Over the years, I‘ve had many clients who come to me and can’t understand why they’re gaining weight and can't seem to lose it. What they don’t understand yet, is that there is a concrete connection between stress, cortisol and nutrition. What I’ll see time and time again, is people who want to reduce belly fat, cut the cravings, and deal with chronic problems like a lack of energy, trouble sleeping or daily headaches. Learning that their full-time job, the stresses of raising children, excess exercise (to help them lose the weight), the poor food choices they made when faced with a constant on-the-go lifestyle, and the lack of sleep are all causing an excess of the hormone cortisol- making them gain weight, especially in their midsection.
All these accumulated stressors can take a big toll on your body, which is why it’s important to realize them, and take steps towards reducing the amount of cortisol in your body.
WHAT STRESSORS ARE IN YOUR LIFE?
Stressors aren’t a new thing to the human race. Since the dawn of time, these stressors came in many forms, even going back to the ancient history times of fighting and hunting (or running away) for survival. In today’s day and age, these forms can take on many other shapes, and sometimes even go unrecognized.
Absolutely needing those 3 cups of coffee, or that can of Monster to get you through the day.
Skipping meals (especially breakfast)!
Our cell phones. Constant notifications can elicit a pressure to respond right away, or anxiety about missing out if you don’t check it right away.
Money. Balancing and budgeting isn’t exactly a stress free activity.
A loud alarm that goes off after not enough sleep.
A work project, meeting or presentation that you keep thinking about.
Being a caregiver for a loved one.
Busy schedules. Whether it’s the kids or our own, there’s days that you just can’t catch a break.
Traffic, being late to something, or a long commute to and from work.
Figuring out the age old question: “what’s for dinner?”
Sickness of a close friend, family member, or even yourself.
Not drinking enough water throughout the day (at least 1/2 your weight in ounces, yes, THAT much).
So, do any of these sound familiar? Unfortunately, our bodies can’t tell the difference between fighting another gladiator in Rome and fighting the battle in our own minds. Our body will respond the same way: releasing our main stress hormone, cortisol, to help us deal with the situation at hand.
Cortisol needs balance. Too much or too little can cause problems. We need it just right.
Short term, cortisol is actually beneficial to us. I can give us energy, focus, bursts of strength and can temporarily boost our immune system. But, with all these stress factors in our lives, cortisol can wind up being released constantly, day after day, hour after hour.
After a while, too much of this hormone can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, can affect the rate at which your wounds heal, can cause headaches and stomach aches, throws your blood sugar levels off balance, and interrupts sleep patterns. High stress levels over a long period of time doesn’t only cause us to age quicker, but it puts extra fat on our stomachs.
The reasoning behind this is based on the location of the majorly of cortisol receptors. Abdominal fat tissue carries more of these “doorways” than in any other place in the body, allowing a large amount of cortisol to act on those fat cells.
Another side effect of high cortisol levels is a spike in blood sugar. This spike is temporary, which means we get a quick “fight or flight” response, followed by a blood sugar drop, leaving us tired and hungry, (or "hangry" as I like to call it), craving sweets and even MORE stressed. When we’re in this hypoglycemic state, all those baked goods and candy seem way more appealing than the broccoli and grilled chicken in the fridge. Do you see the never ending cycle?
WHAT CHANGES DO I NEED TO BREAK THE CYCLE?
Obviously, life is going to throw you curveballs of stress every now and then that we have no control over. But one thing we can control, is what we put into our bodies on a daily basis. Nutrition CAN help in reducing those chronically high cortisol levels. Keeping your blood sugar levels balanced is extremely important in preventing a stress response. Simply, just eat real, sustainable foods every few hours to avoid that “choppy sea” effect and keep those levels at a slight ripple.
SIMPLE WAYS TO REDUCE CORTISOL:
Eat a good amount of protein including organic lean meats, eggs, fish/seafood, and low-fat dairy. Your body breaks down protein into amino acids, which are used to make our ”happy hormone” neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine).
Choose real fats like grass-fed butter, extra virgin coconut/olive/avocado oil, avocados, dry roasted nuts/seeds, cheeses and olives. 60-70% of our brains are made of fat, so it’s important to get those healthy fats rich on Omega 3s to help us think better and stay happy.
Eliminate junk like sugar, processed ingredients, chemicals, additives, preservatives, refined oils, alcohol, caffeine, and any potential food sensitivities from your diet. The most common foods my clients have sensitives to are either gluten or dairy.
Get quality sleep, at least 8 hours a night. Sometime around midnight, our cortisol levels dip to their lowest point, with sleep being our time for the body to rest and repair itself. When first trying to lower cortisol levels, try eating a light, healthy snack before bed (like a few pieces of fruit) to help keep your cortisol levels stable through the night.
Boost your Magnesium levels. This mineral actually helps us to relax. It also helps to reduce high blood pressure and anxiety, relax our muscles, control our blood sugar, and help our sleep just to name a few.
With 95% of the serotonin "happy hormone" receptors being located in the lining of your gut, you can see why it's such a big deal to keep the mind AND body happy and healthy.
Keep these points in mind and you’ll be on the right track towards eliminating the stress and cortisol response before it even starts. Check out our Instagram @ohana_wellness, our Facebook page or blog for more tips and healthy recipes. If you feel like you want further guidance, go ahead and message us or book a free health assessment online to help you create a game plan and put it into action!