Is stress making you fat? We asked an expert

Are you stressed? Yep, us too. We’re a stressed out generation it seems. But is stress actually making you fat?

We asked Dr Sally Norton, an NHS Weight Loss Consultant and Surgeon and Health Expert. And she has a solution to weight loss that you hadn’t though of…

1. Stress triggers a hormone rush

Our brain signals that we’re under threat and floods our body with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. At first we may be too busy fire-fighting to think about food – part of the body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response to danger.

But if stress goes on, or remains high, cortisol hangs round in the body long after any initial adrenalin rush is over, and tells us to stock up on energy rich (aka fatty and sugary) foods. A study last year showed that after a challenging morning meeting, or an interaction with an upset client, workers were more likely to go for that extra chocolate bar at lunch.

>2. Where does the fat go?

Cortisol can actually affect how fat is distributed around our bodies. And unfortunately, in health and weight terms, it builds up in the very worst place – not underneath the skin, but more centrally around our middles. Not only does this make it harder to shift (fat stored for the long haul!), it raises our chances of severe health problems.

And that’s not even mentioning other knock on effects of too much stress. We all know that when our stress levels are high we’re more likely to feel anxious and have disrupted sleep. This can be a further drain on our willpower – and more encouragement to indulge in comfort eating.

3. How can I stop this from happening to me?

So if this is something our bodies are naturally programmed to do, what’s the answer? The obvious one is to lead a less stressful life. However, this isn’t always easy without a major overhaul of our lifestyles. A better option is to change the way we respond to stress.

Try this: Next time you feel under pressure and you have an all-consuming desire for a double-chocolate brownie, try this to stop you in your tracks and relax you at the same time.

>4. Take 5 (and we don’t mean chocolate brownies!)

Before you give into your craving, step back and press the pause button. Tell yourself to wait for 5 minutes – or if that feels too hard, start with 1 minute. You’re not saying you must deny your craving – there’s nothing like a ban to trigger an all-out binge! You’re simply telling yourself to hold on for a minute or so to see if you might be able to deal with your stress in a different way.

Now move away from temptation and do something relaxing. Take a walk outside, listen to your favourite music or get some sunshine on your face. Or find somewhere quiet to sit and do some slow breathing exercises.

The nature of cravings is that they go in a wave, so use this as a way to ride this one through.

Dr Sally Norton is also the Founder of