Starting the New Year off with a new you, often begins with resolutions such as eating healthier and exercising more. After months of training and dieting, you see there are no results. Therefore, it may be time to get a lab workup to examine your cortisol levels.
The stress hormone known as cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland in response to stressful situations. The hormone itself is widely known, but its effects on the body and how harmful it can be when out of balance is not generally understood. Think back to the old “fight vs. flight” response in biology class where the body responds in stressful situations as a coping mechanism for survival. During this time, adrenaline and cortisol are released to balance the body appropriately. Of the many functions of cortisol, one function is to help facilitate higher levels of glucose, which is energy for the cells.
A constant state of stress can lead to excessive cortisol production. Examples of stressful events on the body can include lack of sleep, compromised immune function, emotional burden, and excess caffeine intake. When this occurs, there will be an overproduction of glucose. When the body is unable to metabolize all of the glucose, a common way to eliminate extra glucose is to turn it into stored fat. It’s a vicious cycle when you are putting in the work at the gym to lose weight and restricting caloric intake but cortisol induced fat deposits are canceling out your hard work and sweat. This fat is often stored in the abdominal area, which is typically the most difficult area to lose weight. This newly added visceral fat can play a role in additional sluggish behavior.
Whether it is due to the body being unable to keep up with the cortisol demand or the cell’s metabolism of glucose at such an exponential level; spikes of low blood sugar or hypoglycemia can and will occur. When low blood sugar or hypoglycemia occurs, it can cause a spike in your appetite. Thus, you experience food cravings and the food cravings are often foods higher in sugar or higher in fat content. These food cravings can be very detrimental to a personal weight loss journey and may cause emotional stress. Combining this emotional stress with added visceral fat and sluggish behavior can easily wreak havoc on weight loss from sugar cravings, overeating and frustration. Knowing when and how to eat can be a great way to help combat these bodily processes. You can start by eating food high in nutritious content at similar and consistent intervals during the day to lower hypoglycemic episodes.
Stress reduction therapy can be performed to stabilize cortisol levels and help stimulate weight loss. These techniques include yoga, deep breathing techniques, meditation, and moderate exercise such as walking. An adequate sleep schedule, of at least eight hours of sleep a night, is crucial to stress reduction as well.
For more information about cortisol, I would highly recommend reading Adrenal Fatigue: The 21stCentury Stress Syndrome by Dr. James L. Wilson. You can purchase the book here.