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Hormones and Weight Loss: Cortisol

Mar 18, 2015

Are you stressed? What kind of silly question is that? Of course, you're stressed! We live in a hyper-stressed society. Even those of us that think we aren't under stress really are just by the fast-paced, instant gratification, hurry-up-and-get-there kind of lifestyle that we all live.

Our bodies weren't meant to be under such a load of stressors all of the time. Think back to when there were no computers, smart phones, international travel opportunities, traffic jams, crappy baristas, you name it. Humans as a species were only built to withstand momentary, short bursts of stress--think running from something that is trying to eat you for dinner!

Enter the hormone cortisol. We've heard this word before, it's become a buzz word of late. It's job is to give us energy. Sounds good, so what's the big deal. Well, our adrenal glands were meant to secrete cortisol under circumstances of immense stress--like the being eaten for dinner example above. In said scenario, we would need a huge burst of energy to get us out of a sticky situation such as this.

With today's chronic, unrelenting stress the perception of our bodies is that we have a chronic, unrelenting "need" for energy. So, the adrenals are constantly pumping out cortisol in response. Now, it's important to understand the "energy" that is generated. It's certainly not in the form of caffeine! That energy generated when cortisol is secreted is in the form of, now, readily available blood sugar!

So, let's a take a moment and reflect on what this may mean...

Elevated stress --> Elevated cortisol --> Elevated blood sugar --> Elevated insulin --> Decreased glucagon --> Elevated fat storage!

Not so great, huh? See, this is just a fraction of what chronically elevated levels of cortisol does to our bodies. But since our conversation is focused on weight loss and fat loss, we'll stay there.

The worst part about fat gain associated with high levels of cortisol is that it chooses to park itself front and center in our bellies. It's so unfair...you can NOT spot reduce body fat, BUT body fat can selectively choose where it wishes to reside.

So, what can we do? Here are a few practical implementation strategies for you:

  • Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fish, eggs, poultry and avoid skipping meals which can trigger a stressful response in the body.
  • Avoid sugar, alcohol, cereals, fat-free processed foods, and trans fats.
  • Aim to get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night in a pitch dark, cool room.
  • Avoid stressful situations and when you do encounter then, learn to use your breath to simmer down and relax. (Hint: My mantra is "Not everything in life is an emergency!")
  • Chill with the coffee and caffeine, chances are you're already stressed and these will continue to mash that stressful gas pedal!

If you're still curious about cortisol and what it does and why, feel free to send me an email or comment below. I love keeping the conversation going! Keep in mind I'm not a doctor or a diagnostician, so take anything I say as information to do with as you wish.

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