Does cortisol make us fat, and if so, is there anything we can do about it?
Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands found just above your kidneys. It is an important steroid hormone that belongs to a class of hormones called glucocorticoids. The production and release of cortisol is regulated by your pituitary gland and the hypothalamus located in the brain. When our stress levels rise, the adrenal gland releases cortisol and adrenaline. This release triggers an increase in heart rate, and energy levels to prepare your body for stressful situations. While this response is entirely normal, prolonged elevations of cortisol levels can bring about several negative effects in the body which include:.
- weight gain
- high blood pressure
- changes in mood
- flushed face
- thinning skin
- difficulty concentrating
- insulin resistance
Elevated levels of cortisol have been shown to lead to overeating, and of course we know what overeating leads to. Cortisol makes us fat simply because it triggers us to eat too much. Studies have found an association between a higher cortisol response and a higher amount of belly fat in men and women, but is there anything we can do to control this?
Make Your World Small!
Or in other words, do everything you can to reduce those things which cause you stress. Learn to take a moment to reframe in your mind why a situation is stressing you out. Ask yourself if the situation is truly having an effect on your life, or are you just annoyed more than anything. If a stressful situation is not actually affecting your well being, then learn to just let it go. Some circumstances are just beyond our control, they might not actually affect us. It is necessary to your health to not allow outside influences to bring you down. Life will always bring about stress, we cannot control this, but we can control how we react to it. By focusing on awareness of your mental and physical state, you can become an objective observer of your stressful thoughts, instead of a victim of them.
Get Your Sleep!
Chronic sleep issues such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, or shift work have been associated with higher cortisol. Practicing good sleep hygiene can help to keep cortisol in a normal rhythm. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine 6 hours before bed, and staying off your cell phone right before bed are effective strategies to getting proper sleep. If you suffer from lack of sleep, give your doctor a visit. You might need to undergo a sleep study.
Exercise Your Body!
Always be sure you have your doctor’s approval before beginning any new exercise routine.
Aim for 150–200 minutes of low- to moderate- intensity exercise each week. Exercising regularly can help you better manage stress and promote good health, which has been shown to lower cortisol levels.
Maintain a Healthy Diet!
For better or worse, our nutrition has a direct effect on our cortisol levels. Research has shown a strong relationship between a healthy gut microbiome — all the microbes living in your gut — and improved mental health. Therefore, consuming foods to support a healthy gut may help reduce stress, anxiety, and improve your overall health.
Regular consumption of added-sugar results in elevated cortisol levels. Interestingly, a high sugar diet may also suppress cortisol release during stressful events, making it more difficult for your body to handle stressful situations.
Maintain Healthy Relationships!
Relationships with friends and family can lead to happiness and to stress. Spend time with those you love and learn to forgive and manage conflict for better emotional and physical health. If you know that an individual is toxic, get them out of your life as much as humanly possible. Do everything you can to not allow others to bring you down.
Have Fun and Laugh!
Laughing promotes the release of endorphins and suppresses stress hormones such as cortisol. It’s also linked with better mood, reduced stress and perceived pain, lower blood pressure, and a stronger immune system.
Does Cortisol Make Us Fat?
Yes, cortisol can make us fat, but we do not have to allow this. To keep cortisol from making us fat, it is incumbent that we learn to take control of our lives. We cannot always control what happens around us, but we can exercise control over how we react to circumstances.
For more about cortisol and stress eating, read this wonderful article by Brenda Sue!