If you think eating badly and not exercising are the sole reasons why you are gaining those unwanted kilos on your stomach, think again. The answer is cortisol. When our cortisol is high it can accumulate body fat around your mid-section, especially your umbilical area. Cortisol, along with norepinephrine and epinephrine are our fight or flight response hormones and are produced by our adrenal glands. Each of these stress hormones are released in different ratios depending on the stress you are faced with. The hormone Cortisol can present itself in many ways. Most people think that cortisol is simply being stressed, or feeling stressed emotionally, but there are many more in depth causes to stress.
Things that can disrupt cortisol levels are anger, conflict, aggression, diabetes, dieting, excessive caffeine and sugar, lack of sleep and skipping breakfast, just to name a few. Foods that raise cortisol are alcohol, caffeine, gluten, licorice and excessive sodium. Foods that help reduce cortisol are high fibre foods, whey protein, vitamin C, and phosphatidylserine (BSE), which is a natural chemical, found in mackerel, herring, chicken, beans, pork, leafy greens and beef. Cortisol is probably the hardest hormone to control because, well, it’s out of our control. I suggest along with picking cortisol friendly foods, addressing where in your life elevated cortisol may be coming from. Eliminate stressful situations, relationships and habits.
Cortisol and Digestion
You may not think that cortisol impacts food and digestion but it does. When you are stressed, whether it’s a lion in the room or a deadline at work (same thing to your adrenals) your body stops producing insulin so you have plenty of glucose ready to fight, and relaxes the muscles of the stomach. Your body is smart: it would rather conserve energy to save your life, from your deadline, than digest food.
To manage stress and decrease the body’s output of the hormone cortisol, follow my top 12 ways to reduce physical stress and ultimately trim down your tummy.
- Stop Doing Cardio On Machines. Cardio equipment such as the stepper, cross trainer, bike and treadmill give off “dirty” electricity and cause cortisol to rise in your system, instead, get outdoors and enjoy your workout.
- Avoid Food Allergens. When you eat something that your body has intolerance to it causes cortisol to rise. Avoid your known allergies and steer clear of common food that causes intolerances such as: over consumption of eggs, artificial flavors and additives, artificial sweeteners, dairy, wheat, gluten, and soy.
- Avoid Foods That Are Unhealthy. This means processed and packaged foods, foods high in Trans fats and sugar.
- Ensure You Are Getting Enough Fibre. Aim for at least 25g of fibre a day. Low fibre leads to poorer insulin health and an increase in tummy fat.
- Eliminate relationship stress. This is a given, if you are in an unhappy relationship or experiencing emotional stress of some description it can affect your health, and ultimately your cortisol levels
- Fix Your Gut Flora.If your gastrointestinal health is compromised it can lead to belly fat gain and elevated cortisol.
- Limit Fructose In Your Diet To Only Fruit Sources. Avoid all fructose corn syrup.
- Take Magnesium. Magnesium helps to decrease cortisol and calm the body. Optimum times for magnesium is post workout and before bed.
- Eliminate Work Stress. This isn’t as simple as it seems, as we sometimes cannot control the work environment we spend so much time in. I would suggest reevaluating your working relationships, time management, and procedures to ensure your working day runs as smoothly as possible.
- Drink More Water. A major cause of elevated cortisol can be dehydration. To ensure you are hitting your required h2o target use a notepad to tally up your water consumption, your water requirements are dependent on your level of activity and body weight.
- Commit Yourself To Achieving Excellence. Change your mind set to that of a positive, can-do attitude.
- Relax! Engage in activities that you find relaxing and calming. Such a massages, saunas, walks with girlfriends, reading a book, yoga, Pilates and stretching.