Your REACTION to Stress is Keeping You Fat

“Stress causes higher cortisol, and cortisol is a fat storing hormone, and if you have too much, it’s hard to lose weight”…or something.

While this somewhat true, it is not the real reason as to why you are struggling to lose weight.

Stress DOES cause you to have a slight increase in cortisol.

Cortisol alone DOES NOT lead to increases in body fat, or the inability to lose body fat.

How you choose to respond to your stress (cortisol) is what is ruining your progress.

Let’s start with one of the most obvious reasons, and one of my biggest pet peeves. (Warning, this might get a little rant-y)

Booze. Booze. Booze. 

“Ugh work was haaaaard…looks like its a full bottle kind of night” – Semi-Real facebook status seen on a Monday night.

If you use alcohol to handle your daily stress, you are using it to suppress your negative feelings. Yet, most people will claim that this is not a form of alcohol dependence or abuse. It’s a normal thing to have a drink at the end of the day… False.

If you replaced the word alcohol in the previous statement with cocaine –   If you use cocaine to handle your daily stress, you are using it to suppress your negative feelings – I think most people would consider this a problem.

Yes, I know cocaine is much different from alcohol. One is legal if you are over 21, and the other can get you thrown in jail or dead after one use. The point being, people tend to accept a daily drink or two as a normal thing (especially in Wisconsin).



I don’t need to lecture about the empty calories in alcohol, but rather want to point out a different aspect – alcohol blunts fat burning. Not only are you consuming extra calories from booze (and probably some less than healthy snacks), but you are also screwing yourself for the remainder of the evening. This only gets worse as you get older as well. Alcohol slows down muscle protein synthesis, which means less recovery of muscle, which means smaller/weaker muscles, which means lower metabolic rate, WHICH MEANS less fat burned when you are at rest!

Stress Eating

“Breakfasts are good, I pack a salad for lunch…then come home and destroy everything in the pantry!”

Heard that!

Now, there are two things that could be at play here. One: you aren’t eating enough at breakfast and lunch, and are ravenously hungry (actual physical hunger) by the time you get home that you will pound down everything in sight.

Note: Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).

Advertised as “Breakfast”…90 calories is hardly breakfast

The other reason is this is how you decide to handle your stress from the day. Honestly, I think a lot of people trying to lose weight fall somewhere in between. Too little calories early in the day, AND coping with stress by eating. This sets you up for a lose lose situation after work/school.

Stress doesn’t need to show up as some terrible culmination of a bunch of events from the day, but it could just be a standard long day at work. Dare I say, you might even be blowing your stress out of proportion?

Tell me again how sitting behind a desk for 8 hours a day is SOOO stressful…

So What Do I Recommend You Do?

First, realize that food and booze won’t decrease your stress. ESPECIALLY if you are trying to get healthier and lose some body fat. It’s the typical cycle:

  1. Under-eat to lose weight fast – high motivation
  2. Hit your first stressful event – stress eat
  3. Gain weight from stress eating – get more stressed/pissed at yourself – low motivation
  4. Repeat

You need to realize that booze and food WON’T fix your problems. Someone upsetting you at work? Talk to them about it in an adult manner. Maybe they don’t even realize what they are doing is upsetting you. Eating a snickers bar on the drive home won’t let them know that. They still don’t get it after you talk with them? Bring in superiors or figure out that maybe you don’t even need to interact with that person at work and you can just block them out.

I’m not going to say to go as far as leaving your job, because being  without income and job hunting is pretty damn stressful as well. There are certain situations where leaving your job might be the only option, but you still need to practice coping with stress without food/drinks either way.

Second, take a look at your “stress” in your life. What are you getting so stressed about? Some terrible driver going too slow on the highway ruining your day or your kid spilt some juice on the carpet?

Please… there are much worse things that could be happening. Take some deep breaths and move on. Trust me, you will be a happier person overall, and it will get you further in life than being the crab-ass that is always complaining about everything and how “hard” their life is. Find the positives in your life, and reflect on those. You have a home, you have food (stress eating is a privilege of a first world country), you have people who love you (everyone does, don’t forget that!) – don’t let the small stuff get you so worked up to the point of boozing and devouring a bag of Doritos.

Lastly, toughen up, and have some discipline.

We all have stress. How bad do you really want to reach your goal? You can’t let cookies, ice cream and beer control how you handle your emotions/stressors. You need to be a strong person and learn to deal with stress in a better way. Exercise, writing in a journal, playing/listening to music, or just turning off your cell phone when you leave the office might be all you need to deal with your stress.


So when you are having a “stressful day” please remember the following before throwing your sweatpants on and mindlessly eating a bag of Fritos on the couch:

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Think about why you are about to eat or drink – are you stressed? Why?
  3. Think about what you HAVE in your life, what is going well for you?
  4. Think about what you are going to accomplish by stress eating or drinking – nothing.
  5. Think about how you can diminish your stress in more healthy ways.
  6. Do that.
  7. By now, your emotional urge to stress eat might be gone!

Lastly, some quick ideas for different stressors:

  • If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, watch a comedy.
  • If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, taking a brisk walk or destroying some heavy iron at the gym!
  • If you’re exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
  • If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a good TV show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).
  • If you’re tired, go to bed! (simplest fix)

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Stay healthy my friends,


Published by Mike Gorski

Registered Dietitian and Fitness Coach OWNER OF MG FIT LIFE LLC

3 thoughts on “Your REACTION to Stress is Keeping You Fat

  1. MIke, This is your best one yet!!!! So timely, too! 🙂 Great writing and great advice! Julie


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