10 November 2020

You probably wouldn't think that stress and stress hormones promote weight gain, neither did I when I first started my career as a trainer.

With time and working in women's gyms, I realised that for some of my clients my advice and training programs weren’t working. I started to get more worried about my job, and question whether I was doing the right thing with those clients. As I started to take more time to know more about my clients’ personal lives,  I began to understand that the majority experienced some stress in life.

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That was the first question that popped into my head, and that’s when my passion for hormones started.

There are many links between stress hormones and weight. We'll talk about six primary reasons that stress hormones can keep you from your weight loss goals. These include the effect stress has on digestion and gut health, inflammation, and the immune system.

Stress can cause cravings, increased appetite, and "stress eating." It can promote fat storage around the waist with its effect on insulin sensitivity.

Stress can also be mood-busting and demotivating, not to mention how it worsens sleep.

Let's see what the definition of stress is:

 Stress: In a medical or biological context, stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the "fight or flight" response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems

When you experience danger, it starts a hormone cascade that moves from your brain to your adrenal glands, like a bunch of dominos falling: each one pushing the other to create a chain.

First, a part of the brain called the hypothalamus gets your nervous system ready. It also releases a hormone to trigger the next hormone in the cascade - this is the first domino drop.

Second, the pituitary gland (also in the brain) gets that hormone; it releases a different hormone to trigger the next hormone in the cascade (the second domino to fall).

The name for this connection between the brain’s hormones and adrenal hormones is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-axis, and there is more and more research that shows a link between improper functioning of the HPA AXIS, insulin resistance, and abdominal obesity. And, you want to minimize insulin resistance and abdominal obesity, right?

Cortisol is another stress hormone that affects many things in our bodies including digestion and gut health, inflammation, hunger hormones, insulin release and sensitivity, mood, and sleep. All of these can also affect your client's weight.

Also when you’re stressed, do you reach for a salad? Or do you prefer fatty or sugary snacks? Many stressed people tend to eat more food, particularly comfort food - things that tend to be fatty and sugary. Scientists are now looking at interactions between stress hormones and the ‘hunger’ and ‘fullness’ hormones.

Stress also increases your blood sugar, to make sure that your muscles have the fuel they need to ‘fight.’  If your muscles don’t use up that excess blood sugar (i.e. you are not running for your life), your body secretes insulin to re-absorb that sugar into your cells. This increase in both cortisol and insulin promotes resistance and fat storage, especially around the middle.


Stress has six significant effects that can keep your clients from their weight loss goals. It affects digestion and gut health, inflammation and the immune system . Stress can cause cravings and increased appetite, and ‘stress eating’ can also promote fat storage around the waist with its effect on insulin sensitivity.

Try to help your clients to reduce some of the causes of stress, before they start a weight loss journey.


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Brzozowski B, Mazur-Bialy A, Pajdo R, Kwiecien S, Bilski J, Zwolinska-Wcislo M, Mach T, Brzozowski T. Mechanisms by which Stress Affects the Experimental and Clinical Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Role of Brain-Gut Axis. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2016;14(8):892-900.