You know that stress hormone everyone talks about. Yes, cortisol. Cortisol makes losing weight extremely difficult, even frustrating at times. I’m sure many of you have been in the situation where you eat what you should and work out regularly, but the results are just not there. And there is a reason why that happens. That reason is cortisol.
Also called the stress hormone, cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the adrenal glands. The main purpose of cortisol is to control blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and regulate the metabolism. Cortisol has a direct connection to the stress response of your body, and that is fairly important for losing weight. When you are under constant stress, cortisol is released. However, too much of the hormone has a negative effect on your body, and the end result is abdominal fat.
So, what can you do? Here is how to lower your cortisol levels and lose weight in the process.
Symptoms of high cortisol levels
Before we discuss what you can do, let’s review the symptoms of high cortisol levels. If you notice at least two of these symptoms, it’s time to do something about it.
- Mood swings
- Constant fatigue
- Frequent headaches
- Digestive problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Memory loss
- Swelling in the face, feet, and/or hands
- Low libido
- Back pain
- Weight gain
- Low concentration
Reduce stress to lower cortisol levels
Since cortisol is a stress hormone, the best way to reduce it is to reduce stress altogether. Now, I know that reducing stress is easier said than done. But there are several things you can do to reduce stress. It is not like you say “hello stress, goodbye stress.”
Meditation and mindfulness are the number one practices that lower stress levels. You actually train your brain and body to turn off the stress response. Daily meditation of just 10 minutes can help, but you can also participate in a mindfulness stress reduction program.
Deep breathing exercises are another way to reduce stress. When you take a deep breath, you turn down the sympathetic nervous system. Your body’s natural relaxation response kicks in. I’m sure you can learn diaphragmatic breathing. It’s easy; anyone can do it. And that’s the way to relieve muscle tension and anxiety.
The next item on the menu is yoga, the best exercise for calming nerves and reducing stress. You can practice yoga at home or go to yoga classes. The best time to do yoga is in the morning, just when you wake up. Or, if you are in a hurry, spend 10 to 15 minutes doing yoga before you go to bed.
If you would like to seek help from a professional, acupuncture is said to reduce stress. The alternative medicine technique has been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
Last, but not least, spend time in nature and outdoors. Several studies have shown that physical settings play a huge role in stress reduction. Just being in nature promotes healthy relaxation. Walk through forests, do some gardening at home, or swim in the sea or a lake.
One of the best ways to reduce stress is exercise. And when we talk about exercise, that doesn’t mean you should do a hard-core, high intensity workout every day of the week. Quite the contrary: 30 to 60 minutes, three days per week is more than enough to manage stress and balance your hormones. As a result, you’ll sleep better, and as you’ll see later on, sleep is essential to reducing stress.
The biggest trick is to not overdo your exercise. If you do, you’ll have no time to relax and relieve muscle tension. Three days is more than enough. But on the remaining days, try not to be stagnant. Walk more, climb some stairs, and at least do some stretching. Just find the workout regime that works for you, and stick to it.
As I just mentioned, getting enough sleep is crucial to managing stress and controlling cortisol levels. Now, how can you sleep better? Start by not eating a lot shortly before going to bed (e.g., 30 minutes before going to bed). When you have high cortisol levels, you feel anxious at night and fatigued during the day. One way to control cortisol levels is by reducing the amount of sugar you consume. Sugar is really your biggest enemy. If you still have trouble sleeping, try using some essential oils and herbal teas to calm you down. The best options for a good night’s sleep are chamomile, bergamot, and lavender.
Sugar is your biggest cortisol enemy, and along with it is inflammation. Some people are just ignorant of the fact that our diet can contribute to inflammation. Processed foods take your inflammation levels through the roof. And when you can’t balance hormones, and you can’t control your cravings, you are on the train to weight gain. Here are some foods that contribute to inflammation:
- High sugar and high glycemic foods like refined grain products, snacks, and sugary drinks
- Refined and trans fats
So, what can and should you do? To begin with, start consuming more micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and antioxidants. Increase your fiber intake, as fiber balances blood sugar. And consume healthy fats instead of trans fats. Here are some foods you should include in your diet: fatty fish, whole grains, dark leafy greens (spinach, kale), broccoli, beets, ginger, turmeric, nuts (walnuts, nuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, and pistachios), soy, tomatoes, onion, garlic, berries, peppers, and olive oil.
We mentioned coffee in the inflammation diet section. But as a general rule of thumb, if you have any of the symptoms of high cortisol levels, you should avoid all stimulants. That includes energy drinks, cigarettes, and everything with caffeine in it. Green tea and black tea are borderline; I recommend you try them and see how it goes. They are extremely healthy drinks, but the caffeine amount might be bad for your cortisol levels.
Why you should not ignore cortisol
Losing weight is one of the main reasons why people should try and control their cortisol levels. But what happens when you ignore high cortisol levels? I try to warn all my friends about this. Cortisol is just one of the hormones you can’t ignore. You can even put it on a scale with hypertension and high blood pressure as one of the most deadly conditions.
Here are some situations that happen when you are exposed to long-term high cortisol levels:
- Weight gain and diabetes are among the first conditions you experience. Since your metabolism is disrupted, your blood sugar rises, and the increased fat results in weight gain and eventually diabetes.
- Heart disease and heart attacks are also possible. We know that a heart attack is one of the aftermaths of diabetes and weight gain, so take that into consideration. You burn fewer calories, your body cannot release fat from the fat stores, and you transform into one huge body of fat and cholesterol. And that’s deadly to your heart.
- High cortisol levels also shrink your thymus gland, which is one of the key immune regulators in your body. As a result, your immune system is impaired, and you are more prone to even common illnesses like flu. But that’s just the beginning, as you can also develop disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and so on.
- Gastrointestinal problems are a result of heartburn. High cortisol levels reduce the production of the enzymes your body needs to digest foods. The absorption of minerals and nutrients is reduced, and the growth of beneficial flora in the intestines is disrupted.
- I know that many women will want to know how cortisol affects their skin. Well, let me tell you the bad news: high cortisol levels cause skin aging and wrinkling. Your skin is dehydrated, and you can even start wrinkling when you’re just 20 years old.
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