“I’m so stressed and I can’t seem to lose any weight.” “I eat when I get stressed.” “I’m training six days a week plus cardio, hitting 20k steps a day and don’t seem to be losing any weight.”
Is this you?
Chronically stressed? Working 9-5pm? Coming home and still having to play parent? Eating minimal calories? Busting yourself in the gym? Dreaming of the day you look in the mirror and like what you see?
I get it. You’re exhausted, you’re stressed, you have so much on your plate and to top it off, your body seems to be working against you. All this work and nothing to show for it!
So let’s take a moment to discuss what’s potentially at play.
When training in the gym, or eating in a deficit (below maintenance level calories), your body’s natural response is to ramp up the secretion of CORTISOL. Cortisol is our stress hormone and it plays a number of roles in our body, to name a few:
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It makes energy readily available (by breaking down substrates, aka tissue) Wakes us up in the morning (even on the weekends when our alarms aren’t set)
and, back in the caveman days, would give us the immediate fuel to sprint away from a tiger.
So…that sounds wonderful. Fuel ready for us to move? GREAT! That means weight loss, right? Well…sadly, more often than not, no. You see, in the short term and in isolation, cortisol absolutely works like that. Unfortunately, in modern day society our cortisol response is abused by busy schedules, social media, phones, internet, work, dieting, stimulants (yes, even your coffee affects this!) and so many other bits and pieces.
This constant state of alert arousal leads to a chronic secretion of cortisol which triggers the ‘backfire’ effects of the stress hormone.
This ‘backfire’ effect can lead to a slowed metabolism, difficulty falling/staying asleep (tired and wired), no response to stimulants, weight gain (especially around the stomach and face), blood sugar disregulation (the munchies), irregular menstrual cycles, erectile dysfunction, low libido, even changes in vision!
So how can we manage this important hormone? Here’s my top #5 tips.
- When dieting, take regular diet breaks/refeeds: This is a period spent at maintenancecalories or even a slight surplus.
- When training, program in regular deloads: This is usually a week spent at a lowervolume or intensity, allowing your body to recover.
- Prioritise your sleep: Sleep is the most underrated recovery tool! It affects EVERYSINGLE HORMONE in your endocrine system.
- Implement stress relief techniques: Meditation, time with friends, journalling,20minute walks in the sunshine.
5. Eat regular meals throughout the day: Intermittent fasting increases cortisol secretion which is far from ideal when trying to manage stress. Insulin is the shut off signal for cortisol, so make sure you are eating enough carbohydrates to keep your levels in check.
To check cortisol levels, you need to do a salivary test. Samples will be taken 3-4 times a day, usually 3-4 hours apart to determine your ‘cortisol curve.’ A healthy curve should spike in the morning, and taper off in the evening. Blood tests are only a snapshot of a specific time of the day, so they are not an accurate representation of your overall cortisol health.
So, eat the food, sleep plenty, take time out for you, and train with a coach who knows what they are doing!
Post Written By Senior Coach Rhiannon Healy