How To Recognize Adrenal Fatigue Weight Gain and Feel Your Best

Weight gain can be incredibly frustrating—especially when you can’t figure out why it’s happening! What you’re experiencing could be adrenal fatigue weight gain.

When you’re experiencing high levels of stress your body releases hormones that, if left unchecked for long periods of time, can cause adrenal fatigue and weight gain. Though a common problem, many people aren’t aware of the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue and how it can impact their weight. 

How To Recognize Adrenal Fatigue Weight Gain and Feel Your Best | Quit Chronic Fatigue

Wait…What’s Adrenal Fatigue? 

So what is adrenal fatigue anyway? Well, you have a tiny adrenal gland on top of each of your kidneys. These glands have many responsibilities, including producing stress hormones when you feel threatened. This is your body’s natural response to danger. 

When you detect a threat, your brain sounds the alarm. Your body responds by starting emergency procedures in your brain and organs. 

Within a fraction of a second, your adrenal glands receive the message and produce the hormones you need for the “fight or flight” response. These hormones include adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol.

When you feel threatened, regardless if it’s a real or imagined threat, your adrenal glands go through this process. This is what you want to happen when you’ve encountered something dangerous, like running into a bear on a hike. The problem is, your body reacts the same whether it’s facing a bear, an impending deadline, or chronic stress. 

Chronic stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or experiencing a sense of pressure over a long period of time. When your body is in this state for a long time, the stress response happens over and over again. The result is overworked adrenal glands. Chronic stress can turn into adrenal fatigue in just a few weeks. 

What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?

There are many things that can cause stress and adrenal fatigue. 

Emotionally, you could be dealing with work and home pressures, depression, or trauma. Infections, allergies, digestive issues, and over-exercise can cause stress. You may have toxins in your system from medications or the environment that could add to the problem. Even dietary factors, such as too much sugar or caffeine, increase the chances of adrenal fatigue!

Any of these things can result in your adrenal glands working extra hard to produce stress hormones. The result is a hormonal imbalance that, if left unchecked, can lead to adrenal fatigue and weight gain.

Related: 4 Stress Warning Signs That Could Mean You’re Going To Experience Adrenal Fatigue

How Does Adrenal Fatigue Start? 

Adrenal fatigue starts as your body’s natural response to danger. This process evolved to save your life if threatened.

When you detect a threat, your brain sounds the alarm. Your body responds by starting emergency procedures in your brain and organs. 

Within a fraction of a second, your adrenal glands receive the message and produce the hormones you need to fight or to run.

When your body goes through this process over and over again, it can result in adrenal fatigue caused by overtaxing the glands.

How To Recognize Adrenal Fatigue Weight Gain

The effects of adrenal fatigue are experienced by many, but it’s still not often recognized by doctors. That means people who are dealing with adrenal fatigue weight gain often don’t know it.

So how do you know if your weight gain is due to adrenal fatigue? Here are some common symptoms that you might experience.

You Struggle To Lose Weight No Matter What You Do

Adrenal fatigue can leave you feeling that weight loss is difficult or impossible, no matter what you do. You may even notice that you’re retaining fluid in your face, stomach, or legs. 

Cortisol, one of those stress hormones produced by your adrenal glands, could be to blame. Sustained stress can lead to an overproduction of cortisol. This can be seen in Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s can cause puffy faces, increased blood pressure, and weight gain around the stomach and chest. 

People who suffer from chronic stress can experience similar symptoms as those of people with Cushing’s disease. 

Exercise Doesn’t Impact Your Adrenal Fatigue Weight Gain

Another thing you may notice if you have adrenal fatigue is that no matter how much you exercise, you can’t shift the needle on the scale. You can’t seem to tone your muscles either. 

Again, cortisol may be the culprit.

Cortisol is released during your stress response, but it’s also released when your exercise routine becomes too intense or goes on too long. When cortisol is released, it breaks down fat and sugars in our bodies for quick energy. When you are stressed, your body uses that energy for “fight or flight.” 

But when you over-exercise, your body thinks you’re in a dangerous situation and starts producing cortisol. The longer and more intensely you exercise, the more cortisol is released. Add that to your regular cortisol production and you end up with an excessive amount! 

But why is this a bad thing? 

The result of cortisol breaking down fats and sugars for energy is an increased appetite and cravings. Specifically, cravings for sweets to replace the fats and sugars your body broke down even though we know that snacks like that are not the best choice and can lead to weight gain.

High cortisol levels also cause your body to produce less testosterone. Your body needs testosterone to build up the mass in your muscles. When you’re lacking testosterone, you lose muscle and tone in your body. Meanwhile, your adrenal glands are being overworked, which triggers adrenal fatigue.

When Facing Stress, You Start Feeling Bloated and Like You’re Gaining Weight

Adrenal fatigue can cause you to feel bloated or like you’ve gained weight after a stressful week. 

Again, we’re going to blame the stress hormone, cortisol. 

When our bodies perceive a threat, we start producing more cortisol. And the process cortisol uses to break down protein and fat produces energy in the form of glucose. The problem is, that glucose is meant to be used up responding to a physical threat. If the threat turns out not to be a physical one, your body has no way to burn up the extra glucose in your blood. So eventually, that extra glucose gets turned into fat. 

When you experience chronic stress, your body keeps producing cortisol to address the threat over and over again. Your body starts adding layers of fat cells to your stomach to store up the energy for the continued threat. This causes weight gain around your belly. But these fat cells also have cortisol receptors. The next time you feel stressed, your fat cells release cortisol as well and it becomes a vicious cycle! 

The longer you experience stress, the longer your adrenal glands go through their stress response. The results are higher levels of cortisol, increased fat cell production, and adrenal fatigue.

How To Cope With Adrenal Fatigue Weight Gain

Now that you’ve learned about the effects of adrenal fatigue, you may feel like your body is working against you. But there are things you can do to cope with adrenal fatigue weight gain.

Eat Consistent Meals (and Snacks!)

Eating regularly can help. By eating three meals and two snacks a day, you are letting your body know that it doesn’t need to store fat for an emergency. Maintaining your blood sugar levels will also decrease the demand on your adrenal glands. 

When you eat is also important. Your cortisol levels are high in the morning and decrease throughout the day. Eating also increases cortisol levels, so it makes sense to eat your largest meals earlier in the day, allowing your body more time to process your meal and the cortisol.

Related: 8 Foods For Adrenal Fatigue You Should Eat (and Which To Avoid)

Make Sure You Have Nutritious, Enjoyable Foods On-Hand

By having healthy food options available, you can increase your chances of making good decisions and not caving into those sugary cravings. 

Sugary snacks and caffeine are convenient for a quick burst of energy. They will give you that energy spike, but then leave you feeling worse after your blood sugar crashes. 

Try replacing those convenient snacks with healthy, nutritious options. Fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins are always good choices.

Try adding some of these options:

  • Fruits like blueberries, apples, dates, or bananas
  • Vegetables like avocados, broccoli, or edamame
  • Lean proteins like turkey, nuts, or beans

Keep A Consistent Sleep Schedule To Avoid Adrenal Fatigue Weight Gain

If you are wide awake at night and tired all day, then your circadian rhythm may reverse, which impacts your cortisol levels. When this happens, you experience your highest cortisol levels at night instead of in the morning. 

 You can improve your sleep by eating your biggest meal in the morning (which you were already going to do to help your cortisol levels!). Limiting your screen time before bed, sticking to a regular bedtime, and getting 7-8 hours of sleep will all help improve your sleep. 

Be Mindful Of Your Body’s Unique Needs When It Comes To Exercise

A good exercise routine is important, especially when dealing with adrenal fatigue. But you shouldn’t feel exhausted after exercising. If you do, you may want to consider decreasing the intensity of your workout. 

While you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue, don’t let your heart rate go over 90 beats per minute. Try starting with 15 minutes of exercise each day. As you feel comfortable, increase that to twice a day. 

Remember, over-exercising increases cortisol levels, which can lead to adrenal fatigue and weight gain. So don’t get carried away!


Adrenal fatigue weight gain can be a frustrating and often overlooked part of this condition. But with these tips, you can regain control over your body and start avoiding excess weight gain again!

How To Recognize Adrenal Fatigue Weight Gain and Feel Your Best | Quit Chronic Fatigue

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