Holiday Stress and Weight Gain

(Or, How Can Something with No Calories Make Us Fat?)


I love this time of year!  I love the meaning of Christmas, spending time with family and friends, shopping, good food, yummy treats, and everything else Christmas-related.  But the sad reality is that sometimes we get so caught up in the “hustle and bustle” that we become stressed. Instead of living in and enjoying each moment, our Christmas season becomes one to “just get through,” and we lose our joy—not to mention our peace of mind!


Stress—holiday or otherwise—is poison.  It wreaks havoc on us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.   It can negatively affect our relationships with family and friends and cause depression.  It makes us tired and fatigued, breaks down our immune system, and raises our blood pressure. Furthermore, it contributes to weight gain.  YIKES!  So, how can something that has no calories make us fat?


Without getting too scientific, cortisol is a hormone that is released when we face any type of stress.  This stress hormone, combined with other hormones (and depending on their levels and ratios to each other) can and will make our bodies redistribute and store excess fat, usually around the mid-section. These hormones and their levels are influenced not only by stress but also by our eating, sleeping, and exercise habits.


Exercise is key in regulating our stress levels and lowering cortisol. It raises the levels of HGH (human growth hormone) and testosterone, two hormones that specifically burn fat.   A higher level of these two hormones versus the cortisol will prevent fat storage and actually burn fat more efficiently.


We cannot control all the stress life brings but we CAN control how we react to it.  Healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and a good exercise plan will prevent the weight gain associated with stress.


During this holiday season, I encourage you NOT to put exercise on the back burner.  There are 1440 minutes in a day. Take 30 of those minutes and exercise, lowering stress and raising those fat-burning hormones.   Aim for four to six times a week combining cardio and resistance training.  The more intense the exercise, the higher the production of those fat burning hormones.


Additionally, be sure to eat frequently—four to six times a day—adding protein to each meal/snack to stabilize blood sugar, give you energy, and keep insulin (a fat-storing hormone) at bay.  And be sure to get seven to eight hours of sleep.


Make your health and fitness a priority.  Be intentional and carve out those 30 minutes a day.  Create an eating plan and stick to it. And enjoy all this Christmas season has to offer!



Brenda BobackBrenda Boback is a Certified Personal Trainer and Cycling Instructor at Harbor Fit. When not teaching classes, Brenda is working one-on-one with clients to help them achieve their fitness goals. She has a special interest in diabetes prevention, nutrition, and women’s health and wellness. You can contact Brenda at







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