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. In menopause and beyond, the combination of high cortisol and low estrogen contributes even more so to the dreaded “muffin top.”

In addition, one of estrogen’s actions is to deposit fat onto your hips. As levels decline, that signal can weaken and fat deposition shifts to your belly. Though many women gain weight, in some, weight stays the same, but the area of fat distribution just changes location (for example, a pear shape becomes more like an apple shape). 

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.

Though there is no magic bullet, attention to diet and lifestyle CAN make a difference! Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Eat a consistent, healthy, nourishing diet. Many women think they are eating the right way but are making common mistakes. Check out THIS video about our 5 rules for healthy eating after 50. Properly portioned 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 over-exercising 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.

So, take a look at your diet and lifestyle and see if there is a missing piece you haven’t addressed yet. And let us know in the comments if any of these suggestions resonated with you. 

For more information on healthy eating for women over 50, check out PM Meal Mastery™, a scientifically-backed nutrition plan for optimal health, energy, and confidence after menopause. PM Meal Mastery is the nutritional program for post menopausal women who want to fuel their bodies, feel their best, and live an active, engaged life.