Cortisol and Weight Gain
There are a variety of symptoms that are accompanies by stress, but one of the unhealthiest and longest lasting is weight gain. Many people who experience extreme or prolonged stress often also gain weight, which in turn promotes stress and more weight gain, perpetuating the stress cycle. In order to understand why people gain weight when they are stressed for long periods of time, it is important to understand the relationship between cortisol and weight gain.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released by the adrenal gland during stress as a response to "fight or flight", a primal instinct that humans have to cope with stress. This response worked well for our ancestors, because oftentimes the stressor was a predator or other physical threat. Adrenalin and other hormones cause increased immune function and a sudden burst of energy to deal with the stress. The job of cortisol is to stabilize the body once the immediate stress has passed. It increases blood sugar and blood pressure and suppresses the immune system in order to allow the body to refuel.
Cortisol and weight gain become a problem in the modern world because the stressor is probably more emotional that physical, and therefore there is no real need for the body to refuel. However, cortisol causes us to crave sugars and carbohydrates after stress. Since many people are under constant states of emotional stress, more amounts of cortisol are produced than necessary, and weight gain can occur.
Cortisol also causes our bodies to store this extra fat in our midsections, and cortisol belly fat can be extremely difficult to get rid of and may even lead to a variety of other health concerns.
These reasons and more make it especially important to stop cortisol related weight gain as soon as possible. If you are gaining weight or simply want to lead a healthier life, you may want to consider speaking with your healthcare provider to develop a plan for avoiding stress and its adverse effects.