-out people eat more (and eat more junk). Stressed-out people have more belly fat (and more diabetes as a result). Stressed-out people exercise less-mostly because they are "time-stressed" and feel they have no time for exercise. Stressed-out people are constantly tired during the day-and yet they can't relax enough to get a good night of sleep. Stressed-out people also have more heart attacks, more depression, more colds, and less sex.

How is it that something as simple as stress can cause so many problems-from depression to heart disease to weight gain? The reason is chronic stress. The body can handle occasional episodes of stress (the kind of stress that comes and goes.) But many of us are chronically stressed. Every day we're faced with deadlines, traffic, money concerns, family conflicts, irritating coworkers, and other worries, and this never-ending stress causes an immediate and profound change in a variety of hormones and enzymes and neurotransmitters and other naturally occurring chemicals in our bodies.

Don't get me wrong here: Proper diet and regular exercise are still important pieces of the weight-loss and feel-good puzzle, but they are not the only considerations. We also need to consider the brain (in terms of sleep, stress, mood) and hormone levels (in terms of cortisol and testosterone and compounds that aren't technically hormones) if we want the most complete approach to truly effective weight loss.

How many people try to "eat right" and "exercise more"-and yet still gain weight? Millions! The missing pieces of the puzzle for most people are stress control and biochemical balance.

You have to feel good to stay on a "diet." If it's a chore, then you quit-simple as that. I feel very strongly-in fact, I am certain-that once you understand the relationship between modern stressors, your biochemical balance, and their effects on your long-term health, you will be motivated to do something about getting your metabolism back into balance.

Please visit my website at for more information about achieving and maintaining biochemical balance.

James Porter
James Porter


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