How stress impacts body fat and what you can do about it

Have you noticed as you’ve got older you are starting to store fat in different places?  For most of my adult life, I was a pear shape.  Always bigger around the hips.  Then once I hit 40 my boobs started getting bigger and I started getting wider around the midriff.

Now I know some of this is down to hormones at hitting perimenopause, some of it was down to diet and what I was eating and drinking but there was also an element of it that was down to stress.

Stress can indeed contribute to fat storage in the body through various physiological mechanisms. When our body experiences stress, whether it’s acute or chronic, it triggers the release of stress hormones, particularly cortisol.

  • Stress activates the body’s “fight or flight” response, which leads to an increase in cortisol production. Cortisol is a hormone that plays a role in metabolism and energy regulation.  When cortisol levels are elevated, it can stimulate the storage of fat, especially in the abdominal area.
  • Stress will often increase our cravings for High-Calorie, highly processed foods.  It will often lead to emotional eating, which soon has us spiralling into craving high-calorie and sugary foods over and over again.  This will then contribute to weight gain and as our hormones change will more than likely be more around the middle again.
  • Chronic stress has also been linked to insulin resistance, which impairs the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar effectively.  Insulin resistance can also lead to increased fat storage, particularly in those abdominal fat cells.
  • Stress may lead to a lack of motivation or fatigue, which can reduce the likelihood of us engaging in regular physical activity.  Insufficient exercise can contribute to weight gain and hinder our ability to burn calories.

I don’t know about you, but reading that can in itself cause our stress levels to rise.  Don’t panic though as there are lots of things we can do to help reduce stress and also change the amount of fat we lay down.


  • One of the biggest things we can do is physical activity.  This can help reduce stress levels by promoting the release of endorphins (or dolphins as you may have heard me say before), which are the body’s natural mood elevators.  The beauty is, it can be absolutely anything.  Even just getting out for a walk will release those endorphins.  It’s the days that you really don’t feel like doing it though that are the days you would benefit from it the most.
  • Maintaining a balanced and healthy diet to support our overall health and avoid relying on high-calorie comfort foods during times of stress.  Eat the rainbow and plenty of protein with each meal to help keep you feeling fuller for longer.
  • Sleep.  Now this one is often easier said than done because when you are stressed you could struggle with quality sleep so it can become a viscous cycle.  A lack of sleep though can contribute to increased stress levels and disrupt hormonal balance.  Getting a good sleep routine in place is vital, not only to give you that quality sleep but it will also have that knock on effect and help reduce stress levels.  Win-win.
  • Practice stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga to promote relaxation.  Keeping a gratitude journal, focus on the things that are in your control and let go of those things that aren’t.  I think my biggest tip for being mindful though is turn OFF the news.
  • Find your tribe.  Seek support from friends, family, or a supportive group to share feelings and concerns.  Step away from the negative nelly’s that always leave you feeling drained.  If they are people you aren’t in a position to walk away from think about you actually interact with them.  Don’t get dragged into their negativity.  Come and join our amazing community of women on Facebook who are learning to put themselves first.
  • Engage in activities you enjoy to provide a break from stressors and promote a sense of fulfilment.  Find a new hobby, get out and do something socially, I’m so looking forward to going and having a go at pottery painting next month.
  • Reduce your consumption of stimulants like caffeine, chocolate and alcohol.  We live in a world today where it’s normal to reward ourselves with chocolate or a glass (bottle) of wine.  We’ve all said “I deserve it” after a stressful day.  An excessive intake can actually contribute to increased stress and anxiety.

It’s important to recognise and address sources of stress, as chronic stress can have significant impacts on both physical and mental health. Start thinking of ways that you can reduce it and you’ll start to notice a difference in not just your mental health but maybe even your body.

Come and join us or reach out to me personally if you feel you need a little help and support and let’s see how working with me could really help with your stress.

sandra harnett fitness