Cortisol and Weight Gain

The Cortisol Connection: Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health - And What You Can Do About ItThe connection between cortisol and weight gain is well researched and yet often forgotten. If you read my post last week, then you know I’m no longer someone who reduces weight loss to a oversimplified calories-in/calories-out equation.

The Effect of Cortisol on Weight Gain and Body Composition

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It’s designed to help the body cope with stress and survive. Unfortunately, this means all the common stressors in our modern lifestyle trigger the release of cortisol. So when we experience constant stressors, we end up with an imbalance that can cause numerous problems, including fat weight gain (particularly fat gain around the midsection).

More Than Weight Gain: Other Signs of High Cortisol Levels

- Acne
- Anxiety
- Fatigue, poor energy
- Depression
- Easy bruising
- Headaches
- High blood pressure
- Cravings for sugar, alcohol or nicotine
- Decreased libido, impotence
- Insomnia
- Irritability
- Mood swings
- Poor concentration and memory
- Lower back problems
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Loss of lean body tissue (like bone and muscle mass)

How to Balance Cortisol and Weight Naturally

Cortisol levels are heavily influenced by your lifestyle. But this is good news: it means that your health is in your hands. You can make positive changes and bring your cortisol back into balance. Here are some suggestions:

Eat well. I can’t say it enough: food is the foundation of good health. Skipping meals and low-calorie dieting trigger the release of stress hormones. Instead, eat regular meals than include a balance of whole carbohydrates, quality protein and healthy fats.

Avoid toxic chemicals. The body responds to toxic chemicals in the same way it responds to other stressors, so it’s important to take some measure to reduce your exposure. This includes toxins you ingest (like excess alcohol, sugar and caffeine, as well as MSG, aspartame and other chemical food additives), and also toxins we absorb through our skin and lungs (such as those in conventional beauty products and cleaning chemicals).

Exercise sensibly. More is not better. The best exercise regimen will include a mix of resistance training, stretching and some cardio. This can include activities like weight lifting, yoga, pilates, swimming, or walking. Sensible exercise can balance cortisol levels, especially if you enjoy whatever activity you choose, but it’s important to recognize that over-exercising can stimulate the release of too much cortisol. The more your hormones are out of whack, the more you need to be careful with exercise, especially cardio.

Sleep it off. Eight hours of sleep every night is one of the most effective ways of lowering cortisol. Even if you didn’t sleep well the night before, a midday siesta can help make up for lost hours and normalize your cortisol, according to research at Pennsylvania State University. Find some basic tips on getting better sleep here.

Get some downtime. The body and mind can’t handle always being on the go. Take a little break every day and just relax without worrying about the million other things you could be doing.

Massage the cortisol away. Well, no one had to tell you a massage helps you unwind, but several studies have shown regular massage therapy is an effective way to slash cortisol levels

Laugh till it hurts. Laughter can help reduce cortisol–by as much as 39 percent says a study from Loma Linda University. So pop in a DVD of your favorite sit-com or hang out with your buddy the wannabe comedian to melt the stress away.

The little things add up. Studies show simple things like chewing gum, spending time with loved ones, deep breathing exercises or spending a few minutes meditating can help reduce cortisol levels.

The Schwarzbein Principle II: The "Transition" - A Regeneration Program to Prevent and Reverse Accelerated AgingWant to read more about balancing cortisol and other hormones naturally? Try taking a look at The Schwarzbein Principle II: The "Transition" - A Regeneration Program to Prevent and Reverse Accelerated Aging. It's an amazing resource for learning how diet, lifestyle, health and hormones are interconnected. You can read my reviews of Schwarzbein's books here.

This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday, hosted by Cheeseslave this week.

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