Could High Cortisol Be Sabotaging Your Weight Loss?

If you are eating well, a nutritious balanced diet and exercising but can’t seem to lose weight, high cortisol may be the problem.

It seems unbelievable but if your cortisol is higher than normal it can make it almost impossible to lose weight even when you eat very low calories.

We need cortisol to live, but when the level gets too high it creates real problems in our bodies. Here is a quick look at what happens in our bodies with high cortisol and what you can do to bring those levels down. 

Cortisol is not a problem in itself, in fact it can be highly beneficial. This hormone is a big player in the ‘fight or flight’ response in the human body, but I will get to that later. It is the excess amounts of cortisol we produce that are the issue. Cortisol is the body’s primary catabolic hormone, which means it’s a hormone that breaks down tissue. It is released under conditions of high physical or mental stress and also under high temperature – conditions that are everywhere we go.

When our levels of cortisol become excessive we increase our risk of:

  • Reduced glucose utilization
  • Osteoporosis
  • Impaired immunity
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Increased abdominal fat

With two of the effects of cortisol being a reduction in muscle mass and an increase in the storage of abdominal fat, controlling the level of cortisol in your system should play an important role in your lifestyle if you wish to get the long sought after six-pack or even just health in general.

As mentioned earlier, cortisol is part of the fight or flight response that we experience under stress. When our body is faced with a life or death situation, cortisol kicks in, increasing the flow of glucose to the tissues and bloodstream, giving a short-term energy boost and a natural aid to surviving physical danger.

The good news is that reducing the amount of this hormone is a thoroughly enjoyable, relaxing process. The first two tools for reduction you most likely are already using: exercise and nutrition. Exercise, both aerobic and anaerobic, releases endorphins, which will offset any cortisol released during your workouts, provided that your nutritional needs are met. If those needs are not being met, your body will not be able to process the cortisol as efficiently. Having carbohydrates combined with protein post-workout will help replenish your glucose and nitrate levels, bringing cortisol back under control much faster than usual.
– via Breaking Muscle

Practical Tips To Lower Cortisol

Sounds like taking steps to bring down your cortisol level is certainly worth the effort. Here are a few easy steps you can take that can start lowering your cortisol right away.

Your body produces cortisol in response to stress and ramps you up so you can be ready to fight or flee. This can be a good thing in dangerous situations, like if you were to run across a bear while hiking. However, with the constant stress we’re all under in today’s hectic, 24/7, crisis-driven world, our cortisol levels are elevated far beyond what we were originally designed to handle.

The result is a quadruple whammy on your waistline. Excess cortisol increases your cravings for sweets and carbs, which can lead to overeating and constant hunger. Result? You get fat. (6) Plus, cortisol causes your body to actually break down your muscle tissue for energy, which is absolutely the worst thing for weight loss. The less muscle you have, the lower your metabolism will be and the more fat you’ll gain.

Also, elevated cortisol levels cause a larger percentage of fat to be stored in the abdominal area. What’s worse, that the more abdominal fat you have, the more cortisol you produce in response to stress, which then causes more abdominal fat to be stored.

Finally, recent studies link high cortisol levels to depression in adults and children. And we all know that when you’re depressed, you eat more.

Here’s how to break this vicious cortisol cycle. First, reduce or eliminate your caffeine intake. Caffeine increases cortisol secretion in people undergoing mental stress. (For many of us, that’s just about all the time).

Next (and don’t roll your eyes at this one!), layer in some exercise into your routine. Even walking for just 30 minutes each day will work wonders.

Finally, try this stress reduction exercise that I use with my patients and my family. As you’re sitting there, simply breathe in through your nose, hold, and count to four. (Make sure to breathe into your belly- it should expand). Then let the air out through your mouth until it’s all gone. Pause for one second and breath in again. Repeat this simple exercise eight times and you’ll reset your stress response. It’s that easy.
– via Sara Gottfried MD

Do you find it hard to lose weight even when you eat right and exercise?