Cortisol - The stress hormone and how it relates to belly fat - James Clare

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When my clients come in for their initial consult with me they often ask why my questioning goes into so much depth about sleep and stress. They ask "how does that relate to me wanting to lose fat?"

Modern day stress plays a huge part in the reason why people gain excess body fat, especially around the midsection. In this article I hope to expand on the stress issue and give you some helpful information that you can implement tomorrow. This will make a huge impact on not just your body shape but your lifestyle as a whole.

So let's start with what Cortisol is

Cortisol is the hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands and is released in response to any stress. Stress can come in many forms, this is normally where people sit bolt up, get defensive and say, "I have no stress" So before you do the same, stress manifests itself physically and psychologically in ways that you don't necessarily associate with e,g Illness, pollution, infection, noise, exercise and poor sleep patterns are just some.

What people also fail to realise is that cortisol is essential to our daily function. The problem though is when we have a constant stream of stress, it leaves our bodies unable to cope.

Cortisol doesn't act alone though, it works with another hormone known as insulin. Many of you are probably more familiar with the word Insulin than you are with cortisol. You'll see what part insulin plays in fat loss later in the article.

How does Cortisol contribute to fat gain?

Well when we experience excessive periods of stress whether it is be physical or psychological, your body kicks in the "fight or flight" response (run or stand strong and deal with it). Now to deal with the stressful situation your body must provide you with the energy you will need. So you have elevated cortisol (because of the given stress) which elevates your blood sugar to give you the energy. Now if you had a physical need for that freshly supplied energy (like a caveman fighting off a lion or an intruder) it would be useful, but the problem nowadays is that you don't. So where does all that energy go?

The hormone that kicks in when blood sugar is elevated is known as Insulin. But the interesting point here is that Insulin is also known as the "fat storage" hormone. When insulin goes into action to deliver the energy, it has no requirements (as most people are sat down all day) so the energy gets stored as fat (mainly in the belly region). In a skin fold body fat assessment, the site for elevated cortisol is the belly button.

So by now I hope you have connected the dots that chronically elevated stress levels (as many people have) leads to unnecessary energy being produced and ultimately fat gain. So to lower body fat around your midsection, you must first address stress. If you don't, you're simply working hard to promote more fat storage.

Now one other thing that is very important to know about stress is that your body breakdowns muscle tissue to provide your body with amino acids for energy. So is it any wonder that people who suffer chronic stress also have low muscle mass or even struggle to put it on? You're not just storing fat when you're stressed, you're promoting muscle loss too!

This article would not be complete if I didn't give you some of my top tips to help you manage your stress level and change your body composition.

Top Stress busting tips

  1. Find where your stress manifests itself and create a plan to reduce or remove it. Remember from the start of the article that stress comes in many forms. Is it personal, work, family, illness, injury? 

  2. Learn how to cut back and take time out for yourself. Look at your diary and plan some time every day for you. 

  3. Clean up your diet and start to add the right nutrients to support your mind and body rather that living on food with no nutritional value. Poor food quality saps essential nutrients from your body that you need to function optimally. Poor nutrition starves your body which is a huge stressor. 

  4. Add a supplement like magnesium which is a known relaxant. Taken before bed can support a deep restful sleep. You can also soak in a bath of Epsom salts 40 minutes prior to bed. 

  5. Use calming herbs such as ashwagandha, valerian and passion flower.

  6. Start a training programme with us at vision and get exercising. 

  7. Reassess your beliefs - Take a look at what is important to you, your attitudes and how you currently react to stressful situations. 

  8. Spend time with those people/friends who have similar values to you. 

  9. Make sure you get 7 - 8 hours of deep restful sleep per night. 

  10. Sleep in a dark room and make your room like a cave.

If you would like to book a consultation with us please email jclare@visionpt.com.au or fill in the consultation request form.