One of the biggest complaints we hear from women in mid-life is about their growing waistlines.
Though there a ton of reasons for this VERY annoying and frustrating occurrence, today we wanted to specifically address the connection between cortisol and belly fat.
Let’s begin by first defining cortisol, a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands and secreted into the bloodstream, where it is then delivered to all parts of the body.
Though it has a bad wrap, the truth is that we all NEED cortisol. It aids in the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbs, and is partially responsible for the “fight or flight’ response that gives you a surge of energy and alertness in emergency situations.
Our ancient ancestors relied on an acute response of elevated cortisol when they had to act quickly, like running from a bear or lion, during short bursts of fighting, or chasing food for a meal.
However our bodies don’t distinguish between the stress response of being chased by a bear and dealing with a stressful situation.
Our “bears and lions” come in various forms in this modern day world. Aside from our current obvious situation, many women also deal with the following on a regular basis:
- caring for children, grandchildren and/or elderly parents
- work presentations/deadlines
- constant streaming of news
- 24/7 emails/texts (a study published in 2015 identified 6 ways that smartphones produced a stress response, including anxiety of missing out on valuable information, and the pressure of responding in real-time)
- financial concerns
- the ever constant decision of figuring out what’s for dinner
- rush hour and traffic (back in the day)
And therein lies the problem. Our bodies still respond the same way by releasing our main stress hormone, cortisol. But because our stress is more constant, we are pumping cortisol into our bloodstream 24/7.
So why is this so terrible?
Well in addition to elevated cortisol throwing blood sugar out of whack (hello cravings), interfering with quality sleep, contributing to the aging process, and causing feelings of anxiety and depression, it also puts extra fat on our bellies.
Plus, our 50 and over bodies add fuel to the fire. That’s due to the combination of high cortisol and low estrogen, which contributes even more so to the dreaded “muffin top.”
And here’s a sobering fact for you. We have more cortisol receptors in our abdominal adipose tissue than in other areas of fat storage! Aack!
That may all sound like doom and gloom, but there are lots of things you can do to begin to address this problem. None of them are quick fixes, but you can see which areas need the most attention and start from there.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Eat a consistent, healthy, nourishing diet: Meals that are balanced with lean proteins, quality fats, plenty of veggies and good fiber is your overall base for balanced hormones in general, and will definitely influence cortisol levels. Hormones work in harmony with each other and depend on a nutrient rich diet to function effectively.
- Manage your stress. This is HUGE, and so underrated. It’s a must to practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga or using essential oils. Did you know that our sense of smell goes directly to the emotional part of our brain? You can check out our Rest, Relax and Support kit here.
- Get adequate sleep. Cortisol should be at its lowest around midnight. Sleep is when our bodies rest, relax, and rejuvenate, and you should aim for at LEAST 7 hours per night but 8 is ideal.
- Exercise regularly, but do not over-train. Did you know that overexercising can actually stimulate cortisol production? We will be addressing this in another newsletter but if you are doing long bouts of intense cardio (50-60 min or more) several times a week, this can actually backfire. Keep to shorter bursts of 15-20 minutes and mix it up with walking, yoga, etc.
- Consider cortisol testing. We often test cortisol levels and help our clients get back into normal range so they can start losing weight, sleeping better and just feel more balanced.
If you need extra support, women and weight is our wheelhouse, so don’t hesitate to reach out by responding to this email or setting up a time to chat with us HERE.
Jane and Stephanie help women over 50 create sustainable healthy eating habits so they can feel empowered heading into retirement.Their 3-pronged approach, which can fit into any lifestyle, encompasses not only wholesome energizing foods but powerful habit and mindset shifts.