A common complaint that I hear from clients all the time is that they are working out, eating healthy, doing all the right things but still not loosing weighing or reaching their fitness goals as fast as they would like. High stress and cortisol levels could be the culprit.
Stress... that little six letter word that seems to cause us so much trouble. I am a true believer that stress is the major cause of so many diseases and imbalances in the body. Cortisol is one of the major hormones that is secreted by our adrenal glands in times of stress. Once our brain detects that there might be some trouble, the body goes into fight or flight mode. Many other functions in the body, including digestion and hormone production, are slowed or stalled. The body goes into survival mode and it's sole goal is to get out of that stressful situation. Some cortisol is essential but when we have too much of it over an extended period of time is when we start to run into trouble.
Factors That Increase Stress on the Body:
Lack of sleep (not getting enough can increase cortisol levels by up to 47%!)
Environmental factors such as pollution or mould
Emotional (family, career, spiritual)
What cortisol does to the body:
Slows down digestion
Blood is flown to our extremities
The liver releases glucose into the bloodstream
Heart rate increases
Suppresses the immune system
Cortisol inhibits insulin production in an attempt to prevent glucose from being stored
Increases visceral fat (aka belly fat)
Impacts other hormones such as the human growth hormone, testosterone, estrogen
Inhibits protein synthesis, reducing lean muscle mass
Managing Stress and Cortisol Levels Through Nutrition
Balance blood sugar levels. When blood sugar gets too low, it triggers the release of cortisol. Balance macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) at eat meal. This keeps blood sugar levels stable and energy levels up through the day.
Include good quality protein sources. Protein provides a source of amino acids which help with neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, both related to mood and motivation levels.
Include whole grains such as quinoa and oatmeal to replenish b-vitamins. B-vitamins get quickly burned up in times of stress so it's important to include some complex carbs to keep energy levels up.
Include omega 3 rich foods. Salmon, nuts and seeds, flax oil all help to reduce inflammation and increase mood.
Adopt an anti inflammatory diet. Avoid foods that increase stress on the body including sugar, excess caffeine, dairy and gluten. Inflammation = increased cortisol levels.
Include Turmeric, cinnamon, ginger as much as possible.
Include antioxidant rich foods: Tart cherry juice, berries, leafy greens, spirulina. This helps to reduce oxidative stress on the body from exercise, diet choices as well as emotional factors.
Supplements to Consider:
B-Complex- B vitamins are among the first nutrients to get burned up in times of stress. B vitamins help to keep the nervous system healthy as well as help with energy metabolism.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C can help the body cope with additional stress. IT helps the body clear out excess cortisol and keep blood pressure stable. It is needed by the adrenal glands to . Bio hack: try taking it post workout to help reduce cortisol.
Adaptogens: Super popular on the market today. These help our body adapt to stress and bring it back into a place of homeostasis. Maca is one of my favourites (tastes like butterscotch), ashwagandha, holy basil, rhodiola, and medicinal mushrooms such as chaga, reishi or lions mane.
Magnesium: Help to relax muscles and calm the nervous system. I love taking magnesium glycinate before bed. So soothing and relaxing and helps you to get into a deep sleep.
In today's competitive modern world we encounter stress constantly. It can affect everything from our moods and energy levels to our recovery from workouts. It can be easy to manage as long as you give your body the right circumstances. Eat lots of whole foods, get enough sleep, exercise smarter not harder, and learn to incorporate stress management techniques throughout the day. If you are experiencing things like anxiety or depression, or are feeling extremely overwhelmed, take some time to explore this. You can do all the meditating in the world but if you don't address the underlying issues you aren't going to get very far. I have a whole module dedicated to balancing hormones in my online nutrition program, The Balanced Body Method.
Hormones can get complicated but they don't have to be!
Want to learn how to find peace with food and your body? Want to ditch diets for good? Check out my 7 Step Body-Mind-Food Reset Guide! It's free...