It’s a hormone that can help save you during life and death situation. It teams up with hormones like adrenaline to play an important role in the “fight or flight response”. Cortisol will help you battle your way through, or conversely, escape life-threatening situations. So thank you, cortisol!
When cortisol is doing its job, it makes fighting or running for your life a top priority. That means that everything else goes on the back-burner. Digestion goes on hold, detoxification moves to the side and everything else deemed non-essential comes to a grinding halt. Think back to mankind’s more primitive days. Primitive man didn’t have bills to pay, he wasn’t trying to climb the corporate ladder and he certainly didn’t stay up nights worrying if he would fit into his size 2 jeans. When he was stressed and releasing cortisol, he was probably fighting for his life.
So, when you’re experiencing modern stress because someone just hacked into your Facebook account and spammed your 2000 pseudo-friends, your body interprets the cortisol secretion that follows as a signal that you life is literally in danger. See, as mankind became more advanced, the human body failed to modernize. If only our bodies could be updated with new software every time there was a change to civilization. Or if babies were born with human millennial software already installed. But no such luck. We are dealing with the same body model we had in 500 B. C. Talk about outdated technology!
As cortisol is secreted and your body readies itself for battle, certain things happen. Sugar is released into the bloodstream for extra energy. The metabolism shuts down as the body holds onto energy in preparation for a long fight. But, the body doesn’t see this as potentially problematic because this reaction should be temporary. Once the battle is over, all the systems that have shut down will start up again and all will be well. But wait a second.
Stress in the 21st century is pretty much a 24/7 thing.
Many of us are stressed all the time, not just when going into battle. And this is when a temporary life-saving hormone can start to cause big problems to the waistline. As metabolism stays in a perpetual slowed down state, the pounds can start to pack on. But the problem doesn’t end there.
Long-term elevated levels of cortisol have an impact on many different hormones in the body. Specifically, it can increase levels of insulin, the hormone responsible for storing fat. And remember how I mentioned that stress increases blood sugar levels. Well, this can increase levels of insulin in the body as well. More insulin = more fat. But the problem doesn’t end there.
Insulin has direct communication with leptin, te hormone that tells the brain that it’s full. When insulin isn’t working correctly, leptin will start to falter. Want to do nothing but eat when stressed? Well, of course you’re hungry when the signal telling your brain that you are full is broken. And as a side note, those who stop eating when stressed don’t have it much better. This usually means that stress signals have started wrecking habit with the digestion process.
Many of us don’t even remember what it feels like to not be stressed. Yet most diets seem to ignore this very important aspect of the obesity epidemic.
So how do you help being stressed 24/7?
- Breathing exercises – Try Dr. Weil’s great breathing exercise. Exhale completely through your mouth. Then inhale through the nose to the count of 7. Exhale with a whoosh sound to the count of 8. Do this 4 times total to aid relaxation.
- Put things in perspective – Think back to when something like this stressed you out in the past. Did the worst case scenario happen? If so, did you get through it? It is helpful to write down feelings in a journal when stressed. You can re-read it next time you’re in a similar situation which can help put things in perspective.
- Develop a meditation practice – I’m convinced that meditation is one of the most overlooked and undervalued tools for weight loss. Don’t worry about hitting some unreachable place of zen. Just develop a practice, do your best, and keep showing up, even if you don’t think you’re doing things perfectly.
- Exercise – Many of us just want to shut down and hide from the world when stressed. But exercise not only reduces stress from an emotional level. It also actually helps balance hormones. So all those hormones that have been thrown out of balance from stress will receive a boost in the right direction from a regular exercise routine.
- Listen to music, watch a funny movie, dance – Do an activity that is a release for you. Some people have a favorite song while others have a beloved favorite movie. It doesn’t matter what works for you. It just matters that you do it. All of these choices have been shown to reduce stress.
- Call a friend – Many of us don’t want to burden the world with our problems. Don’t suffer in isolation if you don’t have to. Pick a trusted person and call them. Even if you don’t talk about your problems, finding a connection with another can provide relief.
Cortisol is something not to be overlooked when trying to understand a weight problem. Getting cortisol under control is just as important as getting diet under control. So pick one of the above options (or your own favorite stress relieving option) and start getting your cortisol under control today. Your waistline will thank you for it.