Are You Cortisol Crazed? Here's how to fix it!
I was a personal trainer and Pilates instructor at one of the top gyms in the U.S. While I learned a lot and it was a great experience, I always found their approach to weight loss a little suspect. See, they took the calories in calories out approach.
Count your calories, exercise more, eat less, loose weight.
We all know that. (Begin Rant) And please stop making it seem so easy to get fit when it’s clear as day it is not! The population is suffering from this false and mathematical male brained approach to weight loss. I think it’s extremely unfair to those that really try to loose weight and stick to aprogram diligently, but fail. They need to be made aware they are up against emotional, physiological, psychological and chemical imbalances that can put a damper on even the best of weight loss programs. And if your trainer's plan is “like working out and eating less. (Hair flip, wink, high kick!)" Run and go find yourself someone who's more conscious of the inner workings of your being. (End Rant)
What I and I believe many of my clients want answers to is why sometimes hunger seems insatiable, why cravings for sugars and salts strike with a vengeance and why that layer of belly fat stays put despite a commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
And I’ll let you know the answer I’ve uncovered is not restrict calories AND (drum roll please) even includes chocolate.
Oh Yea, keep reading!
We’re talking hormones with special attention today on, as Dr. Sara Gottfried calls it the "Boss Man" of the endocrine system, cortisol.
Cortisol is your fight or flight stress hormone. It is produced by the outer layer of the adrenal gland and then sent into the bloodstream to regulate stress in the body. Funny thing about the adrenal gland… It never stops working! This makes sense in nature as you could be resting under a redwood one second and need to hop on your feet to run from a grizzly the next. Believe me, you want your adrenals alert! However in todays world we live in a constant state of worry and your body can’t tell the difference between perceived and actual stress.
So let’s look at what stresses us out. I’ll start you off with a few things, but I’d like you to make this list deeply personal to you.
Finances + Running Late + Traffic + Deadlines At Work + Poor Diet stresses the physical body + ________________+ _________________ +__________________ +________________ = A lot of stress. I used the + sign, because as I said my darlings, stress adds up and unless we take action doesn’t go away.
In a balanced body (which is about 5% of the American population) your cortisol level should be at its highest in the morning and from there slowly descend through out the day. Here’s what it looks like for the other 95% of us:
7am: Alarm goes off. Groggy, barley human you grab a caffeinated beverage.
7:30am Bright eyed, bushy tailed and cortisol filled you’re ready for the day.
10:30am Starting to crash a little bit, you reach for a sugary treat to keep you going.
Lunchtime: You go out to the place close to work which serves overly salted underly green options, but you know it, it’s easy.
2:30pm : The Big crash, you’re at an all time low but the show must go on so you grab a coffee and another sweet treat to get yourself going.
10pm: Bedtime… Nope, wait. You all of a sudden have a second wind.
Midnight: Bed, but you toss and turn.
3am: Wide Awake.
(Go back to 7am)
Does any of that sound familiar?
I know, you’ve done this routine for years. Maybe it’s not ideal, but it’s working.
Here’s why you should consider a change…
- Stress ages you. It actually physically depletes the Telomeres in your body which helps cells replicate and rejuvenate. When these deplete you start to age biologically despite your chronological age.
- You get and stay fat around your mid section. When you’re in a constant state of stress you’re reacting from the sympathetic nervous system (Fight or Flight). To get rid of the belly fat you need to counter balance by awakening the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for rest and digest.
- It keeps you miserable. Cortisol robs you of serotonin, a chemical in your brain which makes you happy. Half of the people with depression have high cortisol from chronic stress.
- Shrinks your Hippocampus (No that’s not what you think it is and no it’s not a good thing.) The Hippocampus is in your brain and it’s in charge of regulating mood, emotion and memory. Basically, if you don’t want to be a moody, weepy, emotional hot mess, you want a healthy hippocampus.
Here are possible symptoms you feel when cortisol is out of whack:
- It’s hard to get moving in the morning
- Your energy drops in the afternoon
- You’re moody
- You crave sugar and slaty foods
- You have a second wind in the evening
- Have trouble sleeping and wake up around 2/3am
- Nails are weak
- Low sex drive
- Difficulty loosing weight
Inspired to make a change?
Let’s talk about what we can do to rebalance our body and get our cortisol under control!
- You must must must get plenty of good sleep. (Naturally, no pills) If that means cutting out the second cup of coffee, going to bed earlier, spritzing lavender on your pillow, get GOOD sleep!
- Increase the greens! Green foods alkalize the body taking it to a more h2o state than acidic state. Stress loves acid but the alkalizing benefits of green foods will help to soothe stress away.
- Make sure you’re getting enough Omega 3’s. Walnuts, flaxseeds and oily fish like mackerel, sardines and are great ways to get Omega 3’s from your diet. You also may want to consider taking a supplement if you’re vegan, vegetarian or are not a fan of fishy fish.
- Get the crap out of your diet. Replace caffeine, processed sugar, overly salted foods alcohol with healthy, whole, nutrient dense foods.
- Eat 1-2 squares of 80% or higher dark chocolate. Mmmmmmm.
- Get out in the sun. Grab some rays and cortisol balancing Vitamin D from a day out in the sun. Just don’t forget your suncream! If it’s rainy or winter where you are consider a Vitamin D supplement, but make sure you consult a physician first!
- Add Nutritional Yeast into your meal plan. Rich in vitamin B1. B1 or Thiamin as it’s often referred to hers your mood, your heart pump, and most importantly the conversion of food into useable energy.
- Make sure you’re getting enough potassium. Potassium is one of the most abundant minerals in your body and aids in a number of functions in the body. Stress loves potassium and will eat it up like crazy if not regulated. Plant foods high in potassium are tomatoes, potatoes with the skin, nuts and bananas.
Wanna find out more?
Last, If you’re curious about your own body and what’s going on head over to and take Dr. Gottfried’s quiz. It’s extremely informative and a great way to get to know where your own body is at!