Previously, I discussed the effects of estrogen on your body, including subsequent weight gain. The hormone I will be discussing in this article is cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.

It is a sad fact of modern day life that you may be affected by constant stress due to ongoing life challenges and work demands. What you may not be realizing is that this constant stress is adding an extra layer of fat deep in your belly. Not only is this unsightly, but this excess belly fat is unhealthy and difficult to get rid of.

Belly fat releases chemicals which trigger inflammation. In turn, this increases the likelihood that you will develop heart disease or diabetes. Unfortunately, cortisol is raised when you are stressed and slows down your metabolism, because your body wants to maintain an adequate supply of glucose that it needs when dealing with stress.

Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It’s known as the “stress hormone” because it’s released when your body senses stress.

Like other hormones, it’s vital to survival. However, chronically elevated levels of cortisol can lead to overeating and weight gain. Another connection to weight gain is cortisol’s effect on appetite and increased cravings for high-calorie foods.

Cortisol Induced Weight Gain

Problems arise when you are in a constant state of stress. Exposure to cortisol over a long period can lead to weight gain, as your appetite and insulin levels are continuously increased. Continual stress leads to a constant state of excess cortisol production, which stimulates glucose production. This excess glucose gets converted into fat, ending up as stored belly fat.

Alongside the stress and the resulting chronic overload of cortisol, you also feel tired and listless. You reach out for high carb foods to renew your energy and comfort yourself, with the end result of even more extra inches accumulating around your belly.

It is generally accepted that stress-induced cortisol weight is usually gained around the waistline, because fat cells in this area are more sensitive to cortisol. The fat cells in your abdomen are richer in stress hormone receptors, are particularly sensitive to high insulin and are very effective at storing body fat.

Unfortunately, this is the most dangerous place to gain weight, as it can lead to metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease.

Signs of Cortisol Induced Weight Gain

  • Weight gain particularly around the abdomen and hips
  • Difficulty in losing weight
  • Bloating
  • Water retention
  • Breast swelling and tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Sluggish metabolism
  • Foggy thinking, memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping/insomnia

How to Decrease the Hold Stress Has on Your Body

If you change your reaction to stress, or change what causes stress, you can completely change your body’s chemistry, lose weight and improve health.

  • Avoid living a fast-paced, high-stressed, fear-based lifestyle. Fears you are holding inside can increase stress levels. An abundance of worry and fear can add 4lb of belly fat alone!
  • Pay attention to lifestyle improvements that allow you to take time out and look after yourself.
  • Adopt attitudes of forgiveness, letting go, positive attitudes and feelings of gratitude.
  • Step away from toxic family and friends that may be causing undue stress in your life.
  • Follow a balanced, real food-based diet. Follow the food charts given at the start of the program.
  • Do not eat on the run, at your desk, standing up or when you are feeling high levels of stress. This interferes with the absorption of the nutrients.
  • Don’t cut calories to extremely low levels. When you are under stress the need for nutrients is greater.
  • Research has shown that when soothing music is played during medical procedures, cortisol doesn’t rise as much.
  • Try and get a good night’s sleep. One study of nurses found that those who worked night shift had increased cortisol levels by 50-80% as opposed to those that worked day shifts.
  • Get a pet, even if it is a goldfish!

Yoga and Meditation for Stress Release

Practicing meditation can significantly reduce cortisol production. Most things that are in your control when it comes to healing with stress include relaxation techniques, yoga, exercise and meditation. When the source of stress is ongoing marital or sexual problems, specific counseling may be required.

Yoga is one of the best practices you can do if you need help to relieve stress. We all have stress in our lives, but what we do with that stress, and how we let the stress affect our life, is the real issue that needs to be addressed.

If you would like to know more about the benefits of yoga here is an article I wrote where I open up about my not-so-happy experience with yoga and what I did to turn it around and make it an amazingly wonderful experience.

Have you found yourself under stress lately? What did you do to relieve the stress in your life? Or, perhaps this is the first time you have been made aware of how stress can impact your life. I would love to know what changes you made to help you be more aware of the stress in your life, and what you did to help cope with it. Please share your experience in the comments below.
Jule-DarganJulie Dargan (RN, ND, BHSc) is the Menopause Whisperer. She assists women going through hormonal changes and want to live each day with confidence and enthusiasm. Her website was created to help women understand the menopause and how to halt the middle age spread.

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