The impact stress has on our bodies is enormous. As many of us know first-hand when we’re stressed, things tend to go a little pear-shaped. Skin breakouts, exhaustion, insomnia, hormone imbalances, sugar cravings, mood swings…the list goes on! But one thing that is often overlooked is the impact stress can have on our ability to lose weight.
Firstly, stress can cause you to overeat. However, we should be more concerned about a hormone in our bodies called cortisol, which is released by the adrenal glands, and how it can slow your metabolism.
Cortisol is your long-term stress hormone. It came in handy for our ancestors when food was scarce, slowing their metabolisms and storing fat, so that they had energy reserves to call upon when needed. The problem we have in today’s society is stress occurs on a constant basis and food certainly isn’t scarce!
Our body responds to stress by releasing cortisol. In a balanced body, cortisol is released first thing in the morning to help get us up and moving and slowly decreases throughout the day. But, as we get stressed throughout the day, spikes in cortisol can occur. And elevated cortisol levels cause a whole other host of problems in the body.
In the correct amounts cortisol does have some positive effects on our bodies, including being an effective anti-inflammatory, helping to regulate blood pressure and aiding immunity. However, the constant and chronic stress of our modern world has turned cortisol from a friend to a foe for many of us.
Here, are five ways elevated levels of cortisol could be derailing your weight loss.
1 It slows your metabolism down
This means you burn fat at a much slower rate and will put on weight more easily.
2 It causes protein to breakdown and convert to glucose
Glucose (aka sugar) is then stored in the body, most of the time as fat.
3 It kicks your body into survival mode
Increased cortisol levels in the body send signals that food is scarce and would have a better chance of survival if we hold onto extra fat.
4 In particular it causes you to store belly fat
Cortisol also has a distinct fat depositing pattern. Thinking the body is at risk of starvation it lays fat around the tummy to protect major organs and provide an energy source for them.
5 It makes you crave sugar
Increased cortisol levels have also been associated with an increased appetite and sugar cravings. So we tend to eat more of these foods when the levels of cortisol in our blood are high.
Another challenge many people face with the effects of cortisol is that when their clothes start to feel a bit tighter, they’ll cut back on their food intake in an attempt to lose weight. But this just confirms to your body that food really is scarce, so it will slow your metabolism down even further! Hence the reason why some people put on more weight when they start eating less.
So if you’re stressed to the max and struggling with excess weight it might be time to pay some attention to your cortisol levels and work on reducing them.
Here, are my four best tips to help you take the pressure down.
- Cut back on caffeine as it increases cortisol production. Sip on herbal teas instead, especially calming ones.
- Exercise more. It helps release stress and increases endorphins which make you feel awesome. Weight and resistance training also increases your metabolism and boosts your ability to burn fat.
- Make relaxation a priority. Yoga, meditation and journal writing will all help to lessen your cortisol levels.
- Get adequate sleep. This will help your cope better with stressful situations and also help reduce your cortisol levels.