How Stress Makes You Fat


You’ve probably heard of cortisol.  Just like adrenaline, it’s one of the hormones your body releases when you’re stressed out. But did you know that cortisol imbalance is the most common hormonal imbalance in America?  It has a huge effect on your health so it’s absolutely essential to understand its effects.

If you wake up tired, can’t get yourself to wind down to fall asleep at night, if you feel like you’ve gained weight, especially around the middle that never seems to budge, you may have a cortisol imbalance.  

When cortisol levels are in balance, you have higher amounts in the morning when you wake up to get you going for your day, and lower amounts at night when you’re going to bed. However, this natural cycle can get thrown way off in our high stress modern lives. You can have overall high cortisol, or low cortisol, or your levels can even be flip-flopped for the appropriate times of the day.

A cortisol imbalance can show up in multiple ways, but one of the most obvious is weight gain.  So if you’re trying to lose weight don’t overlook the effects of this powerful hormone!

To understand cortisol you have to think of humans evolving in our caveman days.  Back in pre historic times stress only meant one thing, something was chasing you that wanted to eat you!  So the body evolved to release cortisol, which makes changes in your body that help you run.  In “fight or flight” mode your body raises your blood pressure, brings more oxygen to your lungs and muscles, releases more sugar into your blood stream to give you energy to run.

Cortisol also temporarily shuts down systems in your body that aren’t immediately important, like digestion, fertility, immunity.  Those aren’t going to help you run from a saber toothed tiger so they are put on the back burner.

In modern day when you have a moment of stress, say for instance someone honking at you in traffic, your cortisol gets released.  Your digestion slows, and you lose your appetite.  At the same time your body releases sugar into your blood. 

What happens next is what makes you fat.  After the moment of stress passes, your body goes into recovery mode.  Your body wants to get back the carbs and fat it has broken down to release as sugar in your blood.  So you start craving carbs and fat! 

The problem is that, back in our caveman days we would burn off the sugar released in times of stress.  Running away from saber toothed tigers is quite the calorie burn!  But in modern times we mostly get stressed sitting in front of computers, or in our cars.  We are not burning off the released sugar, but still “making up” for it by eating more carbs and fats.

So for those of us that can’t move into a monastery how can we fix this?  Fear not, there are other ways!  First, definitely make sure to get regular exercise, not only does it burn calories, but it is an excellent way to de-stress.  Add yoga, meditation, or walks in the forest to your weekly or daily routine.  Acupuncture balances hormones in your body including cortisol.  And if you need additional help come see us at Blue Jean Acupuncture.  We can give you a customized nutrition and supplement advice to get your cortisol back on track.