Chillax & Lose Weight

Does stress have a caloric value?

Sounds like a dumb question doesn’t it, but here’s the kicker… stress DOES make you fat, which means we can’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend getting that lean and toned look is all about exercise and diet anymore.

You might be asking how on earth stress can make you fat?

Maybe you don’t quite believe it can really have that much of an impact, (or you don’t consider that you’re stressed) but if you’ve been doing everything right (exercising a lot, eating right)  and you’re still struggling with tummy fat and stubborn weight gain then maybe it’s time to consider whether you’re stress responsive.

Let’s break it down: stress creates a hormonal response in the body, we’ve all had a late period because of stress, or felt that knot in our stomach, or had a few sleepless nights from time to time. All of these physical reactions are caused by very real metabolic and hormonal processes whirring around inside us.


We’re not going to get deep into the science so here’s the need-to-knows.

Why do we have a stress response?

Historically we needed a good stress response to survive.  We got chased by predators, attacked by other tribes, or had to hunt our dinner.

To help us get through it, our bodies created the fight or flight response.  (Awesome!)

Let’s get nerdy and see how that actually works and how it makes you fat.  

The HPA Axis

The stress response is regulated the brain (your hypothalamus),  the pituitary gland and your adrenal glands, known as the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, yep, it’s a mouthful so let’s stick with HPA axis.

When the brain perceives a threat of any kind it speaks to the adrenal glands to warn them to fire up for a fight. In a split second, the adrenal glands flood the body with hormonal signals like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol which enable you to run faster, hit harder, you know, survive.

We’ve all felt the HPA Axis in action, whenever we get a sudden shock, scare or someone ‘makes us jump’ and suddenly you’re shaking and ready to kick some butt or get the hell out of there!

In the good ol’ days that’s exactly what you’d have done, but these days the low level stressors that cause the HPA Axis to remain active are ALWAYS on and you’re simply sitting there in front of Netflix, or at work with a difficult deadline, or with your fighting kids and there’s no way for your body to get rid of the stress hormones that are active.


So HOW exactly do stress hormones make you fat?

When the body gears up for fight or flight it needs sugar and fat in the blood for energy.

The liver releases stored blood sugar, but it’s not enough. Your body also pulls stored amino acids and sugar from the muscle and from fat.  

(Fat from your legs and arms will be moved to your tummy where the liver can access the energy in it more easily, which means stress also affects where you store your fat.)

Now you’ve got high blood sugar, ready to rock and roll..but wait..nothing’s happening. You’re still in front of Netflix!

So your body needs to clean that blood sugar, which it does by releasing the hormone insulin.

This is bad bad news for us, because insulin is a fat storing hormone that stops the body from burning fat and instead signals the body to store fat.


Not exactly...oh how we wish it was that simple!

When cortisol is released it has does have some silent but unwanted effects that kick in to cause more fat storage.

When levels are raised you’re more likely to make bad food choices and eat more calories.

Have you ever noticed how hungry you are after a bad night’s sleep? You crave junk food and sweet food for energy and it’s almost impossible to eat as well as you’d like to? That’s cortisol.

But high cortisol alone doesn’t mean belly fat. In fact, you can have low cortisol (which sounds good, but isn’t) and struggle with low energy and burn out, often as a result of long term exposure to stressors, like lack of sleep, over exercising, illness or under eating.

If you want to know where you score on the stress radar, you can take a simple saliva test. Cortisol should be high in the morning but reduce throughout the day and the test will give you your stress curve on the day you take it.

One day, however doesn’t tell the story of your life. At the end of the day taking a look at your lifestyle is the key to avoiding belly fat caused by stress.  Put down the phone, turn off the lights earlier, don’t overdo the cardio, eat properly. You know the drill!


1) Eat regularly and eat high quality foods with lots of protein and fibre, but lower your sugars, starches and juices.  High sugar foods keep the cortisol/insulin wheel turning.

2) You need to produce stress-busting hormones HGH and testosterone (which are naturally lowered in women as we age) so get exercising and  make sure you can feel the burn! Don’t go for too long though… overdoing the cardio can cause more stress, not less. Lift weights and make it challenging, but under 30 minutes. Walking will lower stress levels so get out and walk as much as possible!

3)  Get your beauty sleep. HGH is released when you kip and without enough sleep you’re fighting a losing battle.

4)  Fight muscle loss with lots of protein, which will also keep you full and help break the hormonal havoc cycle going on inside you. Use shakes or add protein to every meal.

5)  Have a hot chocolate! Not the commercial kind..instead use cocao powder in smoothies or over ice and almond milk with a twist of Stevia to kill cravings and release feel-good hormones.  (Yay to chocolate!)

6)  Don’t skip meals! To keep your blood sugar stable, eat regularly and keep your meals small.

Want to find out whether you’re stress responsive? Take our simple stress questionnaire here.

The Corio Method is a unique, fearlessly fun and effective fitness method and training system that creates a stronger, fitter, leaner and more agile, beautifully balanced physique. Apply now for a complimentary Corio Kickstart Session with our coaches, available globally (value $250) and take the first step towards a new you.