Every time I talk to someone about extra fat, diet inevitably comes up. Myself included. When I reach for that extra cinnamon bun, visions of my Mom belly (which I love and accept fully now – or at least I’m not beating myself up over anymore 😉) come into my mind – expanding like a balloon. However, there is another factor in the weight management battle – specifically for those of us over 25.
Cortisol. Have you heard of it? Here is an excellent description of it from Today’s Dietician:
“Cortisol, a glucocorticoid (steroid hormone), is produced from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. It is normally released in response to events and circumstances such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and acute stress. Cortisol’s far-reaching, systemic effects play many roles in the body’s effort to carry out its processes and maintain homeostasis.”
Let’s think about this for a minute – do you have stress in your life? I know I do, and I’d be willing to bet you do too. Work, parenting, finances – these are three of the top stressors today for the majority of people in the modern world. The way we respond to stress is also skewed – for the majority of us, the way we perceive our life stressors causes a much more intense physiological reaction then actually required – being a type A person, I know this first hand and I know you other Type A’s do too.
Here’s what happens when we have a stress reaction:
Cortisol is involved in the “fight-or-flight” response, causes a temporary increase in energy production – all at the expense of processes that are not required for immediate survival. The resulting biochemical and hormonal imbalances should, but don’t always resolve due to a negative feedback loop. Here is an example of the stress response in action:
- You’re faced with a stressor.
- Hormones go to work, and the adrenal glands secrete cortisol.
- Cortisol prepares the body for a fight-or-flight response by flooding it with glucose, for an immediate energy source to large muscles. Think “Run! A bear is chasing me!”
- Cortisol inhibits insulin production in an attempt to prevent glucose from being stored, using it immediately.
- Cortisol narrows the arteries, epinephrine increases heart rate, both of which cause blood to pump harder and faster.
- You address and hopefully resolve the stress inducing situation.
- Hormone levels return to normal.
So what’s the issue? As you can imagine, in our constantly stressed, fast-paced lifestyle, our systems pump out cortisol almost constantly, which wreaks havoc on our health. Repeated elevation of cortisol leads to weight gain.Visceral fat storage (fat storage around internal organs) is one of these mechanisms – while visceral fat is essential, to much of it is detrimental to our health. To add insult to injury, cortisol is also thought to increase cravings for high calorie foods. Ice cream, anyone?
Just FYI, here are some other things elevated cortisol can lead to:
- Blood Sugar Imbalance and Type 2 Diabetes;
- Immune system suppression;
- Gastrointestinal issues;
- Heart disease;
- Fertility issues.
So…now what? Here are some ways to lower our stress levels and thus hopefully lower cortisol:
- Meditate. Seriously there are so many ways to do it, just do a Google search and you’re guaranteed to find one that suits you. Also here’s an easy way for beginners to start.
- Try the anti-inflammatory diet. Dr. Andrew Weil has a great explanation and visual representation.
- Make a list of your life stressors. See what you can change, delegate, and what you must do and check in on the list regularly.
- Sleep. Get to bed early. If this is not possible (trust me, I know – my child has Type 1 diabetes and I’m up at least twice per night doing blood sugar checks.) then nap if you can or even rest. Some theories say that meditation sessions as short as 10 minutes have a restorative effect on your body similar to sleep.
- Journal. Get yourself some amazing writing utensils, a beautiful notebook and choose a time of day to write out your thoughts, plans, worries, hopes and do it regularly. Writing out your thoughts gets them out of your head – this factor alone can decrease stress and worry, not to mention gives you a framework from which to make changes (see number 3 – make a list – above).
- Exercise. You know it, I know it, it works.
- Take care of yourself. Get a massage (come see me by booking here), get a pedicure, go golfing, have a bath / hot tub, go to a movie by yourself, plan a guys / girls night out – the list is endless. As the Nike slogan says: “Just do it!”
So we are not helpless when it comes to the cortisol monster, it just takes some planning. Once cortisol & stress are decreased (this takes some time, like months, so don’t excpect overnight changes, just sit back and enjoy the self care ride 😉), with proper nutrition and exercise, you’ll start to notice a difference.
Do you have more stress lowering ideas? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
Thanks for reading – do enjoy THIS day and everyday😁,