Does stress hamper fat loss?

Stress: a slight dose of it helps you kick ass by boosting energy, alertness, and productivity. But suffering high stress daily? That can seriously mess with your mind and body.

Not only does it increase your risk of contracting many diseases, but it also drains your energy, your desire to work out and eat healthily, and your libido. Besides, chronic stress is often claimed to hamper fat loss. But is that true?

In this article, you’ll discover the evidence-based truth about how stress affects fat loss. You’ll also learn three powerful tips that help you shed excess pounds. Let’s dive in!

Does Stress Hamper Fat Loss?

It’s often claimed that stress causes fat gain, in particular around the midsection. This belief evolved in 1999 when researchers found that men with higher stress levels tend to carry more belly fat [1]. As a result, the media and fitness “experts” started to spread the “scientific proof” that stress causes fat gain.

The problem? The study looked at whether there was a correlation between stress and body fat – which was the case. However, just because two variables are correlated does not mean that one causes the other. In fact, stress actually increases fat burning. Here’s why:

Stress Actually Boosts Fat Burning

The reason is that stress has a catabolic effect on your body. This means it aids in breaking down molecules for fuel, such as body fat.

For example, in one study hydrocortisone – a pharmaceutical form of the stress hormone cortisol – was infused into a group of healthy young males [2]. As a result, the men burned more fat for fuel.

But Here’s the Problem!

Even though stress aids fat burning, there are three ways in which chronic stress indirectly wreaks havoc on your figure and fat loss efforts. This may sound contradictory, so let me explain.

First off, stress raises appetite. This is particularly the case for sweet foods such as chocolate and desserts. I think we can all relate to this: if you’re stressed, it’s tempting to reach for junk food to feel better.

The problem? This increased food intake will undo the smidge of extra fat the stress hormone has you burn. Hence, stress may cause you to overeat hundreds if not thousands of extra calories, which can erase your fat loss efforts of the previous days if not weeks.

Second, chronic stress causes muscle loss. Why’s that? Because stress acts catabolically: it not only aids in breaking down fat, but also muscle mass. This is something that must be avoided when you want to shape an eye-catching figure.

Third, chronic stress causes water retention. As a result, the number on your scale might rise, giving the false impression you’ve gained fat, even though it’s just water. Such water retention also “softens” your appearance, making you look fatter than you really are.

Here’s What to Do

Keeping stress in check is essential to shaping an eye-catching body. So, whether you have 99 problems or just a handful of them, here are three tips to prevent stress from wreaking havoc on your figure.


First off, avoid stress-related eating such as reaching for a chocolate bar when you feel frazzled. Often, such behaviour is tied to a specific event. An example is reaching for a chocolate bar when you’re overloaded with work.

The best way to prevent such stress-related eating is by eliminating the trigger. So, let’s say you tend to reach for chocolate when you’re overloaded with work, improving your planning skills or outsourcing tedious tasks will decrease the likelihood that you will feel strained.

If you can’t drop the trigger, find an alternative way to cope with it. For example, instead of reaching for chocolate when you feel weighed down, focus for a minute on your breath. You’ll find that stress goes down and that it will be easier to deal with the situation.

Another powerful technique is the five-minute rule. Before you give in to the urge, wait for five minutes. During this time, reflect on how you feel, revisit your fitness goals, and evaluate whether short-term gratification is worth imperilling your long-term desires. Most likely, the cravings will wane in strength or even go away entirely.


Second, get enough sleep, as sleep deprivation increases stress levels in your body. While the optimal amount varies among individuals, aim for at least seven hours each night. It’s best to get those hours at the same interval daily, as irregular sleeping patterns elevate cortisol.

Getting enough sleep also boosts willpower, making it easier to resist the temptation of indulging in “comfort foods” such as chocolate or doughnuts during times of stress.


Third, take time to relax. Whether in the form of meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, walking, listening to music, or something else – plan at least one moment in your day during which you can unwind.

Use these tips to keep your stress levels low and improve your success of shedding those bothersome excess pounds of fat.


Transform your body, transform your mind.






  1. Epel, E. E., Moyer, A. E., Martin, C. D., Macary, S., Cummings, N., Rodin, J., & Rebuffe-Scrive, M. (1999). Stress-induced cortisol, mood, and fat distribution in men. Obesity Research, 7(1), 9-15.
  2. Djurhuus, C. B., Gravholt, C. H., Nielsen, S., Mengel, A., Christiansen, J. S., Schmitz, O. E., & Moller, N. (2002). Effects of cortisol on lipolysis and regional interstitial glycerol levels in humans. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 283(1), 172-7.


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