6 Tips for Reducing Stress, Lowering Cortisol and Losing Weight
Cortisol – the “stress hormone” – has become a dirty word due to its role in causing weight gain, suppressing the immune system, raising blood pressure and more. But is cortisol really the offender we’ve made it out to be?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland and serves many important roles in the body. This hormone helps regulate blood pressure, blood sugar, and insulin levels. Cortisol also assists in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
Cortisol is present in the bloodstream at all times and fluctuates throughout the day to meet the specific requirements of the body. Cortisol increases in crisis situations providing extra needed energy and focus. In the midst of an extremely distressful situation—like a car accident—cortisol reduces inflammation and suppresses pain. Clearly, it’s a hormone we wouldn’t want to be without.
However, we might liken cortisol to red wine. While a daily glass of red winemay be beneficial to our health, too much wine causes serious damage. Wine itself is not the culprit, but its abuse.
- Suppresses the immune system, so we get sick more easily and more often
- Changes the neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to depression and anxiety
- Causes insulin resistance that can cause to or exacerbate type 2 diabetes
- Makes us resistant to leptin, so our body doesn’t know when to stop eating
- Stimulates the production of ghrelin making you hungry especially for sugar
- Prevents the use of fat for energy creating fatigue and hypoglycemia
- Raises blood pressure
- Causes memory loss and impairs learning
- Inhibits the formation of collagen
- Decreases bone density and muscle tissue
Cortisol and Weight Gain
Chronic stress leads to perpetually high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream, which contribute to weight gain. The reason for this is that cortisol signals the body that it needs more calories to fuel the current emergency (i.e., the stress that triggered the release of cortisol).
And because cortisol blocks leptin (the hormone that tells us to stop eating), we continue to eat high-carb foods.
This is why chronic stress and cortisol lead to over-eating and weight gain. Logically, we might think that a simple solution to weight gain would be blocking or lowering cortisol. And in recent years, a number of companies have manufactured and marketed cortisol-blocking drugs as weight-loss wonder pills.
Alas, if it only were that easy! Take a pill and lose weight. Interestingly, the Federal Trade Commission has charged and fined some of the companies making these cortisol blockers with making false, unsubstantiated claims.
The reality is that the effects of stress on our behaviors and lifestyle extend far beyond cortisol. For instance, many people “cope” with stress by eating. Cortisol is not the culprit here, but a learned response to stress in which we try to comfort ourselves. The other problem with stress-related eating is that we tend to reach for junk food—chips, sweets, alcohol and the like, all of which are high in sugars and calories.
Another way that stress contributes to weight gain has to do with our mood. Typically, under stress, we become depressed. As a result, we neglect our bodies, practicing unhealthy habits and failing to engage in good ones like exercise. We either sleep too much, or not enough. We may also isolate, which often accentuates bad habits.
In addition to the elevated levels of cortisol due to chronic stress, all of these other stress-related behaviors collaborate to make us fat.
The point is that trying to block cortisol with a pill, only deals with a symptom, not the cause. Furthermore, that pill will have no effect on poor eating habits, lack of exercise, depression, or poor sleep.
The solution to elevated cortisol is to alleviate and manage stress, which goes hand-in-hand with healthy lifestyle choices. Although many factors contribute to why a person gains weight, reducing stress can have a profound impact on our health including weight-loss.
6 Tips for Reducing Stress, Lowering Cortisol and Losing Weight
1. Remove or avoid stressors.
Some stress is unavoidable, but many stressors we either bring on ourselves or we could avoid. Financial stress due to debt is a huge stressor. Put yourself on a plan to get out and stay out of debt. Also, a particular job may also be producing undue stress in your life. Is that job worth the misery and harm to your health that it’s causing?
2. Avoid sugar, simple carbs and other stimulants.
These increase stress hormones,inflammation, and lower the immune system.,  Instead, eat organic, whole foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, meat, dairy, and whole grains. Practice portion control.
3. Spend time each day in prayer and/or meditation.
Cultivate a spirit of gratefulness. Reject negative thoughts and promote positive ones. Meditate on a passage from the Bible like Matthew 6:25-34 and take to heart how much God loves you.
4. Cultivate healthy relationships.
Relational stress is one of the most damaging kinds of stress we face. Do yourself and others a favor by keeping short accounts—that is—forgive and accept others’ offers of forgiveness. Don’t let petty differences destroy priceless relationships. Love others and practice speaking, thinking and behaving in ways that demonstrates your love. Laugh with others as well.
5. Listen to music that de-stresses you.
For millennia, music has been used to help relax and stimulate peace and joy in people’s lives. Take advantage of this enjoyable and rewarding remedy. Wholetonesis a new concept in music designed specifically to promote healing.
6. Exercise regularly.
Regular exercise is the best way to lower cortisol and relieve stress. Cortisol is the body’s reaction to stress in order to prompt a fight or flight response. Exercise effectively lowers this hormone in our bloodstream.
However, as with many good things in life, if we exercise too much or too intensely—called “overtraining”—we place our bodies under stress and actually produce moreTruth be told, few people need to worry about overtraining.
To be clear, moderate exercise for 30-60 minutes per day, five days a week will help lower cortisol levels. If you’re prone to exceed that, then limit high intensity, high stress exercise to just two or three times a week and not for too long. Get adequate rest and let your body recover.
If you are unaccustomed to exercising but begin an exercise regimen, initially exercise may raise your cortisol levels because your body interprets this unusual physical strain as “stress.” But as you continue your exercise routine over time, the threshold at which cortisol is released will actually rise—another benefit of regular exercise.
Reducing cortisol is not the key to weight-loss, but healthy lifestyle choices and stress-reduction techniques can help us accomplish both. Begin today applying these 6 tips for reducing stress, lowering cortisol and losing weight.