Why stress is making us fat, sick and sleepy

May 12, 2015
Physical health and wellbeing

Nutrition Coach, Katie Biltz has written a fantastic post about the effect stress, or more specifically, the stress hormone cortisol plays on the body.

Let’s talk hormones. And no, boys this isn’t your cue to turn the other way, because well, you have hormones too.

When we hear the word cortisol, we usually think things like; “STRESS”, “BELLY FAT”, “FIGHT OR FLIGHT” or “what on earth is cortisol”? Cortisol is a steroid hormone which regulates a variety of processes throughout the body including; metabolism and immune response. It also has a very important role in helping the body respond to stress – which is what we are going to cover today.

If you know nothing about cortisol, you must know a couple things:

  1. Cortisol is needed for optimal health
  2. It can be destructive under circumstances where it is chronically elevated or suppressed
  3. A balance is required – too high or too low is no good
  4. Cortisol is both fat storing and fat releasing
  5. Cortisol and melatonin (the hormone that helps us sleep at night) work together. In a healthy body, your cortisol should be the highest when you wake up in the morning and lowest at night before bed (and the exact opposite with melatonin). For most people today, this is not the case
  6. Acute elevations in cortisol can help burn fat (think exercise)
  7. Excess prolonged elevations in cortisol can cause an increase in fat cell growth
  8. Chronic elevations in cortisol can lead to muscle loss
  9. Cortisol is connected to increased cravings and can stimulate your appetite of sweet, salty and fatty foods
  10. Cortisol makes your body more insulin resistant. Meaning your body will need to release more insulin to get the job done – which leads to greater fat storage

Ok, so now that we know a little more about our stress hormone, cortisol, let’s look at some ways to get your cortisol levels in proper balance. We will look at ways to reduce cortisol, because most of us slip into this category.

  1. Sleep hygiene. No this doesn’t mean showering before bed (although that’s totally fine too). What it means is to set up a routine – pack your lunch for the next day, wash your face, get out your training gear for the morning, slip into bed, no electronics (NONE) and sleep in a slightly cool and completely dark room. Go to bed and wake up the same time every day if possible – yes even on weekends
  2. Good quality protein at every meal. This controls insulin levels, keeps us satiated and produces a small amount of “good” stress on our bodies with the process of digestion. Stay away from high/dense carb sources – choose better carb sources that will help with blood sugar balance like vegetables that are starchy and non-starchy
  3. Eliminate caffeine from your diet. It’s the quickest way to reduce cortisol production and elevate the production of DHEA, the leading anabolic youth hormone. One mug of coffee increases your blood cortisol levels by 30% in one hour! Cortisol can remain elevated for up to 18 hours in the blood.
  4. Meditation promotes the production of alpha (focused alertness) and theta (relaxed) brain waves and reduces our body’s cortisol levels. (HELLO FLOAT! 😉 )
  5. This is a mineral that most people would be deficient in considering we get most of it from vegetables growing our soils which were once rich in minerals but are not now. It would be safe to say that about 80% of our population would be deficient in this mineral, and it is so important to our body! Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzyme functions in our bodies and it is a main contender when it comes to elements needed to conquer stress.