Stress Makes Us Fat. How and Why?

Stress and other lifestyle factors work through complicated hormonal and metabolic mechanisms that alters not only the amount of calories we eat but also where on the body we store them.  And mostly importantly which type we burn; sugar, fat, or muscle.

If you understand the impact of stress has on our body and why it makes us fat, you will begin a new way to think about eating, exercise, and lifestyle.

Stress response is controlled by the brain, pituitary gland and your adrenal glands.   Think of the brain as an army control central.  Its gets a warning of incoming threat it sends immediate signal to adrenal glands.  In fractions of a second, the adrenal gland floods the blood with adrenaline, nonadrenaline and cortisol (all hormones).  Its role is to give the body energy to stay & fight or run like hell.

Yes we have stress every day, but if you exercise regular, it controls stress.  It is when stress becomes constant and chronic, fat is usually spared and muscle is taken. This is bad!   When we run or exercise at a higher intensity level the body releases other hormones like testosterone and HGH which act to repair damaged tissues and gear the energy usage back to fat metabolism while sparing and keeping the lean muscle tissue.   The release of these 2 hormones helps rebuild the body leaner and stronger.

The problem in our daily lives is when stress whether real or perceived because continues and is not followed by intense exercise and the stress never ends.   High amounts of CORTISOL create serious eating changes.   One is down regulates hunger and increases craving for sweet and fatty foods.  A sure sign you have high stress levels is a lack of appetite in the morning.

Now let look at insulin, a hormone produce to reduce blood sugar.  Too much in our blood stream signals the body to store fat and NOT burn it.   Eating lots of simple carbs and sweets will keep insulin high.  If blood sugar is not used thru activity the body will secrete insulin to lower blood sugar.

Now mix CORTISOL AND INSULIN, and you have a bad combination.   The modern day diet, lifestyle and exercise habits make us have higher levels of cortisol.   Whether we get fat depends on how much insulin we have as well.   Think of cortisol and insulin like 2 opposite ends of a seesaw.  In early stress the two will work back and forth raising and then lowering blood sugar but over time without intense exercise and a change in eating you end up with higher levels of both.

Remember cortisol is a fat and muscle burner, but when insulin is around with it, the body burns MUSCLE not FAT!


  • Eat breakfast
  • Exercise intensely
  • Sleep
  • Substitute protein for sugar
  • Eat 4– 6 times per day

One last word, exercise can be a stress factor.  Long cardio training and light on resistance training can increase cortisol and lower HGH which can burn muscle and store fat.

Read entire article: On fitness magazine, March 2009, page 66

1 comment

  1. Thank you for the great article. I will follow you via RSS.

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