In order to better understand this topic we must understand what cortisol is, why it is produced and what if effects. Our bodies produce many different types of hormones that can enhance and impact various bodily functions within our bodies. Cortisol is primarily coined the “stress” hormone because it is secreted from the adrenal glands during times of physical and or psychological stress. Cortisol is secreted in a pattern called the diurnal variation. Meaning that levels of cortisol in the bloodstream vary depending on the time of the day. Typically levels are highest in the early morning and lowest around midnight. Although cortisol is a stress hormone it has many actions in the body. Cortisol is important for the maintenance of blood pressure as well as the provision of energy for the body.
Weight Gain and Cortisol
Cortisol stimulates the fat and the carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, it stimulates the release of insulin into the bloodstream and the regulation of blood sugar levels. Most of us know that the end result of these levels can sometimes lead to an increase in appetite, cravings for sweets and high-fat salty foods. With high levels of cortisol present in the body we also produce less testosterone which in turn decreases overall muscle mass. With less muscle mass your body will start to burn less calories. This begins to lead us right into why cortisol can be a negative issue and lead to unwanted weight gain.
The disruption of cortisol secretion may not only promote weight gain but can also affect where you put on the extra weight. Elevated cortisol levels tends to cause fat disposition in the abdominal area. Although there are other factors to be considered in determining any weight gain or loss including resting metabolic rate, food intake, types of foods consumed and even the time of the day food is consumed, I want to talk about how we can naturally keep our cortisol levels in check. The diet industry has attempted to capitalize on findings from these studies by promoting dietary supplements claiming to lower cortisol and enhance weight loss. No independent studies published in respected, peer-reviewed medical journals have shown that these supplements have any value in cortisol reduction or weight loss, in fact, exercise is the best method for lowering cortisol levels. Practices such as meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques can also be used to keep cortisol levels in check.
Cortisol and Stress
Most people admit that they are under some form of stress, therefore I would like to help you better understand all of the natural ways to help lower cortisol in your body. First and foremost lowering your overall stress in your daily life can reduce the over production and secretion of cortisol in your body. At this point in my article, I will explain examples of various stress relievers and other natural ways to reduce cortisol levels. Considering I’m a certified personal trainer that spends most days of the week exercising and training others I believe working out or practicing some sort of physical activity will be your best option for lowering your stress. The mind and body are both positively benefited from exercise. Despite exercise being a form physical stress, it can assist in relaxation. It encourages the release of endorphins, which are chemicals that the body produces to reduce pain and improve overall mood.
The other lifestyle choice you can manage and have complete control over is your diet. Eating balanced healthy foods that are natural, not processed, will play a significant role in your overall physiological responses. If you are eating unhealthy foods and drinks your body will not receive the vital nutrients and minerals needed to operate in an efficient way. This will in turn lead to unnecessary stress to the body and mind.
Cortisol Reducing Diet
My tips for diet are very black and white. If your food source does not come from the earth or an animal don’t eat it. Ok I’m not saying you can’t have a cookie, a piece of candy, or a slice of pizza every now and again you must be disciplined and mindful of your food and drink daily intake. Discipline is a form of self love, it represents making choices that may not be pleasurable but are better for your overall growth. All things in moderation is a “real” thing. If you decide to have that slice of pizza or brownie one day then just be sure tomorrow you are back on track. It is all about the way you rebound and learn to adjust without guilt or shame for the choices you make. Just accept the fact that you enjoyed an amazing warm chocolate chip cookie and move on. Tomorrow is a new day and you have the choice to make the healthier options moving forward. This motto crosses all boarders in life and has become my number one positive way of living. If you choose it, accept it, and move on.
While on the topic of diet there happens to be a few incredibly great choices to help lower stress. Dark chocolate, green tea, water, bananas and probiotics have been proven stress reducing. Another really easy way to stay healthy and in a less stressful state is to be fully hydrated. Drink lots and lots of water daily to keep your pH balance and hydration on point.
Supplements for Cortisol Reduction
You may be asking yourself at this point in the article, hmm? There must be a supplement out there that reduces cortisol? Well I’m happy to tell you that a daily dose of fish oil will be a wonderful enhancement to your goal of cortisol reduction. Fish oil is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for your health. Fish oil is the fat or oil extracted from fish tissue. It usually comes from oily fish, such as herring, tuna, anchovies, and mackerel. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating 1-2 fish per week. This is because the omega-3 fatty acids in fish provide so many health benefits including protection against a number of diseases. If you are not eating fish 1-2 times a week, fish oil supplements can help you get enough Omega-3’s. Our brain is made up of nearly 60% fat, and much of that fat is omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, omega-3’s are essential for normal brain function. It has also been proven help reduce the risk of depression and overall inflammation. I’m sure you can now see the direct connection between fish oil and its ability to help reduce stress levels. You can buy fish oil at any major supermarket or vitamin/supplement store and there are excellent options on Amazon.
Cortisol and a Mindful Lifestyle
While I have mentioned a few things to add to your lifestyle there are also a couple things you can eliminate to help reduce overall stress. Avoiding caffeine at night is a really important factor to making sure your bedtime routine is consistent and calming. Too much caffeine can wreak havoc on your ability to fall asleep in a timely matter. Maintaining a good bedtime routine is imperative to your overall health and ability to manage your daily schedule and daily life in general. So make sure you are catching your z’s, your body and mind will thank you. Finally when it comes to deleting things from your life, toxic relationships is a major one. If you are continually putting energy into a relationship that is draining you, stress will become the unfortunate outcome, and that is exactly what we are trying to reduce. Be mindful of how you feel while being around certain people, begin to recognize who you should prioritize your time spent with. It is ok to say no to people, it is ok to take time-outs in order to reset and regroup. Learning to prioritize your well being is one of the most freeing gifts you will experience in your lifetime. It takes practice, so start small, for example, opting out of that weekly book club that you have found puts more strain on your schedule than anticipated. Identifying the things or people that may be causing you stress is the first step, so simply start there.
Let’s go back to sharing wonderful positive add ons to your lifestyle. I encourage my clients, friends and family to find a passionate hobby, learn to unwind, practice breathing efficiently (inhale for a count of 4, hold breath 5,6 and then exhale 7,8 repeat 3-4 times) laughing, having fun and even getting a pet. These are all things we can control, that are natural, usually inexpensive and just as simple as making a choice.
While everything mentioned in this article is a sure way to reduce stress and in turn potentially reduce cortisol levels in your body, these are all healthy positive lifestyle tips that should be written down. When we write things down it helps with the manifestation process. You become that much closer to living out your goals, and ideals you have set out for yourself. You begin to become in control. Share these tips with others and create positive human connections. We are all here trying our best and trying to live our best “stressless” life.
Tanya Lehman is a ACSM-certified personal trainer and owner of Mindful Bodies, a training platform that focuses on the balance between mind and body for overall fitness. Tanya spent her childhood and early adult years as an elite dancer. Her love for dance organically turned into her love for fitness in her 20’s and has since remained a constant in her life. Over the course of the last 15 years, Tanya has studied and trained under a multitude of fitness professionals, gathering knowledge and techniques from which she created her unique blend of programming for Mindful Bodies. The approach focuses on creating a lean, strong, agile and flexible body, while developing mindfulness.