Ever wondered why stress seems to make those jeans a tad tighter? Let’s dive into the world of cortisol and weight gain and unravel this tricky relationship together. Grab a comfy seat, and let’s get started.
What is Cortisol and Why Does It Matter?
Among the group of hormones known as glucocorticoids, cortisol is a crucial steroid hormone. It is created in the adrenal glands, which are located just above the kidneys.
Additionally, it’s responsible for:
- Minimizing inflammation
- Elevating blood sugar
- Immune system suppression
- Nutrition metabolism support
- Immune system suppression
- Nutrition metabolism support
The Daily Rhythm of Cortisol
Usually, 50–60% of cortisol is released in the initial 30–40 minutes after you wake up. As the day progresses, these levels gradually decrease, aligning with your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
The production and release of cortisol are regulated by your brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
When faced with significant stress, your adrenal glands release both cortisol and adrenaline. This leads to a boost in energy and an increased heart rate, preparing your body for potential threats.
While this response is a natural defense mechanism, sustained high levels of cortisol can lead to undesirable effects.
Cortisol and Weight Gain: How Does Cortisol Influence Your Weight?
Hormonal balance plays a pivotal role in determining our body weight. The body’s endocrine system usually keeps hormones, especially cortisol, within a specific range. However, certain situations can cause these levels to dip too low or spike too high.
Elevated levels: This could encourage binge eating.
Small increases: Small increases in cortisol levels in reaction to stress are typical and unlikely to have any detrimental effects.
Yet, there are times when cortisol levels remain consistently high.
Such sustained elevations are often due to chronic stress or medical conditions like Cushing’s syndrome, which results in increased cortisol in the bloodstream.
When exploring Cortisol and Weight Gain, it’s essential to recognize the symptoms of high cortisol levels.
Symptoms of High Cortisol Levels
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Mental instability
- Flushed complexion
- Thinning skin
- Difficulty concentrating
- Insulin resistance
- Feeling tired & wired
- High blood sugar
- Low-stress tolerance
- Sugar cravings
Sticking to a nutritious diet can become tough when you’re perpetually stressed.
In a study involving 59 healthy women, a connection was found between elevated cortisol levels and heightened hunger, potentially leading to weight gain.
Another research, which observed 172 men and women, found a relationship between an increased cortisol reaction and more belly fat. This suggests that higher cortisol levels might trigger overconsumption of food.
Yet, it’s worth noting that there isn’t always a direct link between stress and cortisol levels, so more research is needed to establish a definitive connection.
The Flip Side: Low Cortisol Levels
When cortisol levels dip too low, you might see some weight loss. But when there’s too much? That can lead to weight gain. A classic example is Addison’s disease, where the body just doesn’t produce enough cortisol.
What are signs of low cortisol?
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Low blood sugar
- Salt cravings
- Dizziness/ nausea
- Stomach discomfort
- Muscular or joint pain
- Having a low sex drive
- Frequently getting sick
- Difficulty getting up in the morning
- Afternoon exhaustion
Although it can appear that high cortisol levels are more typical, it’s crucial to be aware of the consequences of low cortisol as well.
Strategies to Manage Cortisol-Induced Weight Gain
While there may be numerous stressors in your life that could be causing elevated cortisol levels, there are a number of practical ways to control your levels and avoid or stop weight gain.
Regular exercise is vital for weight management and reducing stress. It boosts resilience to stress and releases mood-enhancing endorphins. One study found a link between physical activity and BMI in 3,425 emotional eaters. However, exercise’s impact varies based on one’s immune type; for instance, cardio might increase stress in certain immune types, affecting weight loss due to cortisol reactions. It’s beneficial to understand your immune type to tailor your exercise and diet.
Also, another thing to be considered is if you going through menopause or andropause, the time of day you exercise can really make or break you. As mentioned above, mornings are when your cortisol levels are at their highest, and as the body produces hormones from our adrenals in menopause/andropause it is advisable to avoid exercising in the mornings at all costs because it will cause more stress and actually make your symptoms much worse.
The Power of Mindful Eating
The practice of mindful or intuitive eating is another effective strategy for preventing weight gain brought on by stress.
Being totally present and aware of what you’re doing at any given time is the definition of mindfulness, which is a Buddhist idea.
This idea is translated into the practice of mindful eating, which encourages you to pay close attention to all of the sensory cues that come with eating, such as hunger, fullness, taste, and texture.
A significant cross-sectional study discovered a link between intuitive eating and a reduction in body weight.
By eliminating distractions at meals, you may start practicing mindful eating easily and become completely aware of your body’s hunger and fullness signs.
Seeking Professional Guidance
Speaking with a qualified professional is another possible strategy for addressing weight gain that may be caused by elevated cortisol levels.
For instance, we can help in this area as we can help you develop some methods for lowering general stress, which may then help you control emotional eating.
We can also offer nutrition education to give you the knowledge you need to make better eating choices.
A great first step in preventing or reversing weight gain is to improve both your eating habits and emotional well-being.
Please keep in mind that weight gain can be caused by various health conditions. Cortisol could be the culprit but there may be further underlying fundamental issues that are causing the weight gain/weight loss which make it virtually impossible to lose weight or gain weight such as:
That is why you should take advantage of our free root cause analysis, as that way you know what you are dealing with and you aren’t just guessing.
The Importance of Quality Sleep
Cortisol levels and possible weight gain are significantly influenced by sleep, which is a frequently underestimated factor.
Whether they are acute or chronic, sleep disruptions can cause cortisol levels to rise unhealthily.
Your metabolism may be negatively impacted over time, and this could result in an increase in hunger and appetite-related hormones and weight gain.
As a result, ensuring that you receive enough sleep each night can significantly contribute to maintaining healthy cortisol levels.
Although this varies by age and other factors, the recommended amount of sleep per night is between seven and nine hours.
Meditation and Breathing: Tools for Balance
Meditation is yet another method that may be used to control cortisol levels.
Meditation teaches your mind to concentrate and reroute its thoughts.
There are many different kinds of meditation, but the mindful, spiritual, concentrated, movement, mantra, and transcendental versions are the most frequently used.
Whichever option you select, meditation has been shown to lower cortisol levels in a variety of populations.
Additionally, meditation might even help you have better sleep.
Meditation isn’t always for everyone though, and that’s where simple breathing techniques can be crucial and just as helpful. We can also assist you in this area as we can show you some really beneficial breathing techniques that can really make a difference.
Harnessing the Benefits of Essential Oils
Essential oils have so many benefits for many health ailments. We have created a new range of functional health essential oil blends specifically designed to help with cortisol levels in our online shop. We have Wholistic Cortisol Uplift if your cortisol levels are low and we have Wholistic Cortisol Relief for people suffering from high cortisol levels. We also have some blends for Adrenal support which are also related to cortisol. If you are unsure which oil blend would be right for you feel free to get in touch will us. We would be more than happy to help and advise you so that you pick the right one for your situation and we can also advise you on how to use them as well.
Wrapping It Up
The vital adrenal hormone cortisol performs a variety of crucial bodily tasks, including regulating your metabolism, lowering inflammation, and controlling your blood sugar.
Cortisol levels naturally rise somewhat in reaction to stress, but when they do so on a long-term basis, negative repercussions can happen, one of which is weight gain.
However, there are a number of effective ways to avoid or manage weight gain, including exercising, nutrition, practicing meditation, breathing techniques, using essential oils, and getting advice from a professional.
If you found this blog on Cortisol and Weight Gain interesting you should also check out our health podcast ‘A Magical Life: Health, wealth, and weight loss. We regularly talk about ways to reduce stress and help with weight loss.
If you would like to find out if cortisol is the secret culprit to your weight gain or if it could be something else take our free root cause analysis health assessment.