Many scientists now believe that prolonged stress, in and of itself, can lead to weight gain in some people. The focus of attention is the "stress hormone" cortisol. When you experience physical or emotional stress, the body releases cortisol to help you deal with the threat at hand. Some of the direct effects of cortisol include increased appetite, higher insulin levels, and breakdown of muscle tissue. Usually, cortisol dissipates after the threat has passed, and the body returns to normal. But if persistent stress keeps cortisol levels high for long periods of time, the effects on the body -- including those related to metabolism -- become more pronounced.

Specifically:

  • Increased appetite, over a long period of time, can lead to overeating.
  • Raised insulin levels cause the body to store more fat.
  • Breakdown of muscle tissue can lead metabolism to slow down. If you are trying to lose weight or maintain your weight, stress management is very relevant to your goals. Some of the best stress-relief strategies: aerobic exercise, getting enough sleep, deep breathing and simply allowing for some "down time."