Stress and cortisol. They seem to go hand in hand. Why? Well, cortisol, typically known as the “stress hormone” is released when our bodies go into a state of fight-or-flight. This response can also result from physical or psychological stress. When our bodies are experiencing a stressor, our adrenal glands, located above the kidneys, discharge cortisol. Cortisol floods our bodies with glucose, giving our bodies an immediate source of energy.
That doesn’t seem too bad, does it? It’s just energy after all.
The problem is, under constant stress our bodies can start elevating cortisol levels. This results in glucose being consistently pumped throughout our bodies, which can lead to increased blood sugar levels.1 If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why you’re not losing that stubborn belly fat, your cortisol levels could be a contributing factor because “cortisol can mobilize triglycerides from storage and relocate them to visceral fat cells (those under the muscle, deep in the abdomen).”2 That stored fat hiding under muscle is what causes stubborn belly fat.
But, before giving cortisol a bad name, remember that it’s there for a reason. Proper levels of cortisol can help regulate blood pressure, assist with anti-inflammatory responses, help with blood sugar maintenance, and aid in proper glucose metabolism and proper immune function.3 All-in-all, that pesky little stress hormone on its own isn’t all that bad and other factors can play a part in stress and weight gain.
Outside factors can also play a part in weight gain. Working long hours, having a busy schedule, and rushing from one appointment to another can limit the amount of time you have to exercise, which is needed to help boost health. Aside from not exercising, if you’re stressed and always in a rush, chances are you’re opting for more fast food choices. When you’re not the one preparing your meal, you’re not in control of what’s going in it. Fast food can generally be both high in sugars and fats, so opt for at-home dining to prevent weight gain.
Helpful Ways to Combat Stress
The Mayo Clinic suggests the following strategies to help with stress management4:
- Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep
- Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, getting a massage or meditating
- Taking time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music
- Fostering healthy friendships
- Having a sense of humor
- Volunteering in your community
- Seeking professional counseling when needed
There is no secret way to live a stress-free life. Stress is simply a part of it, but it doesn’t have to be the whole of it. Learn and practice healthy ways to manage your stress, and you may notice less of a struggle with your overall health and weight. If you still feel like extra assistance is needed to help you achieve your ideal body weight or if your stress levels feel unmanageable, speak with your physician or another medical professional and see if there may be additional or alternative solutions that would work best for you.
- Aronson, Dina, MS, RD. “Cortisol – Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy.” Editorial. Today’s Dietitian Nov. 2009: 38. Today’s Dietitian. Web. 29 June 2017.
- Elizabeth Scott, MS | Reviewed by a Board-certified Physician. “What You Need to Know About the Stress Hormone.” Verywell. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 June 2017.
- “Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 21 Apr. 2016. Web. 29 June 2017.