Feeling stressed for a long period of time can change our appetite.
This can make us more at risk of developing obesity. Learning to
manage stress is one strategy that can support your weight management efforts.
It’s normal to feel stressed in response to challenging situations in
our lives. It’s also very common. 35 percent of people in 142
countries, who responded to a Gallup global survey in 2018, said they
feel stressed much of the day. This stress is often short-term – like
worrying about an upcoming deadline – and can stimulate us positively
to take action.
But if we feel stressed for a long period of time, our health can
suffer. We don’t sleep as well and don’t move as much. Our eating
patterns also change, and we crave more unhealthy food. These
reactions to stress all play a role in making us more at risk of
Stress is part of our body’s “fight-or-flight” response that has
helped us to survive dangerous situations for thousands of years. And
normally we only experience it for short periods of time. But people
now feel stressed for so much of their day that the response is
When this happens, levels of cortisol – one of the main hormones
involved in the biological stress response – rise. One of the effects
of the elevated cortisol levels is the increase in appetite. So, if we
feel constantly stressed, we also are more likely to eat more food.
And not just any food. Research has shown that we are more attracted
to energy-rich food when we feel stressed. This might be because these
foods can help us to feel a relief from stress. This is why it’s
called ‘comfort eating’.
So, stress doesn’t just make us want to eat more, it also changes
the types of food we want to eat. This explains why people who live
with obesity tend to have higher levels of cortisol than normal.
Stress also puts us at risk of sleeping worse, drinking more alcohol
and moving less, which all increase our risk of obesity.
So, what can we do? There are a number of different strategies that
can help you to manage stressful situations, as well as feelings of
stress. For a guide to managing stress and stress eating, read the
care of yourself: 8 ways to manage stress - and weight