Hormones, Stress, 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
Need to know info
Your body releases a hormone called cortisol when any type of stress occurs. The higher the stress the more cortisol is released.
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:
- 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.
Need to know info
There are a lot of different stressors on the human body, not just mental emotional.
All of them will cause a release of cortisol. Not just “bad” 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.
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.
Need to know info
Take a look at the list above and see if you have some symptoms of too much stress.
If you do you’ll greatly benefit from some strategies I’m going to share with you.
They’re going to help you target belly fat and lose weight.
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:
- 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.
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.
Need to know info
Chronically high stress will cause your body to have to release more cortisol which impacts testosterone, estrogens, and thyroid hormone production.
Too much stress will have a negative impact on your metabolism.
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)
Need to know info
Hormones impact weight loss. But, you want to avoid what we call the hormone blame game. Instead, focus on what you have control over.
I have had dozens, and dozens of clients over the years who started with us thinking “nothing” works to help them lose weight.
But, after focusing on consistently improving the areas we’ve outlined for you here. They start getting results. I have yet to work with a client that can’t get results.
On the other hand, I have worked with numerous clients who don’t get results because they continue focusing on the hormonal blame game instead of making actual changes in their lives.