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High stress = more cravings and weight gain

By WHN Editorial Team

If you’re a woman with hormonal imbalance, you won’t be surprised that stress is one of the biggest root causes of cravings and weight gain — even when you are “doing everything right.” When we talk to women, they say they exercise frequently, track what they eat and drink a lot of water — and still suffer severe cravings that lead to weight gain.

woman on laptop with high stress

What’s more, when we compared how symptoms of hormonal imbalance were changing over time, we saw that women today are experiencing significant increases in cravings and stress compared to just 10 years ago:

  • 42% more women report an increase in severity of cravings
  • 17% more women report an increase in the frequency of cravings
  • 22% more women report regularly experiencing stress in their daily lives, a factor that experts say plays an important role in uncontrollable cravings

As women’s lives become even more demanding, it’s become more important than ever to take a closer look at the physical changes that take place in the body because of stress, say experts.

“We’ve got to move past blaming cravings on women’s lack of willpower,” says Dr. Sarika Arora, MD, a specialist in Internal and Functional Medicine. “In the chemistry of our bodies, cravings are triggered by stress-induced hormonal imbalance. The more stressed we feel emotionally and physically, the more cortisol the body produces – and high levels of cortisol lead to cravings.” says Sarika Arora, MD, a specialist in Internal Medicine and Functional Medicine.

how chronic stress can make you fat

9 additional symptoms of high cortisol

In addition to cravings and weight gain, stress that leads to high cortisol can cause the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Mood swings, high anxiety, panic attacks
  • Skin problems
  • Hair loss
  • Insulin resistance
  • Thyroid imbalance
  • Weight gain
  • Insomnia, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Lower sex drive

More about the symptom study

The Women’s Health Network hormonal profile allows women to rank their experiences with common symptoms of hormonal imbalance. In an analysis to track how symptoms are changing over time, 10,000 profiles completed by women ages 25 to 70 in 2016 were compared to 10,000 profiles taken by similarly-aged women in 2007-2008. According to the analysis, women today are reporting significant differences in the type and severity of their symptoms.

Do you suffer from hormonal imbalance?

Many women may not realize that hormonal imbalance is the cause of symptoms such as weight gain, cravings, irritability or insomnia. Knowing more about your symptoms is the best way to learn how to relieve, or even prevent them. Our Hormonal Health Quiz has helped hundreds of thousands of women have a better experience during the midlife transition, and it can help you too.

Last Updated: March 3, 2023
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