Cortisol: The reason stress makes you fat

Gentle exercise is by far the best way to lower cortisol levels

You may have heard that stress causes weight gain. At first this might seem obvious: When we’re stressed, we tend to skip the gym and comfort ourselves with high fat, high sugar foods. However, stress causes far more problems that can be accounted for by a couple of missed gym sessions. The culprit? A little hormone called cortisol.

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys. Cortisol levels naturally rise overnight, peaking about 7am, and help get you up and going in the morning. They then gradually fall during the day, dropping to their lowest levels in the evening, to help you sleep.

Cortisol is also released in response to stressful situations whether they be physical (an intense workout) or emotional (a fight with your boss). Cortisol prepares the body for fight or flight by narrowing the arteries and increasing heart rate. It also floods the body with glucose, so muscles have an immediate energy source. It then inhibits insulin production so blood glucose levels stay high. As well, “non essential” functions like the immune system, digestion and reproduction are suppressed.

The problem is modern life is full of stressors that cannot be solved by fight or flight. This leads to constant high levels of cortisol.  Long term high levels of cortical are a serious risk factor for weight gain and obesity, for several reasons. High cortisol levels mean high blood sugar levels, and since insulin is also suppressed, can lead to insulin resistance. What’s more, with all the glucose in the blood not being absorbed into cells, you get cells crying out for energy. Studies have shown a direct association between cortisol levels and calorie intake. Higher cortisol levels mean an increased appetite and cravings for high calorie, high sugar foods, particularly in women. Cortisol also causes triglycerides to be released from storage and moved to visceral fat cells. Visceral fat is the stuff in your abdomen around your organs and is strongly linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Clearly managing stress levels is an important part of weight loss and staying healthy. And by far the best way to manage cortisol levels is with exercise. While cortisol levels rise during exercise, the physical activity burns off the glucose released into the blood and hormone levels soon return to normal. In other words, you “use” the elevated heart rate and glucose levels for their intended purpose, so there is no lasting harm. The second best way to manage cortisol is to cut down on caffeine. The reason you feel more awake and energetic after a cup of coffee is caffeine increases levels of cortisol. Fine in small doses in the morning, not so good in the evening if you’re planning to sleep that night.

Of course stress is as much mental as it is physical. Having a proper laugh at a funny film, taking a relaxing bath, or visiting with friends all help to reduce cortisol levels. In other words, doing things that keep you relaxed are as important for weight loss as what you eat!

The Score for 16 March:

Calories: Protein: Carbs: Sugars: Fat: Sat Fat: Fibre:  
1847 106.65g 201.79g 61.68g 65.17g 18.05g 30.14g
23% 44% 32%
Calories burned through exercise: 327

 

What I ate:

Time Item Amount Calories Protein Carbs Sugars Fibre Fat Sat Fat Alcohol
07:45 Centrum Multivitamin,  Vitamin E 400IU, Vitamin D 25 µg
Tap water 250mL 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Soft boiled eggs, 2 large 115g 150 14.49 0.00 0.00 0.00 10.35 2.88 0.00
Free From pure oats 50g 171 6.40 30.30 0.60 4.30 2.70 0.50 0.00
made with boiling water 250mL 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Tesco mixed frozen fruits 100g 40 0.90 7.90 7.90 2.00 0.20 0.00 0.00
Ground flaxseeds 10g 45 2.21 0.30 0.18 2.37 4.00 0.45 0.00
Black tea 450mL 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
10:00 Fresh ginger tea with a splash of lemon juice and 1 tsp honey 250mL 25 0.00 6.25 6.25 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
12:15 Pork loin steak, grilled, fat removed 81g 157 15.92 0.00 0.00 0.00 10.30 3.77 0.00
with Baxters Albert’s Victorian chutney 19g 30 0.20 7.04 6.44 0.36 0.06 0.00 0.00
Brown basmati rice 130g 150 3.75 30.83 0.51 1.44 1.23 0.29 0.00
with Kikkoman Tamari gluten free soy sauce 7g 4 0.70 0.14 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0
Cauliflower, microwaved 93g 35 3.35 2.79 2.33 1.67 0.84 0.19 0.00
Broccoli, microwaved 81g 32 3.44 2.56 1.52 2.00 0.48 0.16 0.00
13:00 Green tea 250mL 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
16:00 Activia natural yoghurt 150g 96 7.50 9.90 9.90 0.00 2.90 2.00 0.00
Natures Path Mesa Sunrise cereal 50g 195 5.00 40.00 6.50 5.00 1.65 0.25 0.00
Sliced plums 97g 41 0.58 8.54 8.54 1.55 0.10 0.00 0.00
Sunflower seeds 5g 30 1.04 0.57 0.13 0.43 2.58 0.23 0.00
Pumpkin seeds 5g 30 1.51 0.54 0.07 0.30 2.46 0.44 0.00
17:00 Javelin Training
18:45 Tesco free from seeded sandwich thins with 51g 127 3.98 16.47 0.56 5.51 3.88 0.31 0.00
Baked chicken breast, 92g 124 29.03 0.00 0.00 0.00 1.75 0.55 0.00
Sliced tomato, 97g 19 0.68 3.01 3.01 0.97 0.29 0.10 0.00
and Helleman’s real mayonnaise 10g 72 0.11 0.14 0.13 0.00 7.90 0.63 0.00
Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa chocolate bar, 2 squares 20g 113 1.90 6.80 5.80 0.00 8.20 4.80 0
21:00 Tesco Twists cheese and onion 40g 161 3.96 27.72 1.32 2.24 3.32 0.52 0.00

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *