Why Stress is Killing Your Diet

By Nicole German (RD, LD)

Stress may be the roadblock in your way to losing weight.

I have heard the following statement from my clients time and time again.

I am following the meal plan as well as I can. I feel like I am making good choices, but I am so disappointed with my weight. I have gained weight this month!

Work and life have been stressful and busy. I am working two jobs at odd hours of the day. I find myself drinking more alcohol as well.

Sound familiar?

Many of us lead hectic lifestyles and often forget to take care of ourselves. Stress becomes a heavy burden that impacts health.

Let’s take a look at what happens during stressful times.

Stress Response

The following video does a great job of explaining what happens in the body during stressful situations.

  1. Adrenal glands secrete many hormones including adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol.
  2. These chemicals cause the body to stay alert to stressors. We breathe faster, our pupils dilate, we increase sweat production, and they slow the metabolism.
  3. Glucose becomes readily available and the body’s blood glucose spikes. Insulin can not work as effectively.
  4. The body is focusing on the stress response and less on other healthy bodily functions.
  5. When the body calms down, the stress response slows, but can take many hours (days in some cases). Cortisol, the more damaging stress hormone, is last to diminish.

How this Affects Weight Loss

  • Stress eating due to hormones and as a stress coping mechanism
  • Increased belly fat due to cortisol
  • Slowed metabolism due to cortisol
  • The body craves glucose (carbohydrate sources) to help with the fight or flight response. This can also lead to altered blood glucose levels and abnormalities making it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.
  • After having repeated stress exposures, it seems normal and routine to deal with stress. This leads to dealing with stress in negative ways (or not at all) and continuing the vicious cycle.

People React to Stress Differently

Not everyone who has stress will have to monitor their weight. Some people lose weight when they are stressed.

Regardless, stress is never healthy. It can cause other health problems including memory loss, aging, headaches, and decreased immune system just to name a few.

Resources to Manage Stress

These websites offer a long list of stress reduction techniques.

How do you manage stress?

A few of my favorites are walking, yoga, and reading.


  1. Eddy

    Working out and sleeping better is always the best way to cope. It is best to try some minor exercises in the morning or go for a little work.

  2. Jim

    Dealing with stress is not easy at times. It would be great to eliminate the source of stress, but that’s not always possible, and often its more about the way we deal with a situation rather than the situation itself.

    – Exercise is always good – whatever works for you.
    – Keeping tabs on the caffeine intake (as Spectra says).
    – I also take a multivitamin/mineral pill that has lots of Vitamin B’s. I find it does help me sleep better (usually).
    – Sleep

  3. O.

    I had some of my best weight loss while taking a supplement called L-Theanine. It comes from green tea and is sold in capsule form. I found it hard to find in stores (even GNC) so I found it through online vitamin retailers.

    It relaxed me, especially when taken in conjunction with a relaxing activity like taking a bath or listening to music. I had to take more than the suggested dose but never experienced any problems other than a mild jittery feeling for a day or so if I stopped taking it. I don’t think it is habit forming and I am not taking it now to save money.

    Many a time it saved me from over eating my anxiety away, and that helped with weight loss.

    • O.

      I just want to tell anyone who is thinking of taking L-Theanine to look for the brand name version which is called Suntheanine.

      Suntheanine seems to be better quality and more potent than generic L-Theanine but both forms are used by a variety of companies (brands).

  4. Nicole German (RD, LD)

    As I get older, more involved with my career, and in general, have more THINGS to do, I find morning workouts are the best. Even if it is a little hard to get out of bed, your day feel so much more amazing.

  5. Spectra

    I try to “unwind” every day to relieve stress and help me sleep. I read a magazine, do a few crossword puzzles, and cut off caffeine at night. In the morning, I work out before I have any other obligations and it really helps me deal with the day’s stress.