How stress changes your metabolism to gain weight and develop diabetes

You’ve been told a million times that “managing stress” is an important part of taking care of your health. But how seriously do you really take this advice?

Do you go out of your way to reduce day-to-day stressors? Do you practice relaxation techniques every evening (and I’m not talking about watching TV)?

I have a feeling that most of us don’t take this advice all that seriously. We read about the dangers of stress and think, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Then we move on to what seem like more practical approaches to healthy living — diet, and exercise.

But I’m here to tell you that ignoring stress is a big mistake — one that sets off a sequence of events that sends your health down the tubes. And it all starts with the impact stress has on your metabolism…

Stress triggers metabolic changes that prevent you from shedding pounds

We’ve all had times in our lives when we’re eating well and exercising, but we’re still holding on to stubborn weight. It’s super frustrating… and there’s a good chance that stress is the cause.

A new study from researchers at the University of Eastern Finland found that stress changes your metabolic profile in a way that affects your ability to lose weight.

The study included 124 people who were obese. All of them were experiencing stress at the start of the study. Researchers divided them into two groups. One group received a psychological lifestyle intervention that taught them how to manage stress and the other group didn’t. By the end of the study, the group who received the intervention felt less stressed (which is good), but the benefits went beyond that…

At the beginning of the study, researchers measured metabolic lipids (markers of metabolic health). They checked in with participants after nine months to measure these markers again. People who learned how to manage stress had changes to certain lipids — phosphatidylcholines, lysophosphatidylcholines, and plasmalogens. The changes were associated with more well-being and more weight loss.

Researchers think this means that these lipids may be missing links in the connection between psychological and metabolic health.

Now, it’s great that managing stress makes it easier for you to lose weight. But the benefits go far beyond fitting into that pair of jeans from 20 years ago. Weight is one component of your metabolic health but so are metabolic disorders like prediabetes and diabetes. And inflammation fits into the picture too.

Stress, inflammation, obesity and metabolic conditions all feed each other in one dangerous (and sometimes even deadly) loop. So, are you ready to take stress management more seriously?

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How to get serious about relief

There are so many factors in your life that cause stress. And some of these factors are hard to change — like your job or stressful relationships with family members.

I recommend eliminating serious stressors whenever possible in your life. But often the best approach to managing stress isn’t changing your external environment… it’s changing your internal one.

Stress starts in the mind. It’s your reaction to what’s happening around you. And everyone has a different reaction…

Some people (like me) get stressed out driving on the highway. Other people (like the guy driving next to me who talks on the phone while he eats a Big Mac) don’t. That’s why I’m a big fan of stopping it at its root.

But since our brains basically run on autopilot, changing the way you perceive things isn’t exactly easy. So, you may need help. I recommend working with a cognitive-behavioral therapist… especially if you have high stress levels. Cognitive behavioral therapists help you change the way you think about the challenges in your life. Here’s a database that can help you find a cognitive-behavioral therapist near you.

Or if cognitive behavioral therapy isn’t the approach you want to take, here’s another suggestion…

Practice yoga and mindfulness meditation. Both practices are known stress relievers. But their benefits go beyond just making you feel more relaxed while you’re doing them. They change the way you perceive and interact with the world around you by making you more centered and present.

Related: The best essential oil to relieve stress

Nowadays, it’s not hard to find local yoga and mindfulness meditation classes. I recommend starting with guidance from a professional and then, if you’d like, branching off into your own practice. One big benefit of working with a professional is that it helps keep you committed. It’s too easy to fall off the wagon on your own.

Give these suggestions a try if you’re ready to make major changes to your stress level… and metabolic health.


  1. Reduced stress changes profile of various lipid compounds — MedicalXpress
  2. Plasma lipid profile associates with the improvement of psychological well-being in individuals with perceived stress symptomsScientific Reports
  3. Cognitive behavioral therapy — Mayo Clinic
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and