How to Break the Stress-Weight Gain Cycle

Bariatric surgery is a life-changing decision that can significantly improve your health and wellbeing. However, it can also increase your stress and anxiety. You may worry about your diet choices or your family’s reactions to your surgery. Some stress is normal leading up to your surgery and in the immediate aftermath. However, chronic stress can stall your weight loss or even lead to weight gain.

Why Does Stress Cause Weight Gain?

Stress and Hormones

The stress hormone cortisol has a well-established connection to weight gain. Your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol anytime you’re stressed. The body interprets this as a threat or risky situation which triggers the flight or fight response. Your body releases glucose into the bloodstream to give you the energy you need to escape.

Once the threat passes, blood sugar levels return to normal, and cortisol tries to replenish your energy supply. Unfortunately, sugar is the fastest way to shore up your quick energy reserves. Your body sends signals that induce sugar cravings and drive you to seek sweet snacks when you’re stressed. Once in your system, the body stores this energy in fat cells. The stress-cortisol-sugar consumption cycle can lead to rapid and hard-to-lose weight gain. Cortisol also slows your metabolism, which further contributes to fat storage.

Stress and Lifestyle Habits

Hormones aren’t the only culprit behind stress-related weight gain. You’re more likely to engage in unhealthy habits during times of stress. Some of these include:

  • Emotional eating. Cortisol makes you crave unhealthy foods, but nerves can also fuel you with excessive energy. Too much energy can lead to eating more than usual. Eating also triggers dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy. As a result, you’re more likely to eat more food and more often when stressed as a means of coping.
  • Eating easy-access food. Cooking a healthy meal may be the last thing you feel like doing when under stress. You’re more likely to eat the first thing you see or seek out the easiest meal solution, such as fast food.
  • Skipping workouts. It’s easy to cut exercise from a hectic day. Your work and family needs are often your primary concerns, leaving exercise as one of your lower priorities. While missing a workout now and then isn’t an issue, this behavior can become habitual and lead to weight gain.

How to Reduce Stress After Bariatric Surgery

Managing your stress is an important piece of the weight loss puzzle. The following are several strategies that can help:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep. Stressed individuals are often falling short of their sleep needs. Not getting enough sleep can increase stress levels, which can make falling asleep and staying asleep difficult. The more stress you accumulate, the more it will interfere with your sleep. Sleeping less is also associated with increased hunger, reduced metabolism, and weight gain. Try using a meditation app, performing breathing exercises, and doing some light yoga before bed to help you relax.
  2. Stock up on healthier comfort foods and snacks. Your body is hard-wired to eat when under stress. However, you can reduce the negative effect of this behavior if you keep plenty of healthy food options on hand.
  3. Prioritize exercise. Exercise is crucial for weight loss, and it improves your stress levels. Exercise releases endorphins to improve your mood while also burning calories. Remember, some exercise is better than no exercise. Take a 10-minute walk during your lunch break, or find a quick workout online that you can follow along with at home.
  4. Keep a food journal. Cataloging your meals and snacks throughout the day can help you identify poor eating habits. It also makes you more aware of what you’re eating, and you might reconsider a sugary snack if you can see what you’ve already eaten for the day. Food journaling helps you accurately track your calories as well. Many people dramatically underestimate how many calories they’ve eaten without a food app. Many mobile apps have a database of foods to search for, or you can scan the label. Improving your mindfulness of what you eat can help you identify and avoid stress eating.


Bariatric surgery can help you lose excess weight and improve your health in several ways. However, the idea of surgery, overhauling your diet, and starting a new exercise regimen can be stressful. Contact us to discuss your weight loss goals and see if bariatric surgery is right for you.

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