Don’t Fret the Fatty: The Link Between Stress & Obesity

By Anthoney J. Andersen –

stressworkdIn this day and age, there are countless reasons for a person to be stressed out: unemployment, the economy, divorce, parenting, news reports regarding Justin Bieber.

Anyone of these things can cause a person to rush toward the one thing that helps them cope with the erratic shift in your mood the most – food.

Unfortunately, the food we often choose to drown our sorrows in is chalked full of saturated fat, complex carbohydrates, sugar and sodium.

In other words, overindulging can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to your health.


You may have wondered why it is we crave noxious food when we feel stressed.  Researchers have discovered that specific hormones may play a vital role in this process.


According to WebMD, when we decide to reach for the fattening comfort foods during stressful times, it may be an attempt to self-medicate.

“When you eat carbohydrates, it raises the body’s serotonin level,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, a weight-loss expert and spokeswoman for the American Diabetes Association.

“Serotonin is the body’s feel-good chemical, so it’s not at all surprising that people go for foods that are laden with fat – like muffins, pastries, doughnuts and cookies,” Taub-Dix has observed.


Taub-Dix and her fellow researchers have also uncovered the fact that when people are experiencing incessant stress, their body can release excess cortisol – a critical hormone responsible for managing fat storage and energy in the human body.

According to Healthline, cortisol can also increase appetite and may encourage cravings for sugary or fatty foods.


According to the American Diabetic Association, our bodies may process food differently when we’re under stress.  In Taub-Dix’s research, she fed lab mice a diet high in fat and sugar.

The results that were uncovered showed that the mice gained a momentous amount of body fat when they were placed under stressful situations.  However, the mice that were fed a normal diet didn’t gain as much weight despite stress.

Taub-Dix confirmed that this wonderment was linked to a molecule called neuropeptide Y – a chemical released from nerve cells during stress, which stimulates fat accumulation.

A diet high in fat and sugar appears to speed up the release of neuropeptide Y.


If our bodies are programmed to seek out unhealthy foods when we’re under stress, then is there a way to break that cycle and avoid gaining weight when times are tough?

  • Avoid becoming too hungry.  “When you get hungry and you go too long without eating, you get a drop in your blood sugar,” says Taub-Dix.  “It becomes very difficult to think rationally when your blood sugar levels are that low – you’ll eat anything.”
  • Watch your portion size.  When people become stressed, there’s a tendency not to consider what you’re eating and how much you’re eating.  Taub-Dix advises that smaller portions can help keep your total calorie intake under control.
  • Consuming healthy snacks.  WebMD recommends eating snacks that combine protein and carbohydrates.  The body digests these at a slower rate, which will make you feel fuller longer.  An example of this is almond butter and whole-grain crackers, or cheese and a piece of whole-grain bread.
  • Consider what you’re eating.  “When people are really stressed, they think that paying attention to their diet will cause more stress,” says Taub-Dix.  “Food is fuel for your body and your brain – when you eat properly, you’re fuelling your body to fight off stress.”
  • Learn to cope with stress.  This may sound easier than it actually is, but finding a way to cope with the stress in your life will play a vital role in your overall health.

Try engaging in relaxing activities like yoga, tai chi or meditation.  Make sure to exercise regularly and try to surround yourself with friends and family.  This may play a huge part in reducing stressors in your life.


Each person deals with life’s stressors in a variety of ways.

So, if you’re one of the individuals that immediately rush for the fatty and sugary treats after experiencing a bad day, take a moment to consider all your options, so you can venture down a path that won’t leave you feeling bloated and miserable.

Be smart.