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Is Stress Making you Fat?

Hormones play a huge part in the way our bodies function, but what I want to talk about today is the way it affects our metabolism and mood.

If you are stressed you will not lose weight. Cortisol is a stress hormone which programs the body to store fat, especially around our middle. Stress causes us to stress eat, we turn to unhealthy food, usually sugar which gives us an insulin spike, or alcohol to self soothe and it robs us of our energy.

Cortisol plays a role in how the body utilizes carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

In stressful conditions cortisol provides the body with glucose for immediate energy, that’s the Mother lifting a car off her child kind of situation, but in most situations elevated elevated cortisol over a long term consistently produces glucose, leading to higher blood sugar levels.

Repeated elevation of cortisol along with insulin suppression lead to cells that are starved of glucose. In return your body sends out hunger signals, usually for high calorie foods, which can lead to overeating, and the unused glucose is eventually stored as fat.

The other way stress affects weight gain is to store visceral fat, that’s storing fat in your belly around the organs which is the bad kind of fat.

Cortisol also plays a role in regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycles, reducing inflammation and controlling blood pressure.

Ways to moderate cortisol levels:

  1. Lower Stress. Easier said than done, I know. Notice when your stress levels begin to rise and if possible remove yourself from stressful situations or learn how to cope with stress better.
  2. Eat a good diet. If you are trying to lower your cortisol levels you should eat a healthy, balanced diet and pay attention to your sugar intake. Some foods that may help keep cortisol levels stable include dark chocolate, bananas and pears, black or green tea, probiotics in food like yoghurt and fermented foods and foods containing soluble fiber. Drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration also helps.
  3. Sleep well. I mentioned earlier how cortisol affects your sleep cycles, but it’s a vicious circle and a bad night’s sleep or prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol.
  4. Have a morning calming routine. The level of cortisol in the blood is usually higher in the morning and decreases throughout the day. It might mean 5 minutes of calming techniques like meditation, mindfulness or breathing exercises, or maybe it’s a cup of herbal tea or a walk in the fresh air is what makes you feel good and lower your stress levels.
  5. Know what helps you unwind. Is it listening to music, or zoning out with a good book or knitting mindlessly on the couch.
  6. Exercise. Being physically active is beneficial to your health and your head space. Intense exercise can lead to increased cortisol levels as that’s your bodies way of dealing with the excess pressure. If you’re feeling stressed find the appropriate level of exercise for what you think your body needs. Excess cortisol can be triggered by overtraining. Incorporate light, relaxing exercise such as walking, swimming and yoga
  7. Have a good bedtime routine. A good bedtime routine usually results in better quality sleep. Don’t drink caffeine just before bed, do something that doesn’t involve a screen, and try showering or reading . Find what works for you.


Health and Nutrition coach, helping women find their Strength, Courage, Power and Roar through food and fitness

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