Stop Cortisol Weight Gain

You have a type of hormone called cortisol.  This is often referred to as your stress hormone.  Often people can refer to something people call the cortisol weight gain.

When your body is under some sort of stress (physical, emotional, environmental) your body will release cortisol (stress hormone).

Some published research has correlated cortisol with belly fat.  Scientists aren’t entirely sure why.  

I’m going to walk you through the basics on cortisol and what you can do to help manage your cortisol levels and help try to target belly fat.

Cortisol Weight Gain Start with the Basics

Before I explain cortisol weight gain I need to begin with the basics.  A quick explanation of what cortisol does. 

The larger the stress the more cortisol your body is supposed to release.

This is how the human body works.  Cortisol does important things like:

  • Normalize low blood sugar
  • Deal with inflammation (it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties)
  • Immune system function impacting white blood cells, and other important parts of the immune system
  • Impacts your heart, specifically the strength of heart contractions

More Than One Type of Stress

Most people when they think of stress only think of 1 type.  Mental/emotional stress.  There are many forms of stress.  For example:

  • Exercise
  • Any type of physical pain
  • Extreme ends of temperature (ie. Canadian winter….you know standing outside in minus 30 degree weather)
  • Drops in blood sugar
  • Chemical stress (inhaling certain fumes or chemicals)
  • Lack of sleep

There are a lot of different stressors. 

Essentially anything that begins the stress response and causes a release of cortisol as far as the human body is concerned is a stress.  Your adrenal glands releases cortisol and it does not differentiate between good stress or bad.  Only the degree of stress.

Do You Have too Much Stress?

Odds are yes.  Most people living the western lifestyle do.  Too much stress can make it really challenging to lose weight.  Specifically, through your midsection. 

Cortisol Weight Gain Stressing You Out?

We often find clients who carry high levels of stress will lose weight through their bellies at a much slower pace.

Here are some signs that your body is overly stressed and fatigued:

  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
  • Not able to function in the morning without first having coffee
  • Fatigue that isn’t cured by sleep
  • Craving salty foods
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Increased effort to perform normal daily tasks
  • You seem to take longer to recover from illness or injury
  • Light headed when moving from lying to standing
  • Increased PMS symptoms
  • Symptoms get worse if you miss a meal or you’re late eating it
  • Difficulty focusing mental thoughts or a mental haze
  • Memory problems
  • Low energy between 3:00-4:00 in the afternoon
  • Increased energy later in the evening after 6:00 PM
  • Increased body fat in the front of the stomach

Obviously, these symptoms can mean lots of different things.  However, if you’re noticing that you have multiple symptoms on this list.  There is a good chance you have too much stress on your body and it could be impacting your hormones.

Cortisol Impacts Not Just Weight Loss, but Other Hormones Too

If your body is chronically overly fatigued or you are perpetually needing more cortisol it will have an impact on your other hormones.

To name a few cortisol can impact:

  • Estrogens
  • Testosterone
  • Thyroid hormones

These are some important players in the body.  There are a lot of doctors out there who feel that before worrying about any imbalance in estrogen, testosterone or thyroid hormones you should first worry about your cortisol/stress.

Too Much Cortisol Can Decrease Testosterone

Chronically higher levels of stress can lower testosterone.

Obviously, impacting your testosterone will change your ability to develop muscle for both males and females.  This has a major impact on your metabolism.  Additionally, it’s an even bigger problem for you if you’re middle aged.

As you age your body loses muscle mass.  This is the biggest reason that your metabolism decreases as you age.  The more muscle mass you can maintain as you age.  The more your metabolism will maintain as you age.

This is one of the ways chronically high stress can have a seriously negative impact on your metabolism.

Too Much Cortisol Can Impact Estrogens

There isn’t actually a hormone called estrogen.  Interesting fact.  But, there are a group of hormones that are commonly referred to as estrogens (so I’ll keep calling them that to keep it simple).

This can have a major impact on health.  Many have theorized that this has a major impact on women starting menopause earlier.  As well as, the degree to which they have hot flashes.

Your body naturally begins producing less estrogens when you begin menopause.  If your body has had years of chronic stress you’ll already be at lower levels before your body begins producing less.

This makes the natural decrease hit even harder. 

This is a big factor in why so many women gain large amount of weight during menopause. 

Stress plays a MAJOR role in this.  I have had numerous clients struggle with weight loss during menopause.  And almost all of them have had a major stress in the 1-2 years leading up to when they began menopause.

Too Much Cortisol Can Decrease Thyroid Hormones

Odds are you know the gist of thyroid hormones job in laymen’s terms.  When thyroid hormones increase…..metabolism increases.  When thyroid hormones decreases……metabolism decreases.

Cortisol Weight Gain and Impact on Thyroid Hormones

I’m sure a physiologist would have a heart attack with this over simplification.  But, it will serve our purposes.

I’m going to expand on this later.  But, for now all you need to know if that when your body has to release cortisol it will actually cause a decrease in thyroid hormone production.

How to Avoid Cortisol Weight Gain

At this point it should be pretty obvious, you need to manage your stress levels. 

Okay, that’s not very helpful. 

I’m going to share with you bullet points of practical how-to’s for how to improve your hormones for weight loss.

  • Sleep (quality and quantity matter……more on this later)
  • Blood sugar regulation (this means the right amount of protein/fat/carbs/fiber)
  • Create a daily stress relief routine that does not involve screen time
  • Focus on higher intensity workouts that last for shorter periods of time
  • Stop and identify which areas of your life you can decrease stress
  • If you have digestion issues start working to improve in those areas (this is a source of consistent stress on the body for a lot of people)