How Stress And Lack of Sleep Make You Fat


Have heard how stress and lack of sleep makes you fat?

Let’s face it, it’s common for people to be running from appointment to appointment, deadline to deadline always feeling behind on everything.  Whatever happened to the days where you actually got home at around 5:30, had dinner and sat on the front porch talking with your neighbors?

Most of the stress we all experience is self-imposed because we are trying to achieve something we believe will bring us happiness. 

It reminds me so much of the classic film “Citizen Kane”.  If you remember the story, it was about a young boy whose mother came into some money and sent him away to the best schools.  He grew up to be one of the most wealthiest, influential men on the planet.  He had everything that money could buy.  But he also had 2 failed marriages, no solid friendships, and lots of enemies.  On his deathbed, he whispers one word “RoseBud”, the name of his sled he used to play with when he lived with his mom.  The camera fades away with a clip of his estate and all his possessions being burned.  In that instant the message is clear.  He spent his entire life trying to make money to collect the things that all burned in the end.  And the only happy memory he has when he dies is not of the money or the things or his business or his multi-million dollar estate.  It is that of him playing in the snow when he was a young child – when life was simpler.

We can take the message to heart and ask ourselves, do we have our priorities in order?  Are we doing the things in our life we want to be doing?  Why do we let the little things get to us?

Successful stress management happens first by taking a different perspective on our life and adjusting our attitudes and actions accordingly.   

There has been quite a bit of research recently measuring stress hormones and how they affect our fat cells and fat metabolism.

Dr. Pamela Peeke has been the leading researcher in this area and she has found that our body interprets any kind of stress in our live as physical stress and immediately responds using the “Fight or Flight” response. Unfortunately, most of the stress in our lives is not physical stress but rather, work, kids, financial etc – more of the emotional or mental type of stress. But nonetheless, as our stress increases, the stress hormone, cortisol, is released into the blood stream.

Cortisol has two negative effects in terms of fat loss.
  • One, it causes the body to crave more fat and sugar.
  • And secondly, it causes the body to uptake more fat into the fat cells in order to store energy. 
    • Both act as a defense mechanism to provide the body with energy to fight off the stress – unfortunately, since we’re not really undergoing physical stress instead, we just get fatter.  Plus high levels of stress have been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease.  The message is clear.  If you want to obtain optimal health, you need to manage your stress.  Take baths, get massages, practice retail therapy, write in a journal, read, pray, practice deep breathing, participate in Tai Chi, Yoga or meditation classes. 

Do whatever it takes to either interpret your stress differently or take care of yourself so that stress doesn’t tear you down.

In addition, more and more literature is touting the importance of sleep in terms of optimal health and fat loss.  We now understand that….

….when the body doesn’t get the 7-8 hours of sleep every night that it needs to rejuvenate/repair/heal, it finds ways to compensate for the lower levels of serotonin or dopamine caused by lack of sleep.  It does this by increasing appetite and craving foods with sugar and fats that instantly give you the immediate release of serotonin and dopamine. 

It also causes you to store more fat as a defense mechanism to provide you the energy to help manage the longer days.  So get to bed early and get some good R & R !  Plus if you’re in bed at a decent hour, you’ll be less likely to be munching!

Note:  Remember that exercise definitely helps you manage stress and sleep better.  As an avid Columbian reader, you can redeem a 2 week pass at our world-class training studio to help get you started.  Contact 360.574.7292 for more details. 

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for over 25 years and has received numerous industry awards including International Personal Trainer and Fitness Presenter of the Year. She is the author of five books including “Go For Fit – the Winning Way to Fat Loss” and “Fit over Forty” and is the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs.  She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver and can be seen running, hiking or cycling with her two children, Brianna and Jackson.  She can be reached at or

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan, holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 33 years. She has received numerous industry awards including 2010 CanFitPro International Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year and 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year - Runner up. She is a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss" and "Fit over Forty" and the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs. She has presented hundreds of workshops to thousands of fitness leaders throughout Canada, Australia, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, Germany, England, Spain, South America, Asia and the U.S. She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver, the founder of WHY Racing Events & WHY Community, participates in various community fundraisers and can be found running, biking, or hiking around the community. Find more information at

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