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.
That is mainly where my problem is in my waistline. I get plenty of sleep. Can you get a blood test to check your cortisol levels. Thank you
Yes Stacey we do cortisol testing. Feel free to set up a complimentary call with us HERE and we can give you details.
Will a blood test tell me if I have high cortisol levels
Hi Susie – dried urine is really the best way to test. We like the Dutch test.
I am also interested in the Cortisol test — I’ve always had an easy time keeping my figure, & maintaining my weight — now, I’m pre-diabetic — wake up during the night — & wear clothes to disguise my tummy (needless to say, I’m not wearing jeans anymore) …. I can’t stand it !!
I am 70 yrs old and unable to get rid of accumulated fat around the middle. I have excellent lifestyle habits and take all the right supplements including protien and collagen.
My problem is belly fat how do I get that down I do eat right and exercise so what am I doing wrong
Hi Debra – hard to say with your diet but be sure you are getting adequate protein, not undereating, avoiding artificial sweeteners, and many other things. Also the lifestyle suggestions we mentioned are so important. This is a good place to start (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mHMvpBmL9c&t=1s). We also lay out a whole eating plan in our PM Meal Mastery (linked at end of article).
I am so frustrated and really need help! I eat healthy food, get over eight hours of sleep daily, but, I admit, do not get enough exercise. Where can I go get the test for cortisol levels? My belly fat just keeps growing!!!!!! Help!
I made what I call Mediterranean stir-fry…limiting meats to 2 and a half oz of chicken or ground turkey and a cup of chopped bell peppers and a few olives, mushrooms and onion. Fill up on veggies high in water content.
Intermittent fasting- limiting the hours you eat to 6-7 hours, is very effective.
Yes tried of belly fat
Do the walking, running, or cardio at only 80 percent of your heart rate to your present age. One needs to burn fat. Calories are truly insignificant to losing fat. Cardio should be 28 to 40 minutes. No need to do more unless in training, still the heart rate the same even if a 2 hour run, walking, or stationary bike. Fat is the enemy.
What r the numbers on cortical whats high and low
Well written and accurate about diet. You’re newsletter is certainly a keeper and thank you for the info!
Thank you Margaret!
Do you have ready to go meals? What about products and recipes for preparation kits?
I think I’d try this program.
Hi Selena – we don’t offer ready to go meals. Our program highlights how to eat and cook simple meals so ultimately you don’t have to rely on meal kits (though back-up freezer items are great)! Here is the link to our program if you want to check it out – https://nourishover50.com/pmmastery
Is cortisol testing a blood test?
Some do blood testing but dried urine sampling is the most accurate. We like the Dutch test.
How do i get tested for cortisol. You mentioned a Dutch test? I’m a nurse i never heard of it. Also cortisol blood tests have to be drawn throughout the day to be accurate. I’m 47, had a hysterectomy 7 years ago so I’m menopausal at this point, gaining weight in my belly Pooch and trying to eat right and exercise
My belly fat has been worst after a hysterectomy. My blood sugar is high.
I started working and walking for 2 months no change.
Hi Lilia – We know how frustrating this is! Are you paying attention to all the suggestions we shared in the article? Sleep, stress, moderate but not excessive exercise, and diet are all really important. We also added a link to our 5 Rules of healthy eating after 50 video in the first bullet point so be sure to check that out as well as our PM Meal Mastery program.
I know exactly how you feel when you say you’ve been exercising and no results. I feel same way as well. Prior to menopause, when i noticed a few extra pounds, I’d go in the gym about 3 days per week and within 2 to 3 months I’d drop the weight. Since menopause it’s really difficult to get rid of the weight, even though im in the gym 4 to 6 days each week. I now focus more on ab exercises and I’m not giving up, so you hang in therw and keep doing what you’re doing. It may take longer but i believe we’ll get there eventually.
I have those symptoms but my cortisol and testosterone are low♀️
Yes this can happen after a very long periods of stress on the body, which can stem from things such as inflammation, emotional stress (at home or work), undiagnosed infections exposure to environmental toxins, food sensitivities and/or poor diet.
Im diabetic my midriff has just gone full force. Exercise is out of mind my blood sugar drops I feel . What can I do?
Hi Ana – can you clarify what you share about the exercise? Are you saying your blood sugar drops too much when you exercise?
Yes I’m 54 n have the belly fat problem but also deal with depression from losing my mom at age 4yrs old but I need help I dnt eat barely cause of my depression
I am 53 and so bloated. I look pregnant. No exercise or diet will help.
I need help I look like in 9 months pregnant help!! ###### please contact me asap. Thanks dee
Hi Dee! We reached out to you yesterday. Looking forward to connecting.
I was in a stressful job for 15 years and took care of my mother who declined with dementia for 8 of those. I damaged my knees in 2006 from a fall on concrete. (Used to run 45 min and weight train 3x a week) menopause and damaged knees- now I’m on crutches my weight 230 (5’1”ht) I look pregnant I have an ovarian cyst the size of an orange and seven fibroids. Lost my Ins when my boss terminated my job (he got rid of all older workers when the co-vid crisis hit). I don’t eat a lot – as it’s expensive- eggs and chicken for cheap protein. I can’t garden anymore for fresh vegetables. (Mother passed in 2017). I never learned to swim- so I don’t know what to do. I can’t work- knee surgery is too expensive. Doctor said my knees are bone on bone. If I take my Social Security early it will only be 657.00 a month. At full retirement in a year and 4 months it will be around 800.00. I had to stop my unemployment because I can’t seek work that I can’t do. I can’t control my weight anymore. (I used to weigh between 120 and 130, and 105 in HS). Never had a weight problem until I got older.
Your article was a great help to find out what happened to my hourglass figure these past couple of years with all the continuous stress.
Thanks Janette glad it was helpful. We have a great private Facebook group if you want to get more support for this age group. You can join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/NutritionandEnergyBoostforBusyWomen
Never had an issue until menopause which you do not address
Hi Olie – yes we address how the drop in estrogen plays a role for sure.
I just fill like I need to eat and eat and five minutes later I am hungry again. Is this means my cortisol is high.
Not necessarily…it could depend on what you eat, if your blood sugar is balanced, how you ate, for example.
I’m 76 and weigh 206 lbs I need help losing the weight, I’m 5’6″
Please help me through this journey.
I have gained 30lbs since last year. Yoga, weight 4x a week with a low carb diet with a nutrition. I’m 53 and it’s getting old!
I was told I had a adrenal mass on my kidney. I was told I had Cushions then I don’t have Cushion to I have a Pultitorty tumor all due to Cortisol…