Can stress and anxiety really make you fat?

Do you struggle with constant stress, or bouts of anxiety and depression?

Did you know that these are just some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism and that they can have a big impact on your waist line?

This is a double (maybe even triple) whammy for people with hypothyroidism and there battle with the scales.

Not only does hypothyroidism reduce your metabolic function, it can also increase stress hormones and reduce healthy gut bacteria (more on that in coming week), that have all been shown extensively to increase our weight and make weight loss more challenging

How does hypothyroidism create stress and anxiety?

Living in modern society we are all surrounded by stress. Work, traffic, money, relationships, kids, looking after family, not enough hours in the day, lack of energy, are just some of the issues we face today. We each have our own stressors to deal with and it is just a part of our daily lives. There will be times of great stress and it is normal to feel overwhelmed and depleted. But for a lot of people suffering from depression and anxiety the stressors around them are the same as other people but their body is reacting differently to the stressors.

The thyroid hormones are directly linked to the production and regulation of neurotransmitters in the brain such as GABA and serotonin. If these neurotransmitters are ineffective the brain will not function in its usual effective way. Serotonin has been known for years to play a crucial role in depression, so it is not surprising that this is one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, it is absolutely not in your head!

My story of post partum hashimoto’s

Just 2 years ago I had my beautifully baby girl, our third little one in 5 years. As overjoyed as I was I became increasingly withdrawn. My moods became erratic, and I’m sure my husband will tell you I was a little irrational. Having a history of Hashimoto’s already checking my thyroid panel regularly and knew that it wasn’t ideal, it was swinging wildly from hyper to hypo. I had Post Partum Thyroiditis.

It should have been a time of great joy. To the outside world I had it all, 3 healthy kids, a great husband, nice house and was lucky enough to be a stay at home mum. But on the inside I was literally falling apart. I would struggle to drag myself out of bed each day and had a feeling of complete dread for the day ahead and how I would even get through it. I struggled with what felt like the overwhelm of parenting 3 young kids and rarely found any joy in it. I struggled to relate at all to my husband and just shut him out. I was too exhausted physically and mentally to even bother organising social outings or meeting friends. I just couldn’t find the metal power to do anything I used to love like reading, exercising or writing.

Each day felt like a downward spiral and I just wanted to run away from the world into my deep dark hole. It is a place that I know too many hypothyroid sufferers have been too or are struggling with and it is often not addressed correctly by traditional medicine.

For myself after several months my doctor diagnosed Post Partum Depression and suggested anti depressants. At this time I was willing to try almost anything and took the script home. But something in me finally cracked at the diagnosis. With all my knowledge I knew deep down that it was my thyroid and adrenals that where shot and that an antidepressant was not really going to get to the root cause. So on that day I chucked the prescription and finally got myself on the path to health. The bonus was that I also lost the 13kgs that I had struggled so hard for almost 18 months to shift after having baby number 3 and I was actually much easier than any attempts before because I had found a healthier happier place.

Why does stress and anxiety make you fat?

Stress is such a subjective thing. What can stress one person out may have no effect on another and what affects you one day may have no effect on you the next!

Your moods are regulated in part by your hormones however it is also the way that we view the world. When in a state of depression it is really hard to see the good side of anything. Our minds take a downward spiral and often negative thoughts are repeated over and over. The negativity breeds more negativity and poorer moods and the cycle continues.

Changing your mindset is key to finding true health. I’m not saying it’s as easy as just one day choosing to look at the world with happy glasses, if only it where that easy! It takes a complete change of your daily actions over time to slowly wind your way out of the spiral with the belief that there is a light at the end.

If your mindset is in a bad place it will mean that relying on will power alone to follow a healthy diet will only add to your state of depression and anxiety. It will be a constant battle that will be incredibly hard to beat. Add to that a diet that will make you tired and mentally fatigued (like a low carb or calorie diet) and you have a recipe for disaster.

In my worst state I found food was a great comfort, I used it as a reward for simply getting through my day. Once I got the kids to bed I had no energy left to do the things that I loved. It was an easy option to grab a chocolate bar and sit in front of the tv. Is this something that you do?

Blood Sugar Levels and the adrenals

When you are experiencing stress, depression and anxiety it has a significant effect on you energy, focus, willpower and blood sugar levels.

Stress directly affects our adrenal function. Initially, high levels of stress (perceived or real) release high levels of cortisol. This is an important hormone to keep use focused and energised during a stressful situation. However if the stress is long term our levels of cortisol become unbalanced.

In a healthy person cortisol levels should be at there highest first thing in the morning so you wake up feeling refreshed and energised from your sleep. It will then drop slowly over the day with another little peak about 4pm ( this is why many people have a slump after lunch but get their second wind in the late afternoon).

However if your adrenals have become fatigued or imbalanced the release of cortisol will be out of whack with your life. This could mean that you struggle to get up in the morning and feel absolutely crap. Then when its’ time to go to bed at night you are to wired to get to sleep (this is a really familiar story for most hypothyroid patients).

The result of this poor sleep is even more brain fog, greater cravings and high levels of ghrelin and leptin (hormones that control our appetite). It is well documented that 7-8 hours of quality sleep benefits weight loss and weight maintenance.

High cortisol directly affects how our body produces insulin and uses energy. Over a prolonged period this will have a negative effect on blood sugar levels. Regulating blood sugar levels is essential for healthy weight loss.

Unfortunately our modern diets are so high in refined and processed foods our bodies are constantly being bombarded with glucose, which causes a rise in insulin levels. High insulin means more cravings and an increase in adipose tissue (or fat).


Did you know that people who have 7-8 hours sleep per night are more likely to have less body fat than those who sleep 6 or less per night?

The amount and quality of our sleep has a major impact on our bodies. It affects our moods and hormones and as a result our weight.

Unfortunately many hypothyroid sufferers, even though feelings completely exhausted have a terrible time getting to sleep and having a good quality sleep. As a result they will have even more brain fog, greater cravings and high levels of ghrelin and leptin (hormones that control our appetite).

What can you do?

While it feels like a losing battle to overcome depression and anxiety, if you believe that you can do it you will. It will all start with creating the right mindset and taking the small daily actions needed to create the right balance in the body to heal. It will not be as easy as taking a tablet or following a fad. A multi faceted approach has proven to be most effective for many hypothyroid sufferers including:

  • Mindset
  • Healthy sleep
  • Healthy diet and nutrition
  • Supportive herbs
  • Regular exercise
  • Having fun!

I am so excited to announce that we will be running the Thyroid Wellness Reset 6 week weight loss course again in July. This course is designed to help you not only lose weight but create the right mindset, get your health back and have fun. I will be sending the details through very soon!