• Dr Sally Norton


Updated: Jun 15, 2020

A bit of stress can fire us up – raising adrenaline levels and a desire to succeed. But chronic stress can lead to persistently high levels of the hormone cortisol, which appears to play a role in obesity and the pattern of fat deposition around the middle. This ‘muffin top’, ‘jelly belly’ or ‘middle-aged spread’, whatever you like to call it, is associated with diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver and more. Not a good sign.

Plus, stress often has us reaching for high fat, high sugar foods, in an attempt to soothe the worries…but just ends up creating weight and health concerns instead!

A recent study added to the evidence that too much stress is causing our waistbands to get tighter and tighter. It cleverly assessed the amount of cortisol in hair samples of over 2 ½ thousand people – which gave an indication of the stress levels of the participants over the previous 2 months. It showed that those who were obese or had an unhealthily large waist measurement had the highest cortisol levels.

So, rather than stress yourself out with unsustainable fad diets or high pressure gym routines in an effort to lose weight, try a gentler tactic. Tackle your stresses, breaking them down into manageable chunks if you need to. Don’t put off those jobs you just need to get on and do, delegate where you can and make sure you take time to unwind and have fun. That way your cortisol levels will no longer be sky high and your waist band will start to get looser again. And your health will benefit too – both mental and physical!

Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population-based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years. Sarah E. Jackson, Clemens Kirschbaum, Andrew Steptoe. Obesity February 2017