Are you frustrated with stubborn weight gain and accumulating belly fat?
It could be more than just a matter of calories in and out.
Enter cortisol, the stress hormone that wreaks havoc on your body composition.
Elevated cortisol levels not only contribute to the storage of stubborn belly fat but also trigger intense cravings and an insatiable appetite for unhealthy foods.
On top of that, they can mess with your insulin sensitivity and slow down your metabolism, making weight loss an uphill battle. Stress-induced emotional eating only adds fuel to the fire, leading to further weight gain.
Here’s why cortisol is a supervillain stress hormone with fat and weight loss:
- Storage of Stubborn Belly Fat: Elevated cortisol levels often lead to increased fat storage, especially around the abdomen. Yes, that’s right—the infamous “belly fat.” This type of fat has been linked to higher risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.
- Ravenous Appetite and Cravings: Cortisol has a sneaky way of ramping up your appetite and making you crave unhealthy, calorie-laden foods. It’s like it whispers in your ear, “Hey, how about some sugary treats or carb-loaded goodies?” These cravings can lead to overeating and consuming more calories than needed, ultimately resulting in weight gain.
- Insulin Sensitivity Snags: Prolonged cortisol elevation can mess with your body’s insulin sensitivity. Translation: it becomes harder for your cells to efficiently use glucose, which leads to higher blood sugar levels. This pesky insulin resistance can contribute to weight gain, particularly around the midsection.
- Metabolic Mayhem: Cortisol can interfere with your metabolic processes. It can break down stored glycogen and muscle proteins into glucose, providing a quick energy source during stressful situations. However, prolonged high cortisol levels can disrupt your metabolic rate, slow down fat burning, and make it trickier to shed those extra pounds.
- Emotional Eating Enabler: Stress triggers cortisol release, and that can pave the way to emotional eating. Sometimes, when life gets tough, we find solace in food. Cortisol can push us towards indulging in high-calorie, not-so-healthy treats as a coping mechanism, leading to weight gain.
So that’s the bad news. What’s the good news?
The good news is, there are a lot of natural strategies you can use to lower cortisol levels and help you lose stubborn weight and body fat…
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which are small glands located on top of the kidneys.
We refer to it as the stress hormone because our adrenal glands release it in response to stress. Cortisol helps the body cope with and respond to various challenges and stress stimuli.
When you become stressed, your cortisol production kicks into overdrive.
It gives your body a burst of energy and heightened awareness.
Cortisol also works to regulate essential functions, like metabolism, blood pressure, immune response, and the body’s inflammatory processes.
What are the Risks and Symptoms of High Cortisol Levels?
Too much of a good thing can quickly turn into a bad thing.
Having too much cortisol is no different.
Increased cortisol can lead to a slew of health issues.
Symptoms associated with high levels of cortisol may include:
- Anxiety or depression
- Decrease in libido
- Increased appetite
- Cravings for high-calorie foods
- Slowed metabolism
- Insulin resistance
- Belly fat accumulation
- Weight gain
Chronic stress can create chronically high cortisol levels which can also increase your risk for:
- Heart attack
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
While there may be factors out of your control for how you deal with stress such as genetics and life experiences, you can learn to react to stress in a way that allows you to manage cortisol levels.
4 Natural Ways to Lower Cortisol Levels that Can Help You Lose Weight
If your stress levels are high, your cortisol levels will be high.
Which is why managing stress is one of the most non-obvious but wildly effective ways to help you lose stubborn weight.
Here are a few ways you can reduce your cortisol levels naturally:
Get Regular Exercise
Getting enough exercise can reduce the effects of stress, improve your mood, and keep your body in good shape.
You can get a good daily workout from 30 to 60 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity physical activities. Yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi incorporate physical exercise and additional stress management techniques at the same time.
If 30 minutes is too much for your busy schedule, no sweat!
Here are a few other ideas for quick 15-20 minute workouts:
- Take a short walk in the great outdoors.
- Run-walk intervals on a treadmill or around your neighborhood
- Do some sprints on an indoor bike, or ride around your block
- Do HIIT interval training or circuit training with minimal equipment like resistance bands
- Do a circuit of bodyweight exercises like push-ups, squats, lunges, jumping jacks, planks, etc.
A study from the University of Michigan found that 20 minutes of being outside surrounded by nature can cause a significant drop in cortisol levels.
If you need more motivation you can join a sports club, team sport, group fitness classes, or outdoor activity group that meets throughout the week.
Check out your local gyms, recreation centers, local social media activity groups, and common interest websites like meetup.com for sports, classes, and activities in your area.
Team sports and group physical activities require social interaction, which can help alleviate stress and anxiety.
Plus having a team that relies on your participation can be a powerful motivator for you to get up, move, and stick to it.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Maintaining a balanced diet is essential for improving cortisol levels.
Certain nutrients can have an outsized impact on hormone regulation.
A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins provides essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support the body’s stress response system.
Consuming a balanced diet helps stabilize blood sugar levels, which prevents spikes and crashes that can trigger cortisol release.
Try incorporating some of these foods into your diet to help manage cortisol levels:
Here is a list of foods known to help reduce cortisol levels:
- Berries: Enjoy a variety of berries such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Berries are rich in antioxidants that combat oxidative stress and help regulate cortisol levels.
- Fish: Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient associated with reduced cortisol levels and improved mood.
- Leaf Green Vegetables: Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that support adrenal health and help manage cortisol.
- Avocados: They are a great source of healthy fats, potassium, and B vitamins. These nutrients contribute to overall stress reduction and cortisol regulation.
- Citruses: Citrus fruits like oranges, are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C helps lower cortisol levels and supports the immune system, especially in times of stress.
- Fermented Foods: Foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi contain probiotics that promote a healthy gut microbiome, which has been linked to reduced stress and cortisol levels.
- Oats: Start your day with a bowl of oats. They are a complex carbohydrate that helps stabilize blood sugar levels, preventing spikes that can trigger cortisol release.
- Herbal Teas: Sip on herbal teas like chamomile, lavender, and peppermint, known for their calming properties. These teas can help promote relaxation and reduce cortisol levels.
- Nuts and Seeds: Snack on a variety of nuts and seeds, including almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. These snacks are rich in healthy fats, magnesium, and other nutrients that support cortisol regulation and overall well-being.
Need help with losing weight and lowering your cortisol levels? Contact Lifelong Metabolic Center.
Get Enough Sleep
When we experience sleep deprivation or poor-quality sleep, cortisol levels can spike, and wreak havoc on our health and weight loss goals.
Adequate, restful sleep helps the body regulate cortisol levels, promoting optimal functioning of the stress response system.
Try these strategies for getting more quality sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day
- Set up a comfortable sleeping environment
- Read a print book instead of your phone or tablet before bedtime
- Limit naps during the day
- Skip caffeine and heavy meals close to bedtime
- Avoid intense exercises before going to bed
These strategies can help you manage cortisol production, and reduce the risk of chronic stress, weight gain, and other related health issues.
Even if you already eat healthily, you still might not get every nutrient your body needs to lower cortisol levels.
That’s where natural supplements come in.
Herbs and other natural substances used to decrease stress are described as adaptogenic. We also refer to them as adaptogens.
Here are some commonly used adaptogenic supplements:
- Ashwagandha: This adaptogenic herb is believed to support the body’s stress response system and help regulate cortisol levels.
- Rhodiola Rosea: Another adaptogenic herb that may assist in managing stress and reducing cortisol levels.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 supplements, typically derived from fish oil or algae, are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and potential to support stress reduction.
- Magnesium: Adequate magnesium levels are important for overall well-being. This mineral may help modulate cortisol levels.
- Vitamin C: As an antioxidant, vitamin C plays a role in stress management and may help reduce cortisol levels.
- B-vitamins: B-vitamins, including vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), are involved in the production and regulation of cortisol.
- Holy Basil (Tulsi): Holy basil is an herb often used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine and is believed to have stress-reducing properties.
- L-Theanine: Found in green tea, L-Theanine has been studied for its potential calming effects and its ability to modulate cortisol levels.
- Phosphatidylserine: This phospholipid is found in high amounts in the brain and may help regulate cortisol levels during times of stress.
- Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA): GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that may promote relaxation and help lower cortisol levels.
Note: Before adding any supplements to your diet, it is important that you consult with a healthcare professional.
Lifelong Metabolic Center’s Dr. Amanda Borre, D.C., can provide you with recommendations based on your needs.
Ready to Lower Your Cortisol Levels and Lose Weight?
Lowering cortisol levels are a critical, but often overlooked, component of weight loss and management.
If you follow these steps and strategies, you can regain control of your body, reduce stress, and reach your weight loss goals.
Lifelong Metabolic is here to help reduce stress and excess cortisol so you can lose weight more effectively.
Stay motivated, stay focused, and let’s tackle cortisol and weight loss together — contact us today for more information.